Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I Made My Coworkers Happy With Games

The Setup

My boss asked my coworker to organize something different for a group meeting for the last day of Hanukkah. Since I had mentioned in the last group meeting that I organize a game group, my coworker asked me if I would be willing to bring a game.

I figured that I would be one of several people asked to do things, and that I would have five or ten minutes for the game. But then he asked me to make sure that my game didn't last more than two hours.

Two hours!?

Turns out that I was the main event; they were planning a games meeting, and I had to lead it. From my coworker's phrasing, I realized that he expected me to bring in some form of trivia game for everyone to play. Little did he know.

The Games

What to bring? There were going to be twelve people there, so I was made to understand. What with sickness or under-counting, I expected 10 to 13 people. I was prepared for less, but hoping for no more; if there were more, I would have to split people into groups. I could split the people into groups anyway, but I wanted to see if I didn't have to.

The question was: what to bring? One game for an hour and a half, or several games? Did they all have to be party games, or could I get away with something different? These weren't gamers; some probably hadn't had any desire to play a game for over thirty years. They all read English, but they weren't all native English speakers.

Here's what I ended up preparing:

- Two decks of cards: For Pit and Haggle
- Apples to Apples: A mixture of cards from various sets
- Set
- Boggle (didn't expect to play this, but could use for a small group if we split)
- Scrabble tiles: For Anagrams (ditto)
- Scrabble dictionary: For word games, such as Dictionary (Balderdash)
- Pens and paper: For various games
- Haggle rules

Pit is fantastic ice-breaker, but it could fall flat with older people who don't like to yell and wouldn't understand the trading mechanic. I've played with up to 8 players before, and games typically last between thirty seconds and a minute. Could it work with 12?

Haggle is Sid Sackson's classic party game, but it requires a pre-defined list of rules and a judge. The person who knows the rules (me) is the judge and can't play. I created a vast game for 600 people at BGG.con 3 which was loosely inspired by Haggle's mechanics, but I never ran an actual Haggle game. I figured Sid can't go wrong, though.

Apples to Apples was straightforward.

I didn't think Set would work with 12 people, but then again it might, and it could also be used for half the group.

I figured that between these games, and a vast supply of parlor games such as Password and Dictionary, I could probably find the right game for 12 people for half an hour. Actually I expected to get through three games (which is what happened). I had no idea which games they would respond to, however.

The Event

After everyone gathered and I was introduced as MC, I started with a brief speech on the continuing popularity of tabletop games, and a little history of the modern game. I told them that they would be playing a few games from a rich history of games that spanned several centuries.

Why? Not simply to be informative but to establish that I knew something about games and that they could trust me. And that, even if they didn't enjoy the games, they would learn something.


My first choice was Pit. There were exactly 12 people including myself, so I removed the jokers and all but two aces from the decks, shuffled, and dealt out the cards. I told them what year Pit was created, what the name meant, and what type of game it was. Then I explained the very few, very simple rules.

A little something about teaching a large group of non-gamers: you have to be very clear, very concise, and very repetitive. No matter what you say and how you say it, some of the people won't understand the first time. They'll shake their heads, complain that it's too complicated, and so on. If you're lucky, as I was, some of their neighbors will be happy to restate what was said.

As I said, Pit really is pretty simple. But we were sitting around a table; I made everyone stand up and move around. It took only a few moments after saying "Go!" before we were all yelling and trading. Some yelled less than others (the fifty year old guys), but even they were willing to trade with people who asked them first.

12 player Pit is tough, much tougher than 8 player. After we had already gone on for a minute, I began to fear that it was going to end up being too tough to find what you needed and start to get boring. But it wasn't and it didn't. I won after about 4 or 5 minutes with a complete set of jacks. I heard of one report of someone mistaking the rules and trading two differently ranked cards instead of two of the same rank, but only once.

Everyone loved it. Really, really loved it. Later in the day, this was the game they all commented on, and congratulated me for.

Apples to Apples

To change paces, I took out this recent party game, introducing it as an excellent choice for shabbat (no writing). Only one person had played it before, and she hadn't had success with it.

I couldn't see doing 12 player Apples to Apples, so reluctantly I split the group into two parties of six. I explained the rules and off we went.

Once again, they loved it. I told each group to play around the circle twice, but both groups decided to go around three times and would probably have been happy going around more. Several of them wanted to know where to buy it, and if it came in Hebrew. The one who had played before unsuccessfully said that she really enjoyed it this time.

Yay, two successes. Half hour to go.


I had prepared 13 rules, hoping that there wouldn't be too many more people than that. One new person joined us just before the game, giving us 12 players, which was fine.

Haggle also involves trading like Pit, but it's a negotiation game. It's also more low key than Pit. I gave everyone 5 random cards and 2 rules, and set them to playing.

I gave them 10 minutes, but within 7 minutes I had gotten back everyone's sets. This is when I realized that should have brought along an assistant; it takes five to ten minutes to calculate Haggle results at the end! I should have realized that from the BGG.con experience.


While I calculated Haggle results, I gave Set to someone who had played before and asked her to teach the group. Moments later, hearing confused sounds, I interrupted my calculations and tried to explain the rule of sets myself. The game Set essentially has only a single rule, but it's not easy to explain, even with examples. Furthermore, it's somewhat difficult to play with 12 people.

One or two sets had been collected when I finished my calculating and announced the winners for Haggle. At that point the meeting was over, so Set was put away. Probably a good thing. Set is best with a group of 8 or less.

The Aftermath

The organizer and my boss said that the games were fantastic, and that I had done wildly better than they had expected. I said that I had a few thousand more games that I didn't get to. They said that they're looking forward to me bringing more next time.

All the other people gave me various levels of congratulations when i saw them later in the day. Some told me that they hadn't had so much fun in a long time. All of them especially loved Pit.

Score one for games.

P.S. My Haggle rule set:

Each player gets five random cards from 2 decks, and two random rules. Players may trade cards, rules, or information at will. At the end of ten minutes, players return as many cards as they like to the judge; these cards constitute the player's entry. Each player's base score is 1 point per card returned, plus bonuses as specified by the following rules.

01 All diamond cards are worth twice as many bonus points as club cards with the same number
02 All heart cards are worth three times as many bonus points as club cards with the same number
03 Spade cards are not worth any bonus points
04 Club cards, other than face cards (J, Q, K, and A) are worth their numerical value in bonus points
05 Face cards (J, Q, K, and A) of any suit are worth 5 bonus points each
06 A pair of diamond Q and spade J are worth 25 bonus points if handed in together
07 Any marriage (K and Q of same suit) handed in together is worth 20 bonus points
08 Any full house (3 card of one value, and two of another value) is worth 25 bonus points
09 Any four of a kind (4 cards, all of the same value) is worth 30 bonus points
10 Black 2s (club 2 and spade 2) are worth a bonus of 20 points each
11 You score no points at all if you do not hand in at least one spade
12 Rule 02 is completely false and will be ignored
13 Notwithstanding rule 11, any ace handed in alone (with no other cards) is worth 30 bonus points


David Klein said...

Do you remember what the winning Haggle hand was?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

I hope I added everything correctly:

01: 10c 10d 10c 5c 5s = 75
02: kc kd kh kc 9s = 55
03: 10h 10s 10d jd jc = 50
04: ks kd qd jd 8c 3s = 54
05: 4d 2d 4d 3d 2s = 43
06: 6c 6s 6c 5h 5h = 42
07: 9c 9s 9h 8h 6h 2c = 27
08: ks 8d 6d 8s = 32
09: qc js jh 10s 10h = 20
10: qd qc qh 7h 3s = 20
11: 2h 4s kh ah = 14
12: 8d 8c 3c 3c 3d = 0

Anonymous said...

Because you said that everyone particularly enjoyed Pit, I tried to satisfy my curiosity and look up the rules. However, it's not on the list of card games at pagat.com, which is where I normally go to look up things like that.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

oh: I will create an entry to explain how to play Pit with two standard decks of playing cards.