Games questions and answers

Reading the main Game instructions and guidelines page first will give some context for these Q and As.

What is the purpose of the games described here?

These games help people think through what is involved in engaging people in a project or programme, developing an action plan, and playing through what the plan might mean for different interests. The starting point is a real situation, or fictitious scenario. Cards and oher props help people come up with ideas, develop a plan, and stories about what may happen.

Where can they be played?
Games work well "for real" where a project group is planning next steps, and/or where one group (the game hosts) is seeking to engage a wider group (the players) in a programme of action. The games also work really well at seminars or conferences, using fictitious scenarios.

What skills and knowledge are needed?
No special skills are needed for players - beyond being prepared to join in and share questions and ideas with other players. The games are collaborative rather than competitive. The person facilitating the game needs to be able to guide players through the sequence without being too directive, and to encourage them to be creative and collaborative.

What are the benefits of this type of game?
We believe the main benefit is that games create a level playing field within which everyone is equal, there is a shared framework and language, and conversations flow easily. The components and rules of the game offer a model of what's needed for collaboration and action. The discussions yield insights into what may happen in the situations described. They help people get to know each other, and share some glimpses of the future.

What are the main components of a game?
The game components mirror the real-life elements of working together on a project. These are the situation (real) or scenario (invented); the challenges to be addressed within that scenario; ideas for action; some key characters in the action; timescales; crises and opportunities that may arise; the stories of what happens.

What results may you get from the game?
In a real situations these might include a detailed action plan including who does what; agreement on further work needed; insights into how things may turn out for different interests; challenges to be addressed along the way. Where people are playing through a fictitious scenario - perhaps at a conference workshop - they have the chance to explore the gaming method to see if it could be useful "for real"; they also have lively conversations with people around some common interests within a framework where everyone can make a contribution.

What sort of venue works best?
A room with flexible seating so that people can work in groups of about 4-7. They can do this around a small table, or just by grouping chairs together. It helps for each group to have a flip chart on an easel, but if necessary they can work on the table or even on the floor. What doesn't work (at all) is theatre style seating. Big tables (like those used for banqueting) can be a problem because people are too far apart for easy conversation.

What props do you need?
The game components are on the instructions page and detailed here: checklists for scenarios and characters; ideas cards; crisis and opportunity cards; planning and storytelling sheets. Use sticky notes for extra ideas, tac to stick down cards, fat pens for flip charts. See also What sort of venue do you need.

How long should a game session last?
If you only have an hour or so you can create a scenario, use the cards to prepare an action plan, and discuss next steps. With an extra half hour or more you can develop stories around the characters. A session of two or three hours gives an opportunity to explore issues in more depth, including who might do what, and the resources needed for action.

Does each group need a facilitator?
We find it best to give groups broad instructions on what to do, and then let them organise themselves. The facilitator should look in on groups and offer suggestions on game mechanics - but not on choices or directions the group might take.

How do you create a scenario?
We find there's a lot of benefit in describing real situations, or inventing fictitious
scenarios, on the spot. That way everyone has a sense of ownership. If you prepare detailed descriptions in advance people take a lot of time to read and understand them. Some people may have more knowledge than others. The process of describing a situation or scenario together is a good way to break the ice. In practice we usually do it one of two ways: either get the whole group to come up with ideas which the facilitator writes up on a flip chart, or work in groups. In creating fictitious scenarios in groups, ask each group to develop their own scenario (maybe with a few prompts from the facilitator) and pass it on to the next group... "make it tough, you won't be solving the problems, the group over there will do that". Of course, each group inherits a challenging scenario from their neighbours. After develop plans and stories they present back to the group that originated the scenario. See How do groups report back.

Can you use pre-prepared scenarios?
See How do you create a scenario? There are disadvantages in using pre-prepared scenarios, particularly if you don't have much time. It can take longer for people to read, understand and agree a scenario than invent one from scratch. However, if you are tackling a complex situation for real, you could undertake preliminary research, present this to groups, and ask them to discuss and expand before starting game play.

What content should each card include?
An image so not all cards look the same; a brief description of the project, activity or method; a "cost" of 1, 2, or 3 points. You can also add a simple resource requirement - e.g. skills needed. These can be totted up at the end as part of the planning process, leading into discussion of who might do what. Don't make the images too literal, and encourage people to amend content on the cards (apart from costs). The aim is to promote discussion rather than reach a "correct" set of choices.

Can players come up with their own ideas?
Absolutely. We include blank cards, and encourage players to amend card descriptions if they have better ideas. However, players should ask the facilitator what cost (1,2, or 3) to put on a new card.

How many cards should you use?
There is no theoretical limit to the number of cards, because the groups are asked to choose a sub-set for their plan, within the budget you give them. However, group usually find it difficult to deal with more than about 20 cards within the session times suggested here. Lots of cards just leads to sorting, rather than discussion. It is better to offer fewer cards, and encourage people to come up with ideas of their own.

Why use cards at all?
The advantage of cards is that they give players a quick start in generating ideas for action, and allow those less familar with the field to get involved. The disadvantage is they may just lead to a mechanical sorting against budget ... people play the numbers rather than the ideas. That's why it is important to encourage people to develop their own card ideas to add to the set. Cards generally offer other benefits: they add a fun element and something for people to handle, they can offer a lot of information succinctly, they make the point that ideas and action are associated with costs, and resource needs.

What budget should you set?
We find that 15-20 points is usually appropriate ... but if you have a chance to dry-run the game with a group you'll get a better idea.

What tasks do you give the players?
At the outset: ask players to develop a situation or scenario using the checklist and procedure on the components page; then address the situation or scenario in groups by choosing cards within the budget; develop an action plan by ordering and linking cards on a flip chart; tell the story of what happens next around different characters; report back. See the instructions and components page for more details

How do groups report back?
Groups should prepare action plans by organising cards on a flip chart, with links and any explanations they wish to add. If there is time, they should also fill in story sheets. Reporting back then depends on how much time you have, and how you developed the scenarios. See above: How do you develop a scenario? If the groups all worked on one scenario or situation, you'll need to get everyone to report back, or at least post their charts and sheets on a wall or flip chart easels. If groups developed scenarios individually, and passed them to another group, they could just report back to the originating group if time is short.

What can go wrong?
The game is pretty robust - we've found it works in lots of different situations, and also that other people can run versions without our support. However, the game probably won't work if people are expecting a different sort of session - so do explain what you are planning when you send out invitations. It's very difficult to run in a theatre-style hall because people can't form groups easily. The facilitator needs to plan the seating, props, and have a script ... but then have a light touch in helping groups. Being too directive stifles creative discussion.