Podcast on Collaborative Games

Amanda-SemenoffBack in June 2017, PignPotato’s Amanda Semenoff joined forces with C.D. Saint to launch a new podcast called Overthinking Conflict: Exploring the Business, Skills, and Styles of Peacemaking. They’ve been producing great content for anyone interested in peacemaking work, and it’s well worth checking out the whole series.

1514706779673More recently, however, Amanda took the time to record her thoughts on Collaborative Games. Of course, she talks about Zombie Fight or Flight, but the focus is more on collaborative games generally and their potential in shifting dynamics in conflict. Check it out for interesting reflections on the role games can play in peacemaking work!


“A Card Game that Moonlights”

headshotOn May 18th, Emily Martin shared her passion for the potential of collaborative games at Ignite Seattle – an exciting evening of “curated discovery”. Emily’s talk covered her own path of discovery as she said “yes, and…” to an invitation to join in a first attempt at creating purposeful games with other mediators and conflict resolution professionals.

Check out the recording of Emily’s 5 minute talk!


Using Collaborative Games to Uncover Dysfunctional Board Dynamics


Board meeting

My mediation practice, like that of many colleagues, takes place in varied contexts. Mediation can look quite different in each of these contexts. One area which I find requires considerable flexibility of process is when working with a Board of Directors. As a mediator, I am usually called in to help a Board deal with inefficiency rather than overt conflict.  There is often a shared sense among Directors that the group is unable to get important things done, or perhaps there is a general tension and discomfort rather than a notable point of conflict.  Such Boards tend to have a number of symptoms of underlying dysfunction like high turnover, low meeting attendance, lack of enthusiasm, or difficulty getting decisions made.  This small set of common symptoms may signal any of a  number of possible underlying dynamics.  And, of course, there are also a huge number of possible responses and approaches to improving those dynamics.

I recently had the opportunity to explore a new tool in assisting a Board of Directors to improve a number of challenges in their working process. Prior to my engagement, the following dynamics impacted this particular Board:

  • Members were too similar, which limited ideas and possibilities
  • There was an unknown skills gap, where 2 essential group roles were unfilled
  • Unspoken assumptions had led to confusion, lack of clarity and distrust
  • Members lacked the skills to use diversity to their advantage
  • There was pressure for Members to conform to organisational culture
  • Meeting formats disadvantaged introverted Members

When I was first approached by this group, I suggested using Zombie Fight or Flight, a collaborative card game I was involved in developing through PignPotato Games.  The Board was very hesitant at first, unsure if the Members would be willing to engage, but they were stuck and open to trying something new.  It turned out that Members were happy to hear that a group game would be used to elicit discussion instead of 1-on-1 private meetings with each Board Member.

Teaching and playing Zombie Fight or Flight to a group for the first time takes about 30 minutes. In our 2-hour session this allowed us 1.5 hours to debrief, discuss and explore dynamics surfaced in the game.  The initial focus on the game created a safe way for the group to start discussing dynamics that arose in game play and then apply those dynamics back to the harder space of their Board interactions.  Insights into differences in communication styles and values surfaced in the game were easily discussed in the context of a card game — this lowered the risk of then discussing how these dynamics impact their group work.  The game gave this Board an accessible, shared language to explore some controversial and difficult subjects in a safe environment.

As a conflict resolution practitioner, the most exciting piece of this session was how quickly the group got to deep and significant conversation.  What often takes many hours (including many facilitator hours spent in individual meetings), moved more smoothly into challenging topic areas within a single session, and with greater participation from the entire group.  Members were able to see how their own actions and behaviours impacted other Members, and gained significant insights into their colleagues’ perspectives, allowing for real teamwork and constructive disagreements.

During our second session, the group’s goal was to figure out some possible solutions to the dynamics we had uncovered. One of the previously difficult and disengaged Members suggested we open with a few rounds of Zombie Fight or Flight  to remind us of what we had learned.  This set up the group up for an incredibly productive meeting where they revamped many of their policies, changed the structure of their meetings, and made their first consensus decision in 2 years.  While it is too early to know how effective this intervention will be in the long run, the Board’s last 2 meetings have had higher attendance and more enthusiasm than the previous year of meetings.

In conversation with some of the Members afterwards, they noted that they were able to behave less guardedly within the game context because they felt they didn’t have to take big personal or social risks to participate.  This allowed Members to be more open and engaged in an environment that is often highly competitive, and in which risk-taking is often met with ridicule.  Members were able to explore (and practice) some of the skills necessary to collaborate in a group and note personal skill gaps as well as group skill gaps without feeling overly vulnerable.  They were excited and empowered to move forward with the hard work of implementing their solutions.

My experience in using Zombie Fight or Flight as a tool for working with Boards may well be transferable to other similar organisations, whether workplaces, sports teams, clubs, or any of the many organisations that rely heavily upon volunteer engagement. My colleagues at PignPotato Games and I are excited about the possibilities! So much so that we are holding a Game Jam on May 5-7, 2017 to create another collaborative game to increase the number of tools available to mediators and facilitators. If you’re intrigued by the idea, consider joining us.

Article by Amanda Semenoff; republished with permission. 

11 Ways to Use Collaborative Games for Conflict Prevention/Management/Resolution

Over the past few months, we’ve had the chance to test our own collaborative game – Zombie Fight or Flight – as a tool for conflict prevention, management and resolution.  We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing the ways in which these games can be used, have invited ideas from others in workshops and presentations, and have reached out to colleagues for their thoughts on collaborative games more generally. The following list identifies 11 ways we’ve seen collaborative games used to prevent, manage or resolve conflicts:

  1. As a training exercise for parties interested in having more collaborative collective bargaining negotiations.
  2. As “homework” assignment for newly blended families who are working to manage disputes.
  3. To “break the ice” at the beginning of a mediation.
  4. In training with lawyers, law students, and conflict resolution professionals to open up discussions of competition and how automatically competitive mindsets impact negotiations.
  5. As a tool for illuminating board members’ interactions, prior to a facilitation of a non-profit board of directors.
  6. To flatten organizational hierarchies, creating an environment where decision-making and leadership must be shared
  7. In elementary school classrooms, to enhance students ability to work together and be more ready to learn.
  8. In high school classes to explore the idea of collaboration in Law and Social Justice.
  9. In college classrooms, as an opening exercise for newly assigned lab partners or learning teams.
  10. In office lunch rooms, to foster a more collaborative workgroup.
  11. Games have been used to bridge generations, to create a space where old and young, and those of various physical and mental abilities can engage in a joint endeavour despite their differences. (For example, check out Joan Braun’s discussion of intergenerational conflict management here.)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be adding posts that more fully explore each of these possibilities. And we’d love to hear of more uses! Let us know how (and where) you’ve used collaborative games.

Emerald City Comicon! Plus …

IMG_0158We had a fantastic time at Emerald City Comicon last weekend! Thanks to all of the amazing folks who joined us in conversation about collaborative games and conflict resolution. And special thanks to the many presenters, attendees and playtesters who shared their stories of collaboration and the incredible potential of games.

Amanda will be drawing on some of these insights in a presentation this Tuesday for CoRe Conflict Resolution Society‘s speaker series. She’s partnering with well-known mediation trainer Deborah White for a workshop on Conflict Styles and Collaborative Games. If you’re near Vancouver, join us in person at KPMG (777 Dunsmuir St., 11th floor) at 4:30-6:00 on March 14th. If you’re out of town, livestream is available.

You can also join Amanda and Emily at the Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference in Seattle on March 24th.  They’ll be offering a Friday lunch session on Alternative Tools for Dispute Resolution: Exploring Collaborative Games.

Here’s a few shots of our time at Comicon!

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Playtesting at ECCC!

Great first night at Emerald City Comicon! Emily, Darsey and Sharon had fun playtesting our new Zombie Fight or Flight cards – Lookout, Marauders, Quake and Deus ex Machina – with guests in the NW Playtest area.


In addition to getting the chance to play, participants at our table were unusually lucky in the draw! They just kept winning games!  Win/win with collaborative gaming!

Join us under the escalator on the 2nd floor tonight (March 3) between 6:00 and 8:00 or on Sunday (10-12 or 2-4).

And don’t miss our panel, “Collaborative Tabletop Games for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution” on Saturday, March 4 at 1:15. We’re in room WSCC 210 on the gaming floor.



Join us at Emerald City Comicon!

We’re excited to be attending Emerald City Comicon, March 2-5, 2017. The PignPotato team – Sharon, Mark, Emily, Amanda, Darsey and Taryn – will speak about “Collaborative Tabletop Games for Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution on Saturday, March 4th at 1:15 (WSCC 210).

Collaborative Tabletop Games for Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution

From childhood, most of us learn that competition is good for us (or at least “character-building”). We may have played team sports and talked about the importance of working together, but still learned that the child who scored the goals gets more attention than the child who passsed them them the ball. And then there were the tabletop games–Monopoly, Risk, etc.–that stretched on long after most players had already “lost”. Given the messages we have all received about the value of competition, it can be incredibly difficult to resist thinking about how to get what we want at the expense of the other person instead of focusing on how can we work together to achieve a better result for everyone. In conflicts, this normalization of competition comes out in a variety of ways that make it considerably less likely that people will find the best resolutions for problems or make the most durable agreements. Join a panel of mediators, collaborative game developers, and lawyers in an exploration of the ways in which playing (and creating) collaborative tabletop games can assist in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts in families, workplaces, classrooms, and even in the midst of mediation processes.


We’ll also have game testing opportunities at “The Corral” at the south end of the 2nd floor of the Washington State Convention Centre. Join us to test new cards for a Zombie Fight or Flight expansion!

  • Thursday, March 2, 8:00-10:00pm
  • Friday, March 3, 6:00-8:00pm
  • Sunday, March 5, 10:00am-noon and 2:00-4:00pm

We love to talk about tabletop games, application to conflict resolution, diversity and inclusivity in games, and lots more! Feel free to say “hi” – we’ll be wearing our Zombie t-shirts!