Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Card Games
Mechanics of Card Games by William Wake
Use these ideas to design your own card games.

Structured Sharing
TCF: The Game
How to delight your customer.

Structured Sharing 2
Group Grope: The Frame
How to design a training game in 10 minutes.

Steps in Instructional Development
All items belong to the same category.

Change Management
Handling Resistance to Interactive Lectures — Part 3
Concerns about technical training and personal competency.

Pithy Saying
The Reality of Simulations
You need more.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Jean Reese and Julie England

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>

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Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2005 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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Card Games

For several years now, I have been designing card games for use in training. Recently, my friend Bill Wake (who is on the PFP Editorial Advisory Board), came up with a useful classification system that helped me a lot in the design of card games. I hope that this article encourages you to explore the wonderful world of card games.

Bill Wake (, is a software coach and trainer who lives in Virginia, and is on the lookout for impossible objects.

Mechanics of Card Games
by William Wake

There are thousands of card games, and each has its unique charm. This brief survey classifies card games by their overall goal and mechanics of play. This classification scheme is not an exact science because there are certainly games with other organizing principles. But this set of categories covers a large number of card games, and may give you ideas for the design of your own games.

Here are the seven categories of card games:

  1. Accumulate—Collect the most of specific types of cards.
  2. Avoid—Do NOT collect specific types of cards.
  3. Add—Sum card values.
  4. Arrange—Organize the cards into specific sets.
  5. Guess—Infer the cards that other players have.
  6. Reduce—Get rid of your cards first.
  7. Race—Accomplish some goal faster than the other players.


In these games, you're trying to collect more cards than your opponent. Often, you want to win all the cards.


Some games of this type are set up as a series of battles. Two cards are displayed, and there is some means of resolving which card is higher. The best-known traditional game in this style is War. The highest rank of two cards wins; if there is a tie there's a rule about how to compare another batch.

A more modern game, Magic: The Gathering™, is an example of a collectible card game or trading card game. Players assemble a deck of a certain size, selecting cards that vary on different dimensions, and then conduct a battle with their decks. A simple battle requires two cards to be compared to decide which one is higher ranking. This does not require that the cards have linear rank: you could imagine a card version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. In this arrangement any two cards can be compared, but there's no overall order.


Games such as Spades, Euchre, and Bridge are built around the idea of taking tricks. Each person has a hand of cards. During each round, someone leads a card. Generally, everybody else must play a card in the same suit if they can. If they can't, they can throw away a card in another suit, or play a card from a special suit known as trump. A trump card is higher in rank than any other non-trump card.

To make trick-taking games work, you need to be able to decide which card is the highest. This is almost always done by having a simple linear ranking. With a standard deck of playing cards, these games usually rely on an order of values. Bridge and Spades use Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, and so on, down to 2, which is the lowest card. Euchre has the sequence of certain Jacks high, then Ace, King, Queen, (Jack), 10, and 9. Sheepshead uses the sequence of Queens, Jacks, Ace, 10, King, 9, and 8, 7.

There are variations in how a trump suit is chosen. Not surprisingly, Spades uses spades as trumps. Euchre has a couple ways to set the trump. Bridge involves a complicated bidding negotiation.


In some games you're trying to picking up certain cards. Old Maid is a children's game where one card is the Old Maid. You try to draw cards from your neighbor to make pairs. But if you're the last one holding the Old Maid when the round ends, you lose.

Hearts is mostly a simple trick game, but some cards count against you: each heart is one point, and the queen of spades is thirteen points.

Spades has an element of avoidance as well: if you collect 10 un-bid tricks, you lose 100 points.


Blackjack has you try to add card values to reach 21 points. Cribbage has two phases: adding and melding. In the adding phase, you and your opponent add values together until they would exceed thirty-one points.

Both these games use the values of the cards and ignore the suits.



Melds are sets of cards. The most common melds are three or more of the same value (for example, three Aces), or a sequence of cards, all in one suit (for example, 2, 3, and 4 of spades). Gin, Rummy, and Pinochle involve making melds at various points. The games vary in what counts as a meld, when you show the melds, whether cards can participate in more than one meld, and so on.

Poker has you try to accumulate particular melds (for example, full house or straight) and then bet on the result. There are many variants: some show a few but not all cards to the opponent; others let you replace cards in an attempt to get a better hand. They share the notion of betting and bluffing.

Fluxx™ starts off with draw one, play one, and has players identify a goal they will try to meet. Each card that is played either affects the rules, moves towards a goal, or is a special action. The winning combination is set by whichever goal was last played.


Climbing games have you try to play cards in sequence (typically increasing). I Doubt It begins with all the cards dealt out. Each player in turn has to play one or more cards of the next higher value. (The first player plays Aces, the second twos, and so on, up to Kings, then back to Aces). More accurately, the player must claim to play the assigned value; they can play whatever they think other players will believe. The first player to get rid of all their cards wins.

Michigan is also a game of increasing values. Here, players play increasing values as long as they are able. For example, the first player plays Ace, 2, 3, but has to pass as she lacks 4. The second player has no 4 either, and must pass. Player 3 plays 4, 5, and 6, but must pass on 7. The goal is to get rid of one's cards first.


Tiling games make an arrangement on a flat surface, with no overlap.

Dominos is played with tiles, rather than cards, but they're very card-like. Different games have different rules, but they typically share the notion of laying down dominos on a table, such that dominos do not overlap, and the dominos match some already-played domino in a particular way.

Aquarius™ is a domino-like commercial game. Each card played must match the color of at least one touching card. The goal is to build a connected path of 7 cards in a particular color.

Waterworks™ (Winning Moves) has you lay down pipes to connect a valve to a spigot, while your opponent tries to do the same. You have the opportunity to give each other leaks, which must be closed off to make a good pipeline.


In these card games, you're rewarded for inferring the location of cards.

Memory is a tiling game in one way—the cards are laid out in a rectangle. During play, you guess a card and turn it over. If you're right, you can make matches, which you win. The memory aspect is important, but you can make progress by guessing too.

In Go Fish, you ask your opponents for a particular card. If you're right, you get to keep the card and eventually accumulate a set of the same card, which scores points.


In some games, you're trying to get rid of all your cards, and “go out” first.

Some games require you to play the same type of card on top of another card if you can. If you can't, you typically must skip a turn or draw cards. Crazy Eights says you must play a card matching the suit or value of the last played card, or play an eight (which is wild).

In Concentration, you turn over one card, and try to turn over a matching card (based on what you remember was already tried). If you match, you win the pair.

Uno™ (Mattel) is best known in its commercial form, though the same game can be played with standard cards. It is also a matching game, in that you're trying to play a compatible card (by color or type). But, some cards require other players to draw cards or undertake other activities. The goal is to get rid of your last card.


These card games often have no turns: each person plays whenever she is able.

Blink™ (Out of the Box games) is a matching game, and also a race. Each player starts off with half the deck, and two face-up starting “top” cards. Players play a matching card on one of the top cards; it can match based on shape, color, or count. The goal is to get rid of all your cards first. There are no turns.

Skip-Bo™ (Mattel) has you start with a stockpile you're trying to get rid of. You play cards into four stacks in the middle of the table. Everybody is trying to use the same four stacks. Whoever gets rid of all their cards first wins.


Many card games involve a combination of mechanics. For example, Hearts has both trick-taking and avoidance; Pinochle has both arranging and trick-taking.

Structured Sharing

TCF: The Game


To express, explain, and exchange participants' suggestions for improving customer service in your organization.


Minimum: 6

Maximum: Any number

Best: 12 to 30

(Participants form themselves into teams of different sizes during later stages of the game.)


30 to 40 minutes.


20 (or more) prepared index cards, each with a different suggestion for customer service. (See the Preparation section below for details.)

Four blank index cards for each participant.


Before the training session, prepare a set of suggestion cards. Each card should contain one suggestion for improving customer service. Come up with a variety of traditional and innovative suggestions. Prepare at least two suggestion cards for each anticipated participant. If you cannot make up that many suggestions, use duplicates.

Roger is conducting a workshop for a group of middle managers. Twenty participants have signed up for the workshop, including two vice-presidents. The day before the workshop, Roger prepares 40 suggestion cards. Here are a few sample cards from Roger's collection:


Brief the participants. Tell the participants, “I'd like to begin right off with a group activity that will help us get to know each other. It will also allow us to discover what opinions people have about customer service. This activity should set the stage for the rest of the training session.”

Roger catches everyone's attention and gives his introductory presentation. Participants look like they are ready for action.

Ask participants to write suggestion cards. Hand out four blank index cards to each participant. Ask them to write down a suggestion for improving customer service on each card. The suggestions need not reflect the personal ideas of the writer. They should represent traditional and innovative points of view. Give some sample suggestions to the group.

The workshop starts at 8:30 a.m., and Diane arrives 5 minutes late. She sees the others writing busily. Roger gives her four blank cards and asks her to write her suggestions. Diane thinks for a moment and comes up with the following:

Redistribute the suggestion cards. After about 3 minutes, collect suggestion cards from participants. Add your prepared cards to this pile. Mix the cards well and give three cards to each participant. Ask the participants to study the suggestions and arrange the cards according to their personal preference—from the most to the least acceptable suggestion.

Roger collects the cards from the participants and adds his own collection. He mixes the cards and gives three to each participant.

Diane studies the three cards she receives and arranges them in the following order:

Ask participants to exchange cards. Arrange the remaining suggestion cards on a large table at one side of the room. Tell the participants that they may discard cards from their hands and pick up better replacements. Participants must work silently; they should not to talk to each other during this phase of the game. At the end of this exchange, each participant should have three cards that may or may not include cards from the original set.

Diane takes her cards to the table and rummages there. She discards two of her cards and picks up the following:

Diane is surprised to see another participant eagerly picking up her discards!

Ask participants to swap cards with each other. Instruct participants to exchange cards with each other to make their hands better reflect their personal preferences. In this phase, any participant may swap cards with any other participant; every participant must exchange at least one card.

When Roger announces the beginning of the exchange, Diane wanders around until John stops her. Comparing cards, Diane sees one that says, “Maintain accurate records.” She bargains with John until he agrees to exchange this card for her card about the first contact. Before Diane can find someone else to swap with, Roger calls time to end this phase of the game.

Form teams. Ask participants to compare their cards with each other and to form teams with people holding similar suggestions. There is no limit to the number of participants who may team up together, but a team may keep no more than three cards. It must discard all other cards, and the three cards it keeps must meet with everyone's approval.

Diane goes around the room checking with others. She runs across Becky, who has excellent cards, and they decide to team up. The two set out to find other kindred souls. Alan wants to join them, and they agree, provided that he drops the card that says, “Collect information from all employees who are in contact with customers.” In a few more minutes, the team recruits two other participants, including John. They study the combined collection and reduce it to these three:

Ask teams to prepare a poster. Ask each team to prepare a graphic poster that reflects its three final cards. This poster should not include any text. After 5 minutes, ask each team to read its three cards, display its poster, and explain the graphics.

After some discussion and debate, the team decides that Diane should be the artist and the others give her ideas. The final collage shows a telephone with three people, a calendar showing a date six months later, and a group of people seated around a table. During the “show-and-tell” period, John reads the three cards and Becky assists Diane in explaining the poster.

Distribute awards. Identify winning teams in each of these categories:

Diane's poster did not receive an award, but Roger judged the team's three cards to be the most consistent!

Structured Sharing 2

Group Grope: The Frame

Did you enjoy the imaginary play of TCF?

You probably got a good feel for the flow of the game, but reading about a game is not the same as playing a game. Real participants in a real TCF game report that they have a good understanding of the concept of customer satisfaction, come up with different suggestions, and evaluate these suggestions.

Do you know how long it took to design this game? Ten minutes!

That's right. In 10 minutes, I produced a typeset copy of the game and gave it to the facilitators. What is my secret? I did not design this training game from scratch. I simply loaded a framegame with the content of satisfying the customer.

So what is a framegame? It is an instructional game that is deliberately designed to allow easy unloading of the current content and loading of new content. Just as you can mount any picture in a frame, you can load any content in a framegame.

There are different types of framegames depending on the source of the information content. The framegame used for creating TCF is called a structured sharing activity. This type of framegame involves mutual learning and teaching among participants. Typical structured sharing activities create a context for a dialogue among participants based on their experiences, knowledge, and opinions.

The specific structured sharing activity used for creating TCF is Group Grope, a versatile framegame that I designed in 1971. I know of at least 374 published versions of this game.

How To Design Your Group Grope Game

Would you like to learn more about Group Grope and how you can use it for creating your own training games? Read on.

Specify your purpose. Use the checklist given below (“How To Select an Appropriate Purpose”) to determine if Group Grope is suitable for your needs.

Design the prompt. The prompt is the initial question (or instruction) for which participants write the answers on cards. Use the checklist below (“How To Write Group Grope Prompts”) for writing the prompt.

Produce sample cards. You need these cards to explain your prompt at the beginning of the game. If you are dealing with a controversial topic, include both sides of the issue.

Select a label for the cards. Decide what you want to call these cards. They may be opinion cards, complaint cards, feedback cards, idea cards, input cards, or whatever.

Create a catchy name. You are now ready to come up with a memorable name for your game.

Write the instructions for conducting the game. Use the format of the TCF game as a template for rapidly cranking out instructions for your game. Replace phrases and sentences that specifically refer to the customer focus content with items related to your content. Write your instructions using the generic instructions (“How To Write Group Grope Instructions”) given below.

How To Select an Appropriate Purpose

Is a Group Grope game appropriate for your needs? Here's a quick checklist of the variety of ways you can use this framegame, each with an example.


To analyze a concept. Share initial understandings of such concepts as empowerment or recycling.

To explore a controversy. Expose people's feelings about abortion or capital punishment.

To demonstrate diversity. Highlight the fact that different people have different opinions about gun control or sexual harassment.


To conduct a needs analysis. Before the beginning of a training program, find out what your participants would like to learn.

To establish a baseline. Measure current levels of knowledge and attitudes among participants.

To obtain useful feedback. At the end of a training program, check what the participants have learned.


To analyze a problem. Ask employees to identify the causes for production delays.

To forecast. Ask experts to make predictions about the buying behaviors of older people.

To generate alternative solutions. Ask community members to discuss how to reduce drug abuse among the local youth.

To make decisions. Ask the conference committee to specify criteria for selecting presentations.

To formulate policy. Ask the conference planners to decide how to handle requests for free registration from presenters.

How To Write Group Grope Prompts

Once you have figured out that you want to use Group Grope, come up with a prompt. This is the initial question (or instruction) for which participants write the answers on cards. Here are some guidelines for writing the prompt:

Keep the question short but clear. Don't make the question so short that nobody understands it.

Keep the question open-ended. Instead of Who was the first person to climb Mount Everest?, use this more open-ended version: If you were to climb Mount Everest, what supplies would you take with you?

Keep the question impersonal. Instead of Why do you feel that increased immigration will reduce your quality of life?, use this more impersonal version: Why do some people feel that increased immigration will reduce their quality of life?

Encourage participants to look at both sides of an issue. Instead of the preceding question, use this double-sided version: Why do some people feel that increased immigration will reduce their quality of life, while others feel it will raise their quality of life?

Use an appropriate sentence structure. Your prompt could be an incomplete sentence:

Real empowerment requires ___________________.

Or it could be an instruction:

Write a list of precautions to be observed in the laboratory.

How To Write Instructions for Conducting a Group Grope Game

Here's a set of generic instructions. Use them as an outline for creating your own set of instructions.

  1. Announce the prompt. Explain any of the key terms, if necessary.
  2. Give each participant four blank cards and ask him or her to write responses to the prompt. After 5 minutes, collect the cards and mix them with your prepared cards.
  3. Randomly distribute three cards to each participant. Ask everyone to study the items on the cards and to arrange them in order of personal preference. While participants do this, spread the leftover cards on a large table.
  4. Ask participants to exchange the cards they don't like with those on the table. Allow a couple of minutes for this activity.
  5. Ask participants to exchange their cards with each other. Every participant should exchange at least one card and may exchange any number. Stop this activity after 3 minutes.
  6. Ask participants to form teams. There is no limit to the number of participants who may join the same team, but no team may keep more than three cards.
  7. After an appropriate pause for the teams to discuss and discard, instruct each team to prepare a graphic poster (without any text) to reflect its three final cards.
  8. After a suitable pause, ask each team to read its three final cards and present its poster. Comment on each presentation. If appropriate, identify the “best” presentation and give an award to the team that created it.

An Invitation

Please join me in a co-creation activity. Create a Group Grope game on a training topic of your choice and send it as an email attachment to me ( I'd like to publish your contribution in a future issue of PFP.


Steps in Instructional Development

A cryptic cluster puzzle contains a list of encrypted items that belong to a specific category. For example, all the 10 items in the puzzle below belong to the steps in the instructional development process.

The items in the puzzle are encrypted using a simple letter substitution system; each letter in the item is consistently replaced by some other letter of the alphabet (for example, every “T” in the item is replaced with a “Y”). The challenge is to decipher the items by using a combination of cryptographic principles and knowledge of the subject-matter area.

---- --------

------- --------

---------- ----------

---- ------------

--------- ------

--------- ----------



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A hint for the puzzle

The solution

Change Management

Handling Resistance to Interactive Lectures — Part 3

In the last two issues of PFP (September and October 2005), I listed several concerns about the use of interactive lectures and my reassuring responses. Here are three more. Assuming that your managers, colleagues, and participants are open-minded, you may use these logical arguments to persuade them.

Your concern: I am a technical trainer and interactive lectures will not work with my topics.

My response: I originally used the interactive lecture approach for teaching physics. Most of my original design and field tests were conducted with trainers in high-tech areas involving such exotic topics such as microchip architecture. Recently, I used a series of interactive lectures in a workshop on financial analysis. During the past 20 years, my friends and associates have applied interactive lectures to a variety of topics in technical areas.

Your concern: I don't know how to conduct the interactive activities. I am afraid of losing control and making a fool of myself.

My response: Back issues of PFP contain articles to help you master the skills associated with interactive lectures. Don't try to learn several different formats in a single sitting. Just learn one format and apply it in your classroom.

Your concern: I cannot remember all of the steps in conducting an interactive lecture.

My response: All you need to remember is the first step. While participants are busy interacting, you can remind yourself of the next step by referring to the article. The nice thing about interactive lectures is that you have plenty of “free time” (while participants are busy with interactive interludes) during which you can refresh your memory, review the instructions, and plan for the next segment.


Hint for the Puzzle

The first item is TASK ANALYSIS.

Back to the puzzle

Pithy Saying

The Reality of Simulations

A simulation is not the solution; it's only a part of the solution.

I heard this insightful remark from Bjorn Billhardt, CEO of Enspire (, an organization that specializes in online simulations and game-based learning.

There is no doubt that simulations (and simulation games) are powerful training tools. But they are not complete training solutions. Asking participants to work through (or to play through) a simulation ensures that they are engaged, energized, and (sometimes) slightly confused. Simulations do not automatically ensure participants' mastery of new principles and procedures. To extract, strengthen, and generalize the learning from a simulation, you need to add some other components before, during, and after the experience.

Briefing. Before the play of the simulation, you need a briefing section to alert participants about what to look for and what to pay attention to in the simulation. In this briefing, you also need to make sure that participants have the prerequisite skills and knowledge. You should do all this without removing potential surprise elements during the play of the simulation.

Coaching. During the play of the simulation, you must coach (or tutor) the participants to provide just-in-time and just enough information. You should do this without slowing down the excitement of the simulated activity.

Debriefing. After the simulation, you need a debriefing to ensure that participants reflect on their experience, gain valuable insights, share them with each other, and integrate their new knowledge and skills in their action plans.

When you design a simulation game, set aside enough time and resources for designing the total package that includes the briefing, coaching, and debriefing components.


Solutions to the puzzle