Agreed: The board game where no one losesWhen introducing the locally produced board game Agreed, Steve Benson merely asks a question: “Would you be open to playing a game that advances peace, love and inspiration wisdom?”
By: Matthew R. Perrine, Budgeteer News
Steve Benson markets his board game in the most curious of ways. When introducing Agreed, he merely asks a question: “Would you be open to playing a game that advances peace, love and inspiration wisdom?”
And 99 percent of the time, it works: People are genuinely intrigued by a board game that doesn’t revolve around mindless competition.
How does this play out, you ask? Benson’s game doesn’t have a clear “winner” or “loser” because people win by “gaining a little bit of enlightenment.”
“All of the players have to agree on one of two quotes — which one is more meaningful, which one is more beautiful,” said Benson, who’s called the Northland home for the better part of a decade.
See, the Agreed board is pretty much just a glorified tournament bracket.
Eight notable quotes line the playing field and one quote is eliminated each round until there is one supreme slice of wisdom. (The original setup comes with 400 sayings from 16 well-known authors or “sages,” such as Mother Theresa and Gandhi. Expansion packs are also available, and specially themed sports and presidential ones are in the works.)
Quotes advance to the next “round” only after all the players involved — the game is designed to handle anywhere from one to eight people — come to a consensus. For instance, if you were presented with “If you bring forth that which you have within yourselves, that which you have will save you” and “A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world,” which saying would you find more true to your outlook on life? Do you the think the first quote, from Jesus, or the second, from Muhammad, is more beautiful?
“What is unique is that you have to agree,” Benson said, adding that he’s seen games last more than an hour because of the intense discussion it provokes. “If people can’t come to an agreement, they just have to draw two more cards, like in Go Fish. But usually what happens is that one card speaks more powerfully to everybody.”
Benson got the idea for Agreed more than a decade ago when he was living in St. Paul with his friend Joel.
“He was reading a book of quotes, and I was reading one, so he read one [of his book’s] out loud and dared me to beat it,” Benson said. “So I gave it my best shot, and we discussed the merits of each selection. Then we thought, Wow, what a great idea: to agree on one quote instead of setting up polar opposites.”
The two pals played through a full tournament, dissecting some of the world’s greatest quotes (and getting to know each other better in the process).
“I knew I was onto something — something that was unique, something that helped people, including myself, get past power struggles and arguments and just kind of find an area of common ground,” he said. “It’s a very unique game, because the toy and game industry — at least some people from it — have a very solid perception that a game must have a winner and must have a loser.”
Perhaps because of these misgivings, it would be a couple years until Benson seriously started thinking about Agreed as a potential commodity. But the game started getting a lot of attention in early 2008 when the Duluth News Tribune profiled it.
“That was really the start of where I knew there was a market for it,” said Benson, who saw a flurry of order requests after the story ran.
Problem was, all Benson had to sell was a rough-cut craft version, which he fashioned out of wood.
Since that early exposure, however, Agreed has gone through a number of cosmetic changes — thanks in large part to the Greenstone Group, which helps entrepreneurs along the shore, and an appointed business coach, Chelle Bakke.
“They were able to help me print up the retail-ready, pleasing-to-the-eye packaging that it would need to gain some shelf space in stores rather than just something at a craft market,” Benson said.
Breaking the mold
Benson was recently on a phone call with a representative in charge of getting games in stores when he realized just what he was up against: “Look, in life there are winners and there are losers,” he was told. “It’s a fact. It’s the same thing with games: there are winners and there are losers. It’s good for people to get used to losing.
“Games like yours, where everyone feels good and everybody wins, they tried it 15 years ago and it just never took off.”
Benson didn’t take the verbal smackdown personally, but he became a little concerned because, again, if higher-ups in the toy and game industry have that kind of attitude, what chance does Agreed actually have outside of the Northland?
“I don’t claim to have the right perspective — I think there’s room for both — but we can help each other out,” Benson said of the goodwill put out into the atmosphere by Agreed. “Friendships are based on ‘win-win,’ not ‘win-lose.’ Relationships are based on ‘win-win,’ too, and finding common ground.”
Despite less-than-favorable reactions from the aforementioned industry rep, Benson remains dedicated to his product because of the positive experiences he’s had with the general public.
“We had the product launch at Harvest Festival, and people actually came up and congratulated me,” said Benson, who saw tremendous sales that day down at Bayfront Festival Park. (He also got to show off his board game to festival headliner Greg Brown, who joked about how it reminded him of the Monty Python skit in which famous philosophers are engaged in a high-stakes soccer match.)
Another reason Benson wants to get Agreed out to the masses? It’s what the world needs now. Take a quick look at the news — Tea Party organizers burning politicians they disagree with in effigy, etc. — and it’s hard to disagree with him.
“We can get these words and the idea of this game out to everybody so we can experience more win-win and more common ground,” he said. “We’re all different, but we all have a common ground. Let’s celebrate that first instead of [dwelling on our disagreements].
“It’s the same with all these authors and sages: They’re all talking about big-picture things, and that’s the stuff that is important. Their words can resonate, and it can affect some change.”
NEWS TO USE
The board game Agreed, which is produced in Two Harbors, is available for purchase at www.agreedgame.com or local retailers like Game Planet, Toys for Keeps and Beaner’s Central (where you can also try out the game for free).