Evolving a Core Protocols Card Game

Last week Jeremy Lightsmith invited some people to play and evolve a Core Protocols card game.

This game was conceived in March, 2012 when Jeremy participated in the McCarthy Technologies BootCamp, a 3.5 day experiential workshop on creating great teams. A couple of days into the BootCamp, Jeremy came bouncing in first thing in the morning asking for help printing some cards he had made. They were for a game he had started putting together to help people learn the mechanics of the Core Protocols. The Core Protocols are the behavior patterns that Jim and Michele McCarthy have codified over 200+ BootCamps; a set of DNA for creating great teams.

Each card had the essence of one core protocol on it, like the Ask for Help card shown to the right. (Here is the full set.) Once the cards were printed and cut to shape, Jeremy laid out the cards on the floor and gathered with a couple of other people as they started iterating on and improving the game. There were micro-payments each time you correctly practiced a core protocol. As you gained more points, you could purchase more Core Protocols. A game master was in charge of distributing points and charging points if a core protocol was used incorrectly.

The energy was palpable. The players were enjoying themselves as they gamed the system to earn more points, and in the process using each of the Core Protocols many times. The pace seemed fast, with plentiful rewards. This looks like something very intriguing, something that could help people train their brains in the mechanics of the Core Protocols so that they could then use them more quickly and effectively for the more important work of the BootCamp: learning and experiencing how to work effectively in a team.

Since then, Jeremy has tried this Core Protocols Cards game a couple of times, including with a set of colleagues at his work. According to Jeremy, as soon as his colleagues got all of the cards and were in the final “product creation” phase they were “done” and ready to get back to work. The interesting thing is that since then they have been using several of the Core Protocols during their day to day work. So even that slight amount of training helped them identify and adopt some new practices. (Though having Jeremy on their team may have helped as well.)

Last week, 6 of us gathered at Jeremy’s house to continue perfecting this game: Jim and Michele McCarthy, Paul Ingalls, Drew Stone, and myself. Jeremy played the game master. The rest of us were players at the table. All of us had been to a BootCamp before, so we already knew the protocols. We quickly accumulated enough points to buy the cards in sequence, and soon were into the project creation phase. At this point, the players got so into creating the product that they essentially stopped playing the game.

Afterwards, we did a Perfection Game on this card game. As is often the case, using the Perfection Game helped us quickly transition from a wandering conversation into a clear set of suggested improvements. Here are the suggestions I remember:

  • Clarify the purpose of this game. For me, it is to practice the phraseology and mechanics of the Core Protocols, so that your brain is wired to be ready to use them. Creating a great product is a bonus, but not a necessity, for this game.
  • When play is purchase a new card, explain the new card and make sure that each of the players has time to read it before resuming play.
  • Have each card cost more than the prior card. This makes each card more rewarding to acquire, and forces people to practice the Core Protocols more and more as the game proceeds.
  • Have the cost of the cards be proportional to the number of players. This helps ensure an even playing experience for each individual, regardless of the number of players. Each person will get approximately the same amount of practice, regardless of the number of players.
  • Have a mechanism, such as a spinning arrow, to randomly choose the next person to move for this turn. That person then must use one of the Core Protocols. Then spin the spinner to choose the next person. This would help avoid someone being silent during the whole game, or a few people dominating the game. It also helps introduce an element of surprise into the game.
  • Include the Pass protocol. This important protocol allows people who want to pass, to pass.
  • Add artwork to make the cards beautiful.
  • Start the game with the cards facedown. On the back of each card indicate its sequence, and cost. This helps people focus on the Core Protocols that they have.
  • End the game when the game master gives an 8 or above during the Perfection Game for the product to clear circulating for the game master. Given the players and the game master, it may be very difficult to get a 10 in the Perfection Came.
  • Place the cards in a linear sequence on the table (instead of the zigzag path we used), and include the sequence on the card. This makes it very clear which card is next.
  • Include a mechanism by which players are randomly required to choose from a set of “Change” cards. Each Change card specifies an event and result. Adding these types of random events helps spice up gameplay. Here are some possible cards:
    • “New member added to your team: return half of your chits to the game master.”
    • “Emotional roller coaster: do a Check In that uses each of the 4 emotions.”
    • “Emergency at home: roll the dice and Check Out for that many turns.”
    • “Priority check: ask someone to Investigate you on what the most important thing is for you to be doing at work after this game finishes. (Place on bottom of deck if you do not yet have the Investigate card.) “
    • Allow the game master to charge the players if they spend too much time without using a Core Protocol.
    • Allow the game master to charge the players each time they do something that could’ve been done with a Core Protocol, such as asking for help without using the Ask for Help protocol.

In addition, we wondered if some other changes might be useful:

  • Have each Core Protocol card correspond to a new level? What would that mean? When you purchase a card, you not only get a new protocol, there are slight changes to some of the rules? For instance, you may now get more points if you do a hard part of a particular protocol, such as using MAD or SCARED during a Check In (since those tend to be more difficult for players to use).
  • Add a playing board, like found with most board games. This seemed like a useful idea, though we were not clear on what would be good to have on the board.
  • When the players purchase the Perfection Game card, explicitly and dramatically enter the “Product Mode”? What would this mean? What would players do differently? Would all play be focused on creating and perfecting a product for the game master?
  • Require the team to do a Perfection Game among themselves first, before doing it with the Game Master?
  • Add the Core Commitments?

I am looking forward to seeing how this game evolves, and how its use does, or does not, help teams become more effective. If you experiment with this game and learn something useful, will you let me know?

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About davidsocha

In autumn 2010 after spending 19 years working in a variety of software organizations as a programmer, architect, manager, teacher, ScrumMaster, product designer, change agent, and agile coach, I finally listened to what everyone had been telling me I should be doing and joined the University of Washington Bothell as an Assistant Professor in Computing & Software Systems. My interests are how to create and maintain great teams, particularly those in software development organizations. I am most interested in distinctions that dramatically increase the effectiveness of teams, such as systems thinking, design thinking, biomimicry, and human centered design. I am a pragmatist, a collaborator, and an optimist.
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