The Game

Try or Die – the X-periment is a ~20min game for a group of 3..5 players to experience how to act under conditions of uncertainty / ambiguity. The name of the game stems from a well-known Deming quote: “Learning is not mandatory, neither is survival”. Wim Heemskerk shortened this to 3 words: “Try or die”.  The game was designed, created and test-played at Play4Agile 2016 Germany.

In a pre-session before the event Jordann Gross and Wim Heemskerk started experimenting with game mechanics and were pitching it with towards a group of more people (Dave WoertmanDaniel HommelGitte Klitgaard and Janny WalKer et al) who were involved in distilling the initial thought into something pitchable, contributing many thoughts and pieces such as that there should be challenge cards.

Later on during the weekend at least 20 people in 6 teams test-played it during 3 sessions.


  • A table for 3..5 players and the facilitator
  • a set of colorful, playful items. The Play4Agile game design kit works well, any other combination of items might also work (dices, post-its, balloons, diamonds, pens, dotvoting stickers, tape, whatever…)
  • Some sheets of papers to note the iteration results, a pen
  • A timer
  • The Challenge Cards
These are are challenge cards in a spreadsheet format. PDF challenge cards will follow.
Challenge Points Points when it doesn’t happen
All team members have to participate the experiment 4
Make noise with all of the team in iteration 5
Be silent for at least 10sec 5
Leave the room 6
Sit in different position in the chair 5
Using an item for an unintented usage/purpose 4
Use something blue 4
Spread out the items on the table 4
Move the table around a bit 7
Switching seats 8
Breaking one item 4
Use something red 2
At least 3 experiments in one iteration 5 -10
Pick one person out of the group and see if he/she laughs 3 times 5 -5
Height of a structure >10cm 5
Making a circle 6
3 people touching each other on at the same time 7
All must standup at least once 10
Sort by size 5
Drop an item from the table 5
Collaborate with 3 people together closely 10
Walk a full round around the table 10
Pick the oddest thing on the table. One person triyng out that item. 5
One person stands up during the session 5 -5
One of the team members says the word “Agile” 8
Sort stuff by color 7
All team members have touched the table once 3
Use facilitator in experiment 4
Failure Reward 10

Rules and Flow

  1. The facilitator introduces the game, puts the items onto the table.
  2. The introduction should be lean and mean, not mentioning more that the game is around surviving a chaotic environment by experimentation…
  3. The team plays 5 iterations, each 2 minutes. The initial point score is 50, in every iteration 10 points get subtracted.
  4. Shuffle the challenge cards.
  5. The facilitator takes 3 challenge cards per iteration. The challenge cards either add or remove points.
  6. To the team: During the iteration it is not allowed to talk to the facilitator.
  7. During the iteration: Whenever one challenge is solved the facilitator lays the card onto the table reading the challenge out loud. The points are noted on a sheet of paper.
  8. After one iteration (2 minutes) the facilitator shows and reads the challenges not solved. Sum up the iteration points.
  9. The facilitator takes the next 3 cards and starts the next iteration.
  10. After the 5th iteration debrief with the team.

Some more background

During the first 2 iterations the team might feel a bit lost. During that phase they start to see the patterns in what is expected to earn points. They also may figure out that the challenges are independent from the used items.

It might be worth to play a second round to experience that knowing the rules and mechanics is not a guarantee to succeed.


Some sources that can be used to explain the learning of the game. Needs some more work…

Jurgen Appelo – Celebrate Experiments

Single Loop, Double Loop Learning

Cynefin Model


9 thoughts on “Try or Die – The X-periment

  1. I may missing something, but there’s no actual mention of _what_ game the participants are playing, just that you’ve got challenge cards (which they don’t see)?

    Is the game to see what they do with the selection of things you put in the table??

  2. Alex Stevenson, how was the activity at the end? 🙂

    I am looking for a team activity for encouraging bravery / courage, and I liked this one so far, even though it looks like it’s something more related to losing fear to make unplanned decisions

  3. Hey all,

    I’m going to run this with my team this afternoon.

    I’ve created a PDF of the cards here: or Die Cards.pdf?dl=0

    Print it out double sided along the short edge then you can get the backs of the cards out as well. I’m also planning to laminate mine but that’s optional, I just like to laminate everything.

    @Thomy – I hope you don’t mind but I reworded some cards and swapped 1 or 2 out for something different to suit my team more.

  4. Ferran,

    the card “At least 3 experiments in one iteration” means that the team tries at least different 3 experiments in an iteration.

    “Failure Reward” card: Well, I’ve used it as a kind of consolation bonus card if things go wrong, break during the team’s experiments. Our first experiments happened in a bar at night, some beer may have been involved… people were playing and experimenting with high energy.

  5. Hi, I have 2 questions:
    How to use the “At least 3 experiments in one iteration” card? If I have 3 cards at hand and this one of them… Or is this more a general rule and not a card?

    How to use the “Failure Reward” card? What does it mean?

  6. Where does one download the cards from? you mention obtaining them but don’t supply any links.

  7. Sorry,saw the comment just now.

    No,the challenge cards are hidden to the team until they solve one of the challenges without knowing it. It’s the purpose of the game to act without being able to plan.

  8. Hey!
    This small game looks interesting and fun. I’m gonna to try it next Friday.

    We have 2 teams in our struct :
    team A : 3 dev + 1 QA
    team B : 3 dev + 1 QA

    I have a stupid question (maybe it is the purpose of the game but I want to make sure before trying)
    Does the facilitator show the challenges _before_ the iteration or teammates have to guess ?

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