The Blame Game

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This is a game to let people experience the effects of different punishments/rewards systems have on the way a team works together. One team will be ‘The Team’ which is rewarded and punished on a team level and ‘The Individuals’ have a mix of team and individual rewards and punishments.

Timing: 20-45 minutes
Materials: Deck of Cards, rules instructions, paper/pen to keep track of scores
Divide the groups in 2 groups. Ideally around 4-7 people per group. Explain people that the point of the game is to build one or more houses of cards.

The 2 groups are going to have slightly different rules. One team will be rewarded and punished on a team level and the others will be rewarded individually.
Whenever I talk about a section in the rest of the rules I mean either the 2 cards standing up ( /\ ) or the card covering it ( — )

The ‘Team’ scores as follows:
2 pts for every section they add to the house. This is multiplied by the layer they have added it to. So on the second layer they get 4 points. On the third layer they get 6 points.
-10 pts for every time the house (partly) collapses.

The ‘Individuals’ score as follows:
1 pt for every section added to the house, multiplied by the level for the individual
1 pt for every section added to the house, multiplied by the level for the team
In the event of a (partial) collapse the person whose turn it is gets -8 points. And he can shift the blame by choosing someone else to also receive -2 points.

Both teams are also required to keep track of how many sections at what level they add and how many times the house collapsed.
It is also possible for a person to pass and not attempt to add any more cards.

The reason to give them their printed instructions and not explain it in public is that you do not want the teams to know they are playing by 2 different rules.
Give them 5 minutes to build houses. As soon as one collapses they can keep going and start over.

After the 5 minutes are up, ignore the scores and gather the statistics on the amount of sections added and total number of collapses.
Then do a debriefing to gather experiences and see what was different between the 2 teams.

If there is time do a round with both groups on the team score for some friendly competition.

Learning Points:

What usually happens is that The Individuals will be competing against each other. They are probably more risk-averse and look to blame strategically. After someone has a high enough score they sometimes sit back and pass instead of taking the risk of losing their lead.
The Team on the other hand is working together. They are figuring out the way to place cards, help each other place them and warn when they see something going on.
Compare this with how bonuses and blame is usually distributed in their organisation.

Special thanks to the people in my PLAID workshop at the AgileHolland Agile Games Night who came up with the problem and the resulting brainstorm and the volunteers at Agile Coach Camp Denmark for being guinea-pigs.

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15 Responses to "The Blame Game"
  • Sebastian Radics December 2, 2012 at 10:54 am

    What a cool game. One question when finishing the game. You mention to ignore the scores. But what to gather – you mention the sections but isn’t it important to consider the layers too? How to compare the result for both teams. For team 2 – building layers seemed not to be important? But building layers is difficult and could distract team 1?
    Can you please give me a hint on this?

    Thx Sebastian

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  • Erwin van der Koogh December 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm


    The reason I ignore the score is that the scores are not comparable. What you do want to compare are the sections added at what level. I’ll make up a proper form and upload a PDF next time I play the game.

    But most important is to discuss team dynamics. The Individuals are competing against each others and the Team is just adding stuff to the house. They do not care if the house falls over every now and then.

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  • Bastiaan Bakker December 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Erwin, I very much enjoyed playing this game at the NL-Scrum Agile Game Night last week. The difference in results between the two teams was impressive.
    One thing I feel would make it even better is to elminate the concept of playing in turn. Let the teams decide for themselves who can do what and when.In software development we don’t take turns, instead we try to work concurrently without stepping on eachothers toes. I expect this to be a lot harder for the individual rewards team :-) Also who to blame for a collapse will more unclear, leading to more arguing amongst the team.

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  • Erwin van der Koogh December 18, 2012 at 4:05 am


    The great thing is I never told you you had to take turns. The two teams had exactly the same explanation. You just interpreted it very differently.

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  • Bastiaan Bakker December 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Erwin, that’s great. I just overheard you mentioning that players could ‘skip a turn’ if they wanted to and assumed a turn based game explanation.
    Now I no longer feel we had an unfair advantage by working together ;-)
    Just to nitpick: in the game description, better replace ‘In the event of a (partial) collapse the person whose turn it is gets -8 points.’ with ‘In the event of a (partial) collapse the person whose fault it is gets -8 points.’.

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  • Erwin van der Koogh December 19, 2012 at 5:54 am

    Ohh. that’s evil. I like it :D

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  • Jan De Baere January 8, 2013 at 4:26 am

    Looks like a really nice & interesting game. The remark that the height does not count for the individual team made me think and the evil game breaker in me woke up. If I would be on the individual team I would propose that every individual would build “his” house and suggest having only one level, with cover cards. I didn’t try but I have the feeling that they would have more sections than building a higher building with multiple people at the same time. As I never played the game I can be completely wrong of course.

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  • Erwin van der Koogh January 8, 2013 at 5:59 am


    Thanks for catching that error. The individuals should get scores based on the level. The point is that the scores are almost identical between the teams. Only way that is different is how they are distributed.
    But you really should try the game sometimes.. it has been hilarious and very troubling at the same time.

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  • Thomas Schissler February 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Erwin,

    I was thinking if it would be good to let all groups Play the game twice, first in the Individuals mode, then in the Team mode. This would give each one a better comparison between the two Scenarios and you can Play the game with a small group.

    What do you think? Will that work?

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  • Erwin van der Koogh February 3, 2013 at 4:58 pm


    I stopped doing that because it did not work out as well. What happens is the groups settle into a way of working. What that way is is depending on what team they are on, but it mostly sticks afterwards. So the difference is not that great.
    It is also shorter and you can have a discussion between the 2 groups. It also makes the differences so very clear. One group having a big tall tower and the other a significantly smaller one.
    The only thing that is bad about having the 2 groups is the fact that the individual group is slightly down, because of the system they have been put in.. and they also feel like they lost.

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  • Wim Heemskerk February 12, 2013 at 5:33 am

    How many decks of cards are required (per subgroup of 4 – 7 people). A deck per group? Two decks per group?

    I wonder, does this simulation strictly demonstrate the effects of reward and punishment, or will it work equally well to demonstrate the difference between several individuals performing a task and a team working together?

    I’m really looking for something to make people see that it’s valuable to go for team and working together first and foremost, rather than to throw procedure at everything, to be worked out and written down in detail (of course..). — Suggestions welcome.

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  • Erwin van der Koogh February 12, 2013 at 6:58 am


    It shows the other way around, that people behave as individuals or a team depending on how you reward them.
    That is slightly different than what I think you are trying to accomplish. You might be able to adapt it to that though. Let me know if I can help with that. Or let me know your results.

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  • Nicolas Brunot April 8, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Thanks for interesting game, I translate it into french :
    Best regards, Nicolas.

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  • Bobby December 16, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Where do I get the instructions for the game? This really sounds like a perfect game for a session that I am planning to facilitate soon. Looks like there’s some PDF that explains the instructions for the team. Is there are a way, I could get them? Would really appreciate it.

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  • Douglas Waugh December 6, 2016 at 6:54 am

    As simple as the rules for scoring are, I’m still having trouble understanding them!

    For team 2, am I right in thinking that for each section the individual gets one point, and the team gets one point. Both points are multiplied by the level the section is added to. So for team 2 there will be one score for the team and one for each of the individuals. Team 1 on the other hand has only one score, the team score.

    Is that right?

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