SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
Introducing Our Contributing Editor
Roger Greenaway will be a regular contributor.
Debriefing by Numbers by Roger Greenaway
How do you debrief one or two participants?
An Interview with Lorraine Ukens
A conversation with a prolific author.
Pile-Up by Lorraine Ukens
Can you get 20 cards into a single pile?
Classification Card Game
Another fast-paced two-person training game.
The Absurdity of It All by Matt Richter
Matt reviews two books that reevaluate some current management and leadership trends.
Origin's '04 by William Wake
What happened at the International Games Expo.
Magic and Training Games
It's not the game, it's the facilitator.
SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.
Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan
Associate Editor: Matt Richter and Julie England
Contributing Editor: Roger Greenaway
Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2004 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:
Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2004 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us (email@example.com) for permission.
All registered subscribers receive PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE free of charge.
However, to prevent us from becoming bankrupt, we have decided to adopt a Busker Protocol. If you like what you read, if you find it useful, and if you'd like us to continue publishing the newsletter, please feel free to chip in with any financial contribution. Our estimated annual cost for this newsletter is $30,000. So we suggest an annual contribution of $30 (which is less than one-third the subscription cost of Thiagi's earlier paper-based newsletter). We would appreciate any amount that you send us, but make sure it is less than $30,000 (since we don't want to make a profit). You can mail your check to Thiagi, 4423 East Trailridge Road, Bloomington, IN 47408 or call us at (812) 332-1478 to charge the amount to a credit card. Or you can charge your credit card online, through The Thiagi Group, Inc. Please let us know if you need an invoice for financial record keeping.
Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks!
Roger Greenaway is one of the geniuses in our field. In the specialized area of debriefing, Roger is the most prolific thinker, designer, and writer. I have only met him twice briefly, but he has had an enormous impact in my personal development through his books, newsletter, and website. (The only complaint I have about Roger is that what I call “debriefing” he calls “reviewing”.)
Roger currently lives in Scotland—and conducts training workshops around the world. He conducted his first training course on reviewing (debriefing) skills in 1983 while he was working for an organization called the Brathay Hall Trust (which is a center of innovation in training youth and adults). Ten years later (in 1993), after the publication of his second book Playback: A Guide to Reviewing Activities, Roger decided to specialize in the area of debriefing. Since then, he has been training trainers and educators in this specialty in Hong Kong, China, Japan, USA, Canada, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Portugal and South Africa as well as his home country of the UK.
More recently, I reprinted an excellent article by Roger called “Four Suits and a Joker”.
Visit Roger's website ( http://reviewing.co.uk/ ) to discover how you can make learning even more involving and effective. Roger's Active Reviewing Guide provides free tutorials, articles and tips about active reviewing and experiential learning.
For more about this website, read the website review that appeared in the May 2002 issue of PFP.
Roger also publishes Active Reviewing Tips for Dynamic Experiential Learning (ISSN 1465-8046), a free monthly newsletter for re-charging your debriefing and facilitation skills. Typical contents in recent issues of this newsletter include
To receive a free monthly copy of Active Reviewing Tips send a blank email to: email@example.com.
I recently persuaded Roger to permit me to reprint some of his significant articles in Play for Performance. I am happy to announce that his recent article “Debriefing by Numbers” is included in this issue. Read it and use it. It could have an enormous impact on your facilitation and debriefing skills.
What is the best sized group for debriefing? 1? 2? 3? 6? 10? 16? 20? 24? 30? 100? This article looks at the problems and possibilities of debriefing with different group sizes—from 1 to 100.
“Working in large groups” seems to describe situations in which people are working in small groups with lots of people nearby who are also working in small groups. Why is it that the larger the debriefing group, the greater the chances that people will end up in the smallest of groups—debriefing in pairs, or even on their own?
The presence of others can support individual learning in many ways, but it is also good to provide individuals with some personal time and space to reflect—away from the distractions of others. However, being alone is no guarantee of high quality reflection: when alone, attention can wander or people get stuck in a rut as they keep going through the same patterns of thought or visiting the same dead ends. But find the right setting or technique for individual reflection and you can help people see with fresh eyes, or lead them to “aha” moments, or help them break out of “same-old” thinking. Here are just a few options for “debriefing for one”:
Some of the above individual debriefing techniques can work surprisingly well, but often the best way to make a breakthrough is talking with another person…
Talking things through with another person can be more dynamic and productive than being left with your own thoughts. Sometimes the other person is just a listener, but there are many other useful roles the other person can adopt—such as a sounding board, a summarizer, a buddy, a coach, or even a devil's advocate. There is no guarantee that the other person will be good at assisting the process of reflection. The other person may be too intrusive or challenging, or may stumble into “no go” areas, or offer insensitive advice. There is always the risk that the other person (even a skilled facilitator) will spoil, distort or disrupt the process of reflection. The risk of ending up with an “unhelpful” listener can be reduced by providing clear briefings and by providing an easy way for the “speaker” to change the rules or opt out if they find the process is not working well.
Here are a few helpful roles that the “other person” can play when debriefing in pairs:
Something that goes particularly well with paired debriefs is “walking and talking”—especially if you have a suitable outdoor location. “Walking and Talking” can be combined with any of the above roles. A classic problem in paired debriefs is that one person dominates and the time is not well shared. One solution is to divide the total time into two halves by having a clear “swap over point” at half way (see “Out and Back”). Another solution is to have a turn-taking system in which there is frequent swapping of roles (see “Chat Cards”). These and other variations of “walking and talking” are described next:
Another style of paired debrief is where people have a series of brief meetings with different partners. The speed of this process means that people do not get stuck in partnerships that are not working. There may not be very deep reflection during brief meetings, but a quick succession of paired reflective conversations can quickly add up to a lot of reflection from various angles in a short space of time. Your choice of methods will partly depend on how important it is that everyone meets everyone else.
Not all pairings work well—one person can dominate, trust may be low, pairs may decide to take easy options, or just go through the motions or may even opt out. Group facilitators may try to avoid the risks of paired debriefs not working well by keeping everyone together under their own watchful eye for whole group reflection. But whole group reflection has its own risks and disadvantages (such as lack of personal space, less personal attention and less airtime for each individual). The challenge is to find the right mix (and sequence) of different group sizes (including reflective time alone) so that there is a good balance between these different “social settings” for reflection.
Running debriefs in any size of event means that the facilitator will need a varied toolkit of debriefing tasks and activities that small groups of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 people can carry out independently.
The outcomes from these small group debriefing sessions will often be shared in the larger facilitated group, but sometimes the process will end in the smaller group. For example when the whole group experience leads stage by stage to individuals setting personal goals, it is not always necessary or appropriate for these individual goals to be shared in the whole group.
On the other hand, when the final part of the debriefing process takes place in the whole group it tends to be more honest, insightful and significant if it is the result of high quality small group reflection rather than being the spontaneous ramblings of dominant individuals in the large group. Almost by definition, the first to talk are not likely to be reflecting much before they speak and are therefore unlikely to be setting the right tone for a reflective discussion. This is why preparatory work (alone or in smaller groups) can add so much to the overall quality of debriefing.
Wise facilitators appreciate the value of working in a variety of different group sizes, so they will often split a facilitated group into smaller unfacilitated units. The challenge is to link these processes together in ways that produce a bubbling flow of energy and questions and discoveries as learners move to and fro between the central arena of facilitated group debriefing and the intensive involvement of debriefing in smaller groups.
(Thiagi's note: Roger uses the word “reviewing” to refer to “debriefing”.)
Reviewing by Numbers (a longer 6-page version dealing with other group sizes): http://reviewing.co.uk/articles/reviewing-by-numbers.htm
The Active Reviewing Guide: http://reviewing.co.uk
Reviewing with Large Groups: http://reviewing.co.uk/toolkit/large_groups.htm
Reviewing to Scale: http://reviewing.co.uk/archives/art/6_2.htm
The Art of Reviewing: http://reviewing.co.uk/articles/the.art.of.reviewing.htm
This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month, Lorraine Ukens, is the owner of Team-ing With Success, specializing in team building and experiential learning. She also teaches a graduate course in Training and Development at Towson University in Maryland. As an author, Lorraine has developed a variety of training resources, including activity books, consensus activities, and games. Her most recent book, The New Encyclopedia of Group Activities, is a collection of 150 activities that explore various elements of the group process. It joins other favorites that include Getting Together, Working Together, All Together Now!, and Energize Your Audience.
Thiagi: Lorraine, what's your specialty area?
Lorraine: That's hard to say, since I design and use games for everything I do—even in the academic course I teach! However, if I had to choose one area of focus, it would be team building. Since there are so many topics that fall into this category, I can gear the games to a variety of issues—communication, conflict resolution, decision making, goal setting, and so forth. Team building is the ideal situation for the use of games.
Thiagi: Why do you think games are so conducive to team building?
Lorraine: Team-building efforts should concentrate on how team members relate and how the work is accomplished. Because games provide a structured activity that contributes to both content (task) and process (relationship) objectives, it is an ideal way to examine team skills. Games also allow team members to interact with each other in a fun and unique way, presenting the opportunity to look at attitudes and behaviors in a safe, low-risk environment.
Thiagi: What is your favorite kind of game?
Lorraine: I like to use cooperative-competition games, especially for team building. Generating a constructive competitive spirit that motivates employees to maximize their contribution allows an organization to achieve its goals, and games can effectively teach this concept. The inherent structure of games is based on a goal and an accompanying resistance against its achievement. In most games, the resistance is supplied by an opponent who is trying to achieve his or her own goal. Your opponent, therefore, is your partner in the game. The activities are designed to challenge physical and mental capabilities and become lessons in determination, teamwork, and planning. Since a team's performance includes both individual and collective results, these tasks require participants to work cooperatively, taking advantage of each member's abilities.
Thiagi: Why do some trainers avoid games as a training technique?
Lorraine: Some trainers are still reluctant to use games during training events because they feel that the participants will view the activities as merely fun and not relevant to learning. However, if the activity is treated sincerely and professionally, the facilitator actually will find that games encourage openness and help break through participants' resistance. Joining in playful activities gives people a shared history and better sense of how to relate to one another.
Thiagi: What are the most important characteristics of an effective facilitator?
Lorraine: In addition to involving the players in the game, the facilitator must also assist learners in a process of inquiry and analysis. Being a facilitator of active learning requires the ability to work both in the physical as well as the cognitive area. An effective facilitator also helps participants make the connection between the experience and the intent of the learning. The facilitator must emphasize the instructional message, in addition to the fun, and that is why the debriefing session that follows any game is a critical component. Rather than telling participants the learning points, the facilitator takes a constructivist approach and guides them into realizing what occurred. There is a high degree of flexibility, since feedback during the debriefing may lead to areas of discussion not previously anticipated. This is especially true when “mistakes” occur during the game that may lead to new insights. Some of the most significant learning points occur as a result of things that turn out other than planned.
Thiagi: Can you explain what you mean by “constructivist approach”?
Lorraine: To me, it means allowing the participants to construct their own conceptual understanding of what occurred as a result of playing the game. It's not me just telling them what they have done and learned. Constructivism means taking all the pieces of the puzzle and putting them together in a way that has meaning for the participants.
As a facilitator, I have to be a good listener as participants talk about what they did. I must get them to verbalize this in terms of their own work environment. This really makes the game into an analogy of real-life situations.
Thiagi: What advice do you have for newcomers who want to use games?
Lorraine: They should keep in mind that no matter how well they plan, things can and do go differently in each session because a lot depends on the particular group you have. If you recognize this fact up front, it helps take away some of the anxiety that can occur when the trainer lets participants take charge of their own learning.
Thiagi: Who are your favorite designers of training games?
Lorraine: Well, I'm one of Thiagi's biggest fans! But, I have some other favorites. I think Glenn Parker produces great team games, Ed Rose has wonderful outdoor games, and Steve Sugar is an overall game master.
Thiagi: What is your prediction about the future of games?
Lorraine: Experiential learning has gained increasing acceptance in all levels of training and education and in a wide variety of subject areas. Therefore, I predict that games will become a major component of training sessions, for technical as well as interpersonal skills. As trainers see the benefits of using games as a learning device, more will begin to use them. It doesn't matter if it's one brief game to open, close, or energize a program, or whether it's a comprehensive game that constitutes the entire session. Games utilize the concept of active learning. In the final analysis, experience is the best way for adults to learn.
This team game is adapted from Lorraine's book All Together Now! A Seriously Fun Collection of Interactive Training Games and Activities, published by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Participants will work together in teams of three or four members each.
For each participating team, randomly select twenty playing cards and place them in an envelope.
Rather than giving each team a random set of playing cards, give each team a duplicate twenty-card set. You can decide to have each group arrange the cards in the 5 x 4 pattern, or you can supply all teams with the same pattern arrangement which you will display or distribute.
In the July 2004 issue of PFP we discussed the advantages of two-person training games and presented detailed instructions for a card game called Trumps. In the August issue, we presented another two-person card game, called Ginny.
Here's a third card game, called Three Sets. This game also deals with the stages in team development. It uses the same deck of classification cards.
See the Four Stages of Team Development instructions to review information about the four stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing. (For your convenience, we have duplicated this handout from the July issue of PFP.)
To rapidly recognize the behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, perceptions, expectations, problems, and strategies associated with the four stages of team development.
Two. Larger groups may be divided into pairs to play the game in a parallel fashion. If an odd player is left out, the facilitator can play the game with this person.
2 - 5 minutes. The game may be replayed several times to determine the winner of a match.
How To Play Three Sets Handout. This handout summarizes the rules of the game. Make a copy for each player.
Four Stages of Team Development Handout. This handout summarizes Tuckman's model. Make a copy for each player.
Feedback Table. This table is used for settling disputes during the game. The table lists each card number and the correct team-development stage (or stages) associated with it. Make a copy for each player. (For your convenience we have duplicated this from the July issue of PFP.)
A deck of Growing a Team Cards. This deck contains 99 cards. Prepare your own deck by typing the numbers and statements from this list on your own cards. (See below if you don't have the patience to do this.)
Assemble play groups. Organize participants into pairs. Give a deck of Growing A Team cards to each pair. Also distribute a copy of the Feedback Table to each player, but ask players to place it with the printed side down.
Introduce the four stages. Distribute copies of the Four Stages of Team Development Handout. Make a brief presentation, using examples that are relevant to the players.
Brief the players. Acknowledge that most players may not have a complete grasp of the four stages in team development. Explain that you are going to play a card game that will help them become more fluent with these stages.
Introduce the Growing A Team cards. Ask each player to pick up a card from the deck. Ask a player to read the statement on the card and invite everyone to identify the team-development stage associated with the statement. Announce the correct stage. Explain that this is the suit of the card. Demonstrate how to verify the suit by using the Feedback Table.
Explain the rules. Distribute copies of the handout, How To Play Three Sets. Walk the players through the rules.
Monitor the game. Ask the players at each table to select the first dealer and begin the game. Walk around the room, clarifying rules and settling disputes among players as needed.
Deal the cards. Deal nine cards to each player, one card at a time. Set the rest of the deck aside, face down (these cards will not be used).
Assemble Sets. Study the nine cards in your hand and arrange them into three sets of three cards each. The object of the game is to create higher-status sets. Here are the three possible types of sets arranged in descending order of status:
The nine cards in your hand can be arranged into different types of sets. It is important for you to try to maximize the status of your sets.
Reveal the first set. You select one of your sets and place it face down on the table. Your opponent does the same. Both of you now turn your sets face up. Whoever has the higher-status set scores one point for this round.
Break the tie. If both you and your opponent have the same type of set, use this rule: The player with the card of the highest value (among any of the three cards) scores the point.
Reveal the second set. Repeat the procedure with the second set from your hand. As before, whoever has the higher-status set scores one point for this round.
Reveal the third set. Repeat the procedure with a third set from your hand. As before, you or your opponent score a point, depending on who has the higher-status set.
Determine the Winner. The player with the most points wins the game.
Play the Game Again. Play the game again using the same procedure. You may want to play a total of five games to decide who wins the match. Alternatively, you may play the game until one person scores a total of ten or more points.
Try these Variations. For a more challenging game, try the four- or five-card set variations described below:
Four-Card Sets. The game is played as before, except each player is dealt 12 cards. Players arrange these cards into three sets of four cards each and reveal these sets, one at a time.
With four-card sets, there are five possible sets, arranged below in descending order of status:
Break the tie. If both you and your opponent have the same type of set, the set with the card of highest value wins (as with three-card sets).
Five-card sets. The game is played as before, except each player is dealt 15 cards. Players arrange these cards into three sets of five cards each and reveal these sets, one at a time.
Five-card sets are somewhat similar to poker hands. Here are the six possible sets, arranged in descending order of status:
(In case you are curious, you cannot have a five-card diff because there are only four suits.)
Break the tie. If both you and your opponent have the same type of set, the set with the card of highest value wins (as with three-card sets).
Use of the Feedback Table. When you are a beginning player, you may refer to the Feedback Table whenever you want. Later, when you have become familiar with the four stages of team development, you should play the game without using this “cheat sheet”.
Remember that the object of the game is to score two or more points by playing the highest-status set during each round. A lot of bluffing is involved in deciding when to play your weak set or strong set.
In 1965 B. W. Tuckman, who had been studying the behavior of small groups, published a model that suggests that all teams go through four distinct stages in their development:
Forming. The first stage in a team's development is forming. During this stage, the team members are unsure about what they are doing. Their focus is on understanding the team's goal and their role. They worry about whether the other team members will accept them. Team members frequently look for clarification from their leader.
Storming. The second stage in a team's development is storming. During this stage, the team members try to get organized. This stage is marked by conflict among the members and between the members and the leader. Through this conflict, the team attempts to define itself.
Norming. The third stage in a team's development is norming. This stage follows storming, after the team members have succeeded in resolving their conflicts. They now feel more secure with one another and with their leader. They effectively negotiate the structure of the team and the division of labor.
Performing. The fourth stage in a team's development is performing. During this stage the team members behave in a mature fashion and focus on accomplishing their goals. This stage is marked by direct, two-way communication among the team members.
|Card. Suit||Card. Suit||Card. Suit||Card. Suit||Card. Suit|
|1. P||21. F||41. P||61. S||81. F|
|2. N||22. P||42. F||62. N||82. P|
|3. N||23. S||43. S, N||63. F, S||83. P|
|4. P||24. S||44. S||64. S||84. N, P|
|5. F||25. N||45. N||65. F||85. P|
|6. P||26. N||46. N, P||66. N||86. F, S|
|7. F||27. P||47. P||67. F||87. P|
|8. P||28. S||48. F||68. P||88. P|
|9. F||29. N||49. S||69. P||89. N|
|10. S||30. S||50. F||70. P||90. F|
|11. S||31. S||51. P||71. P||91. S|
|12. N, P||32. S||52. P||72. F||92. S|
|13. F||33. N||53. S||73. N||93. F, S|
|14. P||34. F||54. F||74. P||94. P|
|15. F||35. N||55. P||75. N||95. F|
|16. N||36. N, P||56. F||76. P||96. S|
|17. P||37. F||57. F||77. N||97. P|
|18. F||38. N, P||58. P||78. P||98. N, P|
|19. F||39. N, P||59. S||79. F||99. N|
|20. N||40. N||60. P||80. N, P|
We will sell you a deck of ready-made printed cards with team-development items, along with the Feedback Table. Currently selling for $18, we will give you a 50 percent discount of $9 and throw in free shipment (for USA orders only)! Order your decks through our secure online store.
In our research on management and leadership techniques, we have come across two provocative and wise books.
Management of the
Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership by Richard Farson,
Whether it is the newest change initiative, or the latest leadership intervention, executives and leaders have gone crazy with buzz words and absolute “ways to do business.” In Management of the Absurd, Richard Farson offers 30 paradoxes that exist in business today. Farson acknowledges the complexity and often irrational challenges managers face. Through his paradoxical scenarios, he illustrates ways to cope with the groundless and illogical directions many management programs are taking. First comes understanding the dichotomy and complexity of a situation, then comes developing solutions that actually match the level of intricacy. Situations, and therefore solutions, are not black and white. For instance, he opens with “The opposite of a profound truth is also true.” In this chapter, Farson notes that healthy organizations need open, accurate, and comprehensive communication among members. He calls the following phrasing “overly harsh,” when he says organizations also need distortion and deception. Behaviorally, deception may manifest as diplomacy and tact, which imply less than truthful or open communication. This paradox could mean a conflict. But successful managers and leaders flourish because they can reconcile those paradoxes.
This book can easily be frustrating. It can irritate through its lack of black and white prescription. Paradoxically, this is what makes the book great. Its in-your-face, blunt approach focuses on the complexity and gray areas of management intervention. He does so in a very brief and simple book (172 pages). Another paradox is that it is both very philosophical and practical. I agree with several of the reviewers on Amazon when they say that this book should be handed out to all managers as a general handbook.
Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman,
Speaking of buzzwords, two of the words we hear all the time are collaboration and connection. Both have been over-applied and misappropriated into the business lexicon. I have seen organizations adopt collaborative work environments without actually connecting the value of working together with the output of performance. In Organizing Genius, Bennis and Biederman distill the attributes of successful collaboration. They focus on what real-life collaboration looks like when successfully applied, connecting the collaborative effort to the end-result. The authors use case studies to explore how teamwork helped propel these groups toward stellar achievement. Some of the stories they tell include those of Xerox PARC Labs, the founders of the Disney Studio, and the Clinton War Room. However, because the case studies are based on real world experiences, the 15 lessons derived are not always what one might expect. For instance, the final lesson, Great Work is Its Own Reward, implies that group members strive toward the group objective because of the passion they have for the task. They are intrinsically motivated and many group members say they would have done the work without pay. Another key point is that often members galvanize, sometimes obsessively, behind a charismatic leader. And without their leader, the group can stumble, if not fail entirely. The leader is practical, but synthesizes the group together through a clear, unique, original, and attainable vision. Another feature is that the members of the group tend to be young and see themselves as underdogs who can come from behind and win the day. All in all, this book uses these stories of great groups to explain some of the fundamental processes of teamwork. What makes it useful is that not all groups thrown together have the potential for great work. The attributes and components of successful collaboration have some basic requirements. As companies continue to co-opt the values of collaboration and connection, they need to also be sure that their groups have the capacity, the competency, and the drive to achieve together.
The Origins '04 International Games Expo (http://www.originsgames.com/) is a game conference sponsored by the Game Manufacturer's Association (GAMA). It was held at the Columbus (Ohio) Civic Center, June 23-27, 2004.
Origins is a huge conference; Origins '04 used a lot of small conference rooms, ballrooms, and three cavernous rooms (each the size of a football field). Two of these large rooms were full of tables for gamers; the other was host to a sales floor with about 225 vendors.
As you might expect, there were a huge number of simultaneous events (more than 100 in certain hours). Events were divided into several categories: special events, CCGs (Collectible Card Games, e.g., Magic the Gathering), LARPs (Live Action Role Plays), Miniatures (including the "Origins War College"), RPGs (Role-Playing Games, e.g., Dungeons & Dragons), Seminars, and Tabletop (board and card games).
I tried many games, and had fun with each, including: Freight Train (an easy-to-learn train game), National Security Decision Making (a LARP, though the organizers perhaps wouldn't like that label), Hex Hex (a “hate your neighbor” card game), Bridge (the classic), Aquarius (a domino-style card game), Cargo (a strategy board game), Yu Yu Hakusho (a CCG), and others.
I took advantage of the vendor's area to pick up a bunch of games (not all new, but mostly new to me). So far, my family has enjoyed all the ones we've played: Aquarius (Looney Labs), Bang (Mayfair), A Dog's Life (Euro Games), Early American Chrononauts (Looney Labs), Hex Hex (Smirk & Dagger), Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot (my high-schoolers' favorite) (Playroom), Sherlock (Playroom), and Trans America (Rio Grande).
WizKids had huge lines for their click-base miniatures. (These build formulas into the figure's base in a very clever way). But their Pirates of the Spanish Main was even more popular: it's a miniature “wargame”, but you first punch your ship out of a plastic sheet and assemble it.
There were a number of party games (ala Cranium or Pictionary), but none appealed to me very much. There were almost no word games, except Palabra (a rummy-style word card game) and Super Scrabble (with a bigger board and quadruple-score tiles). CCGs and RPGs seemed to be the dominant categories.
This was a good conference. Some of the logistics were tricky for a first-timer, and it was too big to have an intimate feel. But I had a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about the breadth of games that are out there. I'd consider attending again next time: June 30-July 3, 2005, in Columbus, Ohio.
It's not the game. It's the facilitator.
Houdini, the famous magician and entertainer, once said, “It is not the trick. It is the magician.”
The mechanics of a magic trick contribute only part of its surprising effect. You probably know how several magic tricks are done because their secrets have been revealed on TV by the Masked Magician and in several books by knowledgeable authors. But knowing how a trick is done does not guarantee that you can impress your audience. What transforms a simple trick into an extraordinary feat is the magician's presentation, misdirection, showmanship, and patter. I am a magician and I know how several tricks are done. But I still enjoy watching other talented magicians perform the tricks that I know.
Let's use magic tricks as a metaphor for training games.
The mechanics of a training game contribute to only part of the learning outcome. You know the rules of several training games because there are hundreds of books explaining thousands of games. But knowing how a game is played does not guarantee that you can engage and train your participants. What transforms a training game into effective learning tools is the facilitator's skill in positioning the activity, briefing the players, modifying it during the play, coaching the players, and debriefing the experience to highlight the lessons learned. I know how several training games are played (having designed some of them myself). But I still enjoy—and learn from—watching my talented colleagues conduct the games that I know.