Lessons on Communication from Co-operative Games
- August 11, 2015
- Posted by: Chris Rudram
- Category: Philosophy of Games
A recent nominee for the prestigious Spiel Des Jahres was the co-operative game called “The Game… play as long as you can”. It’s a terrible name, as searching for “The Game” finds you many links which aren’t the game itself. But, the game itself throws up some interesting ideas. It’s a barebones game. There’s not much to it, being pared down to a small rule set. Play two cards a turn, on to one of four piles. Two piles the cards must be played so that they get higher each time, two piles the cards must be played so that they get lower each time. If you can’t play, your team loses, and the game is over. A win is playing through the complete deck of 98 (numbered 2-99). A more in depth overview can be seen here.
The key part of the game is talking about what you can and can’t do, without directly naming the cards you have in your hand. You can’t say ‘I have a 75’. You can say ‘don’t play on that pile so it gets any higher’. You shouldn’t bend the rules either by saying ‘don’t play anything ten greater than that there’, but I wouldn’t be too worried on that the first time playing.
Because, even with three players, there’s a lot of information to share, and decisions to be made. You have to play two cards, so your moves may make a pile inaccessible to the next player. But you also have to take a risk sometimes. Where to take that risk, and which move will affect your team mates the least is the meat of the game.
To do that, you have to communicate. Listen to the information, confirm it, and act on it. Having played this game a couple of times, what I learned was often I’d absorb information and not act on it. I’d send feedback to my fellow players that I had understood what they had said, but then acted like I hadn’t. This led us to losing one game on the very last card to be played. I have not yet been forgiven for that.
The other behaviour I noticed, is that players would claim they had shared some information, but everyone else got something else out of the what was shared. I was reminded of this in a real world situation when listening to the podcast “Startup”. Alex Blumberg recorded a lot of his discussions, and discovered later he’d said something completely different from what he thought he’d said.
I learned that assuming everything I do is good and effective for the team can lead into bad consequences. That not confirming what you’ve heard can lead to teams working towards very different, conflicting goals. Co-operative game’s like “The Game” can be used to reflect on how we communicate within a team, to learn how we listen and how we share. Adding a timer, to add pressure to the team can add an extra layer as well, and make it even more important that communication is clear, precise and active.