A Real Options Game
- Options have Value.
- Options Expire.
- Never Commit Early Unless You Know Why.
Real Options is about “deferring decisions to the last responsible moment,” which is an explicit principle in the Lean Software approach. By avoiding early commitments, you gain flexibility in the choices you have later. Experience uncertainty in a 30min game and learn when to decide, and how. This game was developed by Jason Ayers, Olaf Lewitz, Sebastian Lang, Wolfgang Wiedenroth and Robert van Vark at Play4Agile 2012.
You need (for each table, at which 4-10 people can play) one Bausack (German for “Sac O’ Bricks”), available here.
Use a flip chart or whiteboard to visualise rules and progress. You need an egg-timer for 2 min intervals.
Any large table where 4-10 people can sit around will work. Write the rules on a flip chart.
Write the numbers 1-15 on the flip chart, to visualise the current round and usage of jokers.
Divide the bricks into four piles of equal number of blocks. Take away some of the “easy” (as in big, even) pieces so that each group has about 15 blocks. (It will become clear below why it should not be possible to create a tower of all the available pieces so that teams have to remove blocks from their tower.)
Goal, and Start
Build the Tallest Tower!
The goal of the game is to build the tallest tower. The team that builds the tallest tower in 15 rounds wins.
First Decision, First Commitment
Let the players examine (view, don’t touch!) the blocks and each decide which pile looks most promising to build the tallest tower. Encourage them to discuss their options. Players move to their chosen pile when decided, and commit. They form a team by choosing a pile.
If a pile has no players, the blocks are taken away from the table. Explain (during the decision process) that this reduces the overall options of the group. (Even if you decide to show the moving rule later—see below—they still know they can grab fallen pieces from other towers.)
After the commitment, let them take a seat.
The game has 15 rounds, time-boxed to 2 minutes. Teams work in parallel. In each round, each team has to chose to
- Add a block to their tower,
- Remove a block from their tower (which may not be placed back into the same position later),
- Use their joker to refactor their tower (changing the order of the blocks without adding or removing any). The joker can only be played once per team.
(To make it more difficult/surprising, write this rule on the second page of the flip chart, so that you can uncover this rule only later in the game.) After rounds 5 and 10, all remaining pieces of each team are moved to the team on their right.
The game finishes after 15 rounds, the team with the highest tower wins.
During the game, pay attention to discussions in the team (and make sure they don’t take too long by keeping the time-box!).
- When does a team realise that they have to play too many rounds for them to finish their tower straight forward by just adding piece by piece?
- The blocks are devious. Some pieces look usable, yet are very hard to build in, some look impossible to use (look at the coloured blocks in the picture) yet work fine. How much do teams experiment with their pile to evaluate options?
- Unused pieces move away during the game. When do teams realise they might want to put blocks onto the tower early to reuse them later? Do they build in room for storage?
- If you find further questions for observation, please share them in the comments!
Ask the following questions:
- How many moves were you able to plan ahead? Why not more?
- Were you aware if your options were changing? How? When did you notice?
- What caused your options to change?
- Which options did you use to your advantage and when did you realise you could?
- In which way does this game relate to your (work) life?
- long-term planning,
- early architecture decisions,
- fixed deadlines…
Number of Rounds
We’ve played this game with 20 rounds (moving the remaining piles between teams after rounds 5, 10, 15) and it should also work with 12 (moving after rounds 4, 8). Adjust number of bricks accordingly.
Thanks again to all participants of the RealOptions game design session at Play4Agile. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to create three games ready-to-test in one hour! So be prepared for more:
More To Come
We developed two more games which still need to be tested before publishing: Commitment (less fancy then this one, similar learning expectations) and RealOptions Poker.
A huge thank you for the teams who invested their valuable time to test-play the game and gave us lots of feedback to perfect it: Ole Jepsen, Melanie Meinen, Nancy van Schooendervoert, Michael Laussegger, Michael Leber, Nadine Haertel, and Wolf Wehner. Most appreciated!