Interconnection in Wu Wei

Interconnection in Wu Wei

Ethan Arlt

Contributing Writer

November 10, 2022

Whether it intends to or not, every game conveys a message to its players. Many times, this message is conveyed through the goal of the game, the theme, and the mechanics (the ways players can interact with the game). In Wu Wei, there is a pervasive theme of interconnection and change. As players race to visit each master their actions are intentionally or unintentionally changing the board for other players. Whether they want to or not, players have to adapt to the changing environment if they want to win. There is strategy, but there is no perfect plan. Succeeding in Wu Wei takes a flexible plan, an open mind, and special attention to the consequences of one’s actions.

Interconnected Players

At all times, players can see what resources other players have, how far they’ve progressed, and where they’re at on the board. Players also know exactly which actions are available to other players (as they’re the same as the actions available to them). In essence, all of the information is public. There’s no randomness built into the game (with the exception of the board setup), but there’s a high degree of uncertainty. From one turn to the next, so many aspects of the game can change – paths can be blocked, the active chi can be changed, and the animal power you wanted can be taken. So even though there’s no randomness, there’s high degrees of variability, but this variability is player controlled meaning that the fate of players in the game is entirely connected to one another.
This magnifies player interaction, especially at higher player counts. For instance, in a game I had last week, a player landed on a palace, meaning he had the ability to construct a wall in a certain area of the game board. Immediately, he began asking other players where he should put the wall. One such area would block me, and one area would block the other player. We both made our pitches, offering in the future to help him out, and eventually he decided to block me and help the other player. None of this kind of table-talk was in the rules, but it occurred naturally because of how much player actions impact others.

The universe is always new. The eternal only exists in the present moment. The future doesn’t exist. It is a fantasy. The past is gone. Meditation is the time world and timeless together.

Yo Hoon Kim


Do Without Doing

The fact that there is no randomness in the game, besides what is coming from other players, means that players can plan out multiple turns in advance and see their plans come to fruition. At the same time, however, there are so many variables that are affected by other players that the board can look completely different from turn to turn. This creates a tension within the player in terms of how much they can plan ahead versus how much they are forced to adapt in the moment. Not only does the tension create interesting decisions for the player, but it also drives home the game’s core Taoist concept of doing without doing, trying but not trying too hard, planning but not planning too much.

Many Ways to the Same Goal

Because it is a racing game, much of the game is about maximizing efficiency from one point on the board to the next. One might think that moving as fast as possible each turn is the optimal way to play, but as the game progresses, difficult decisions unfold. For instance, when is it worth it to spend your valuable chi to take down a wall or move that extra space? Sometimes you must open the path yourself, and sometimes, the path opens on its own. In one of my games, my student was closed into a corner. I had a few moves to make but couldn’t escape the few tiles in my surrounding area, none of which were temples with masters I needed. I had the option to knock down the wall with chi, but instead I chose to wait, moving instead to another tile to gather chi. On the next player’s turn, they moved to a tile that turned the season, meaning my student was now free of its blockade. My patience was rewarded! I “lost” a turn, but I saved at least three chi in the process. As the game unfolds, there are plenty of decisions such as this one. When does being efficient become rushing? When does patience become lingering?

The Student Becomes the Master

Even if a player falls behind in Wu Wei, that player always has a chance because after a player becomes a master, they can train other students. This means that as players reach the end game, they also help other players who are behind to catch up. This changes the fundamental relationship that players have with one another as the game progresses. When players are only students, they are encouraged to block each other out of certain paths, meaning they want to have proximity to each other; but, when one becomes a master, the new master wants to maintain distance from other players. This creates an evolving dynamic between players that is filled with layered decisions.

Eternal Questions

In Wu Wei, players start in the center of the board and race to visit all the masters, train enough to become a master themselves, and then return to the center with their own master to win the game. Along the way, the players’ path can be blocked by a variety of forces and they must change their plans to fit the new situation. All of this must be done while managing their chi – a valuable life resource used to activate special abilities – as well as their animal powers they gain from visiting masters.

Every action a player takes in Wu Wei carries broader implications than you might expect from a seemingly innocuous board game. Over the course of each game, players are presented with a number of important questions:

  • How will my actions affect others?
  • How can I plan for the future yet remain adaptable to the changing present?
  • When does patience become lingering?
  • When does efficiency become rushing?

These questions stretch beyond the confines of the game box and Wu Wei presents us with a space to practice our answers. There may not be a definitive answer to any of these questions, but if there were, what fun would that be?

Ethan Arlt

Contributing Writer

Ethan has been playing games for as long as he can remember. His love of games began when his dad taught him chess at age four, and he has been playing, creating, and analyzing games ever since. Ethan loves the way that games can provide connection, joy, and learning to groups of people.