The Student Has Become The Master

by | Oct 19, 2016

Balancing Act

I wanted to give players the opportunity to explore being a master and a student at the same time. Whenever I talk about Kung Fu or Tai Chi with friends, they tend to ask me if I am teaching. Sometimes I am teaching class but most of the time I see myself as a student. I feel like there’s this crazy notion that mastery or expertise gives the activity meaning and that simply being a student is somehow less or insulting. If your cup is full, there’s no room for anything new. If you want to keep growing and evolving you have to empty your cup over and over and that means taking on the role of a student. If someone comes to you with an empty cup and you have the power to make a positive difference in their lives, you must take on the role of the master and fill their cup. The student and master player pieces in Wu Wei: Journey of the Changing Path represent the balance between the accumulation of knowledge and the desire to learn something new. Both roles require considered thought and attention. The only universal constant is change.


Tough Choices

Whenever I get down to working on game mechanics I think about giving players choices. Not only choices but those game-changing tough choices that give them the feeling of co-creating their destinies. This makes the game feel like a grand experiment. New players can have a great time and experienced players can try different tactics. The worst experiences in tabletop gaming come from long-awaited turns where you feel like you can’t do anything. There were many of those types of turns in the play testing of Wu Wei and I have spent many a restless night figuring out how to eliminate them. Thankfully it’s never too late for a comeback or for comeback mechanics.

One such comeback mechanic occurs when a student ascends to the rank of master in Wu Wei. For one turn, two masters inhabit the same space. In this moment, other players can accelerate their training and receive two animal cards at the same time. Another comeback mechanic involves diplomacy and sequencing. If a player has streaked ahead, the other players can band together to stop them in a flurry of chained events. This often comes at the sacrifice of their own goals. It is important to keep an eye out for moments where you can capitalize on the circumstances. Players can claw their way back if they time out their blocks so they happen at the same time as their strikes. Another tactic comes from using the special abilities that come with each animal card. Players can time these “macro” moves to block another player from obtaining a new card. In this way they are capitalizing on the moment by advancing their training while simultaneously stalling their opponents. Lastly, advancing the seasons so there is a new bid for first player can change the turn order in your favor. This can make it possible for you to take two turns in a row for instance. The real trick with this is measuring the amount of chi you spend with the effect you will receive. You may wind up with all five animal cards but you won’t have enough chi to get your player pieces into the center.

Blocks and Strikes at Short, Medium, and Long Distances

In the game of Wu Wei, players have the opportunity to collect and spend 5 different types of chi (fire, water, earth, metal, and wood).  Each turn, players receive up to three moves without the use of additional energies. The three moves could be considered the short distance. You could think of this like a jab. It conserves energy and serves as a cautious strike.

At the end of most turns, players will land on a space that provides chi. This means that on most turns a player will only receive one piece of chi. If you choose to use a piece of chi to extend your movement then you are essentially borrowing energy from any future move you might make. This status quo use of energy might be considered a medium distance block or strike. Jabs are often followed by a more extended cross. This is more of a power punch and requires more energy.

On certain crucial turns you may want to expend more energy to effect a special move or destroy a wall or move a great distance. This would be considered a long distance move. This might be a lunge or a kick or a series of moves. When you are willing to expend energy you will have a lot more options. Just remember how precious your chi will be in future turns. It can also be used defensively. There are moments in the game where you may be completely blocked in and using an animal card requires three chi to activate. If you are chi poor after a series of over-committed strikes, you will not be able to put up a decent defense. You will also need chi in order to make it to the center tile. Sometimes players get all five cards and then they need three or four turns to gather enough chi to end the game. That’s when chi rich players capitalize on the moment and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Polarity and Progress

Students have a negative charge and Masters have a positive charge. The Emperor and Empress have neutral charges. This notion of polarity came from electromagnetism. The students and masters are attracted to each other. The students repel other students and the masters repel other masters. The Emperor and Empress have a neutral charge because they are neither seeking or dispensing knowledge. They are in essence without their own motivations and thus stand alone. However, this player wields the might of the generals who are very much polarized with the work of the people. It could be said that the Emperor and Empress take on the countenance of equanimity but really labor with the power of the military. The way you see the Emperor and Empress is entirely up to you. Throughout this journey it should be noted that striking a balance while embattled by changing circumstances is the true challenge. Masters seek to pass on their lineage or knowledge and the Emperor/Empress seeks to unify the empire. Both of these tasks require careful planning and a proper use of available resources. In this spirit, I will continue to move forward with this board game. Each moment requires a careful consideration of the current circumstances with an eye to the overall goal. Only when the time is right will the proper alchemy take place. Hopefully I won’t go insane from the wait!