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It’s another game of Settlers of Catan (with the Cities and Knights expansion). I am seated at the table with three friends. The mood is tense, as during our quest for thirteen points, they are tied with twelve points apiece. I, on the other hand, only have seven, but it is my turn. I play the Alchemist, which allows me to choose the numbers on the dice. I’m going with five. Five seems good. Five means everyone at the table produces wheat. Naturally, I follow that up with the Resource Monopoly, forcing the other players to give me two wheat. After playing Irrigation (more wheat) and the Merchant (ability to trade, and one point), my turn has become an epic tale of underdog victory. Taking the cloth citadel (2 points) and longest road (2 points), I build one final settlement for the win.
Victory is mine.
With that comeback, I win my fifth game in a row against those friends. My victory is even more satisfying because they had spent the first 95% of the game making sure I had a tough time getting anywhere. However, once they had decided I was no longer a threat, one of them moved the robber, allowing me to produce exactly the cards I needed to win. Their mistake. (The next game, that same player sacrificed a chance to win just to make sure I didn’t, but I digress.)
I’m sure I have played over 100 games of Settlers with these particular gaming buddies. Each of us has won our fair share of games, and unspeakable acts were done to ruin strategies and destroy cities. Yet, throughout, our friendships remained intact.
Many popular websites have devoted articles to the idea that board games ruin friendships. “6 Great Games (For Ruining Friendships)” or “15 Board Games That Destroy Friendships” or a Reddit discussion trying to decide which game is “the most friendship destroying.”
However, my friends and I agreed a long time ago to employ the art of keeping it in the game. We know that within the confines of a game, we all like to be ruthless and nasty; if someone does that well, they deserve to win. However, that means the next time we play, we will have learned from it and will adjust or strengthen our own play. This is how our gaming relationships work, and we all love it.
I’ve tried to bring that concept into other areas of my life. In a similar way to board games, I’ve heard it said that religion and politics are best left untouched if you want to remain friends with those around you. But I believe that within a group of friends, we can have wild disagreements in beliefs, interpretations, or political leanings, and still come out of them as a strong community. It’s because we know that “iron sharpens iron” and that when it comes to our disagreements, there are always things to learn and ways that we can strengthen our own stances. We learn from each other the same way we do in board games.
Arguments, debates, and friction can have a tendency to polarize people and entrench their opinions. For me, I think this comes from my fear that if I turn out to be wrong, people will think less of me. I think people dislike losing games for the same reason. But when I reframe a disagreement into a learning opportunity, I find the freedom to be wrong.
When I find myself in an argument, I want to look for the ways I can learn about the other stances. Look for the ways I can learn more about my own. Use that argument as a chance to grow into a stronger, more well-informed person. And the next time I trade all my wheat away, only to claim it back with a Monopoly card… well, you should’ve seen that one coming.