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Gamestorming: A playbook for innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers

Page: DesignBook.Book-GameStorming - Last Modified : Tue, 29 Mar 11 - 2236 Visits

Gray, Dave

Gamestorming: A playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers / Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo.- Sebastopol: O'Reilly, c2010.

266 p.: ill; 24cm

Index: p. 259-263

ISBN 978-0-596-80417-6

Since this is a board game design website, the title of this book could get confusing. What this book call a game is actually a tool to gather ideas. It's not a board game. But like a game, these tools have rules and objectives and are fun to play with. Still these kind of tools could be used by game designers to gather ideas for creating real games.

Most of the book contains a series of games that people could use to gather ideas. I will not describe these games in my summary. So I will only summarize the 3 first chapters that explains the basic concepts of Gamestorming. According to the book, you can find many games on their website:


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: What is a Game?
Chapter 2: 10 Essentials for Gamestorming
Chapter 3: Core Gamestorming Skills
Chapter 4: Core Games
Chapter 5: Games for Opening
Chapter 6: Games for Exploring
Chapter 7: Games for Closing
Chapter 8: Putting gamestorming to work


Chapter 1: What is a Game?

A game is composed of the following elements:

  • Game Space: A game creates a alternative world with different rules than the real world.
  • Boundaries: A game can be limited by time and physical space.
  • Rules for interaction: Players must agree to follow the rules of the new game world.
  • Artifacts: Physical objects called artifacts can be used to keep track of information in the game.
  • Goal: Player must know what is the objective of the game and which condition will make the game end.

Evolution of the game world

The whole process of a game could be explained in 5 steps which are either part of the game design or the game play.

Game Design

  • Imagine the world: Think how the world of the game will be.
  • Create the world: Design the rules, boundaries and artifacts required to play the game.

Game Play

  • Open the world: Make the players accept the concepts of the game world.
  • Explore the world: Play the game toward the goals that has been set.
  • Close the world: Reach the goal of the game and look back at the process that has been accomplished.

The Game of Business

In business, to achieve a goal, you need to start from point A and reach point B though a series of steps that can be measurable and predictable. This is what is commonly found in industrial work.

But in Knowledge work, you do not know exactly where you are going because the results you want to achieve has never been seen before. It could be compared to Columbus who found America when he was looking for India. It's completely different but maybe more valuable.

Fuzzy Goals

So in knowledge work, the goal is fuzzy but you still need to set yourself a course. Most of the path consist in experimentation and exploration. Fuzzy goals have the following properties:

  • Emotional: They are aligned with people's passion and energy. They have a compelling emotional component.
  • Sensory: A goal needs to be clearly defined or explainable to make sure it can be share with other people.
  • Progressive: Fuzzy goals will change over time since the goal will evolve with the process.

Game Design

A game is composed of

  • Target State: This is the goal of the game. What you do want to accomplish by playing this game?
  • Initial state: The is the starting position. What do you currently know?

In between these states, you will use 3 different stages to reach your goal:

  • Opening (Divergent): This is about opening people's mind and creativity. It's an explosion of ideas and possibilities.
  • Exploring (Emergent): This is the exploration and experimentation of the concept found in the opening process.
  • Closing (Convergent): This is the time where you look at the ideas with a critical eye and make conclusions about it.

The whole idea of this book is to use games for each of of these stages. Games can be links in different ways. You can sometime create a chain of games where the results of a game feed the input of another game. Or you could split the results a game into multiple smaller games. It looks similar to serial and parallel electrical circuit.

Chapter 2: 10 Essentials for Gamestorming

This is some sort of list of rules and concepts commonly found in gamestorming games.

1. Opening and Closing

This is the most important step in gamestorming. Opening is about opening people's mind and explore possibilities. Closing is about Making conclusions, choices and decisions. You should never try to open and close at the same time and you should close everything you open.

2. Fire Starting

Most common fire starter is a question what will ignite the imagination. You could also use fill-in-the-blank method where you write a sentence with a missing word.

3. Artifacts

You can use cards, tokens and post-it to record any kind of information you would like. This is useful for players to see and remember the information.

4. Node Generation

A node is a part of a larger system. An idea written on a post-it is a node. The concept of the node is that it can be moved, sorted, etc. This is why post-it are useful.

5. Meaningful Space

You can use section and areas where you can place your artifacts (ex: post-it). That could be used to group, sort or categorize ideas together.

6. Sketching and Model Making

A sketch is a visual too that is used to explain rapidly something by drawing simple shapes. Sketching can be done with other tools than a pencil, including plasticine play and pipe cleaner. But the basic idea is to create something with minimal efforts.

7. Randomness, Reversal and Reframing

Using randomness can create patterns you would have never though before. For example, you could place you ideas on cards, shuffle then and group them randomly. It's the same concept than an "Exquisite corpse".

8. Improvisation

Improvising consist in creating stuff spontaneously without planning anything. It is possible to improvise by role playing a character to gather new ideas.

9. Selection

You need to select which ideas you are going to keep since you cannot do everything. So you could use a voting or rating system to determine what is important to keep.

10. Try something New

Take risks and try new things. Force yourself do to at least 1 new thing at each gamestorming session.

Chapter 3: Core Gamestorming Skills

Asking Questions

The start of a gamestorm consist in asking questions. Here are various question examples for each category.

Opening Questions: The goal of this question is to open a portal into the game world.

  • "How would you define the problem we are facing?"
  • "What kinds of things do we want to explore?"
  • "What are the biggest problem areas?"

Navigating Questions (Exploration): These questions are used to make sure you keep people on track toward the goal.

  • "Did I understand this correctly?"
  • "Is this helping us to get where we want to go?"
  • "Should we table this for now and put it on a list of things to talk about later?"

Examining Questions (Exploration): These questions allows to observe and analyze details and characteristics.

  • "How does it work?"
  • "What is it made of?"
  • "What does it look like?"

Experimental Questions (Exploration): These questions are there to stimulate imagination and create new possibilities.

  • "What could I do with this?"
  • "What else works like this?"
  • "What if we are wrong?"

Closing Questions: These questions are used to compile what you have achieved, define priorities and make a selection.

  • "How can we prioritize these options?"
  • "What can we do in the next two weeks?"
  • "Who is going to do what?"

Creating Artifacts and Meaningful Space

Node: They are any thing which are a part of a larger system. You could use index cards or sticky note to write an idea on each of them. It will allow you to easily sort the information afterward. There are various ways to use nodes:

  • Linking: Nodes can be linked together like in a flow chart or a mind map.
  • Borders: You can create sections with shapes or lines where you could decide to place your nodes.
  • Axes: You can place your nodes in a certain order to give them a different value. Axes includes vectors but also tree structure.
  • Circles and targets: You can use circles like in a target to place node closer or farther way from the center. You could also use quadrants to express various concepts.
  • Analog vs digital space: Digital space does not consider the physical distance between the nodes, all nodes in the same digital space are at the same place. While analog space make the space between the nodes meaningful.
  • Grids: Grids and columns can be used to create sections where the nodes can be placed.
  • Landscape and maps: You could use more complex picture and define meaningful areas where the nodes could be placed.
  • Metaphor: You could use an object picture to represent various concept where you want the nodes to be placed. (The author gives an example of a plane with questions like "Where how we going?", "How do we steer?")

Employing Visual language

The author explains that that are many ways to represent things visually:

  • Visual Alphabet: With 6 different symbols and 6 different basic shape, it should be possible to draw any shape you like. It could be compared to drawing primitives.
  • Drawing People: When drawing people, the posture of the person can be important enough to hold some information. Even with no drawing skills, you can make a stick man with a posture.
  • Perspective: You can use perspective to create an illusion of distance. Parallel construction can also be used to show more accurately a 3d object. This is similar to isometric drawings.


Improvisation is something that people does more often than they think. The basic idea is to do something without a plan. Improvisation consist is setting up a basic structure and improvising inside that structure.

There is 2 important improvisation skills A) come up with a quick answer to an unanticipated emergency and B) Create something spontaneously around a structure.

This is it. This is all the basic concepts behind gamestorming. If you want to use the tools yourself, go the website or read the book. The rest of the book is simply a huge list of gamestorming tools with an example at the end of how gamestorming can be used.

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