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Board game where no one loses designed in Two Harbors

TWO HARBORS, Minn. - When Steve Benson markets his self-designed board game, he opens with: "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.

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 northeast Minnesota home for the better part of a decade.

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 sports- and presidential-themed 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.

"What is unique is that you have to agree," Benson said, adding that he's seen games last more than an hour because of intense discussion. "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's inspiration for Agreed came 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.

"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."

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: The representative told him there was no market for games such as his.

"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. "Friendships are based on 'win-win,' not 'win-lose.' Relationships are based on 'win-win,' too, and finding common ground."

He adds that just taking a look at the current political climate in the United States demonstrates everyone could use a lesson in compromise.

"We're all different, but we all have a common ground. Let's celebrate that first instead of (dwelling on our disagreements)," he said. "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."

The board game Agreed, which is produced in Two Harbors, can be purchased at

Matthew R. Perrine is a reporter at the Duluth (Minn.) Budgeteer News, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.