How to Play: In Person

Below are instructions for how to run this game as an in-person experience.

These are the basic instructions for playing when you’re physically in the same space using actual cards. For variations on general game play or instructions for playing online, see the other pages.

People and Timing

I’ve played this game with as many as 50 simultaneous participants and as few as five. A timebox of 15-20 minutes is usually enough for three rounds and a debrief.

Materials and Space requirements:

  • For two teams the minimum is four decks of standard playing cards. I usually carry around 12 decks that I bought online (six blue, six red).
    • I combine two standard poker decks (each having 52 cards, plus jokers) into one “double deck”. Each “double deck” uses the same color back, giving me six “double decks” (eg. 3 red, 3 blue). i hold them together with rubber bands.
12 decks of cards (6 blue, 6 red) make 6 “double decks”
  • For each team, have a big enough table space for 5-10 people to move cards around. Some groups may self-organize to use the floor or other spaces.
  • A stopwatch, aka your phone.
  • A flip chart or whiteboard for your scoreboard.


  • Before class, I will typically shuffle all my decks. This doesn’t need to be too thorough; just enough so that the cards aren’t in the “final” state from the last play of the game.
  • As you prepare the group to play, you’ll want to:
    • Divide the participants into two teams of five or more players. With smaller classes (8 or fewer), one group is fine. I refer to the teams bythe color of their cards (eg. Red team and Blue team).
    • Distribute each team’s first “double deck” of cards, still in rubber band. Don’t let them start yet … it’s tempting for groups to begin sorting cards before the facilitator says “Go!”
    • Share the rules (see below) on a slide (or by other means) as you read them aloud.
    • Ask if there are questions, but be careful not to give them specific instructions on how to organize or do the work. I usually clarify only any constraints as well as the vision of end product.
    • Prepare the scoreboard on a flipchart, whiteboard, etc. (You could do this as they play the first round.)

Instructions for teams:

Each group is one team – everyone must participate on their team.

Your team’s goal is to produce the product (eight stacks of cards) with no defects in as little time as possible.

Each stacks must be ordered from ACE (on bottom) to KING (on top)

Each stack must contains cards of same suit (eg. only Hearts, Spades, Diamonds, or Clubs)

All Jokers (cards, not people) will be together in their own group. No Jokers may lay flat on the table/floor. They must be standing up (like a house of cards or by some other means).

Before starting, the team must provide an estimate of the time that the team will take. Facilitator will record this estimate for each team.

We will play three (3) rounds/iterations.

After each round we will check for quality, so keep an eye out for defects as you play. Each error incurs penalty of 5 seconds added to score.

Teams will have two (2) minutes before each iteration for planning.

Start Round #1

  • After all questions, collect the teams’ estimates (times) and write them on the scoreboard.
  • When ready tell them to remove the rubber bands and have them begin (start your timer).

After the Round #1, you (the facilitator) will:

  • Note each team’s actual time (from your stopwatch) and record onto the scoreboard.
  • Perform a quick check of the stacks for quality. (Usually I check one of the eight to see that they’re in the correct order and of the same suit.)
    • Make note of any errors and add 5 seconds for each defect to the team’s final score for the round.
  • Collect the used cards from each team.
  • Ask the room how the experience was, see if anyone wanted to share some brief observations at this point before the next round.
  • Announce that the customer loved the product but wants a change. From now on, each stack will include all four suits and follow a repeating pattern.
the repeating pattern
  • So, if the stack begins with the ACE of Hearts, then next comes the TWO of Spades followed by the THREE of Diamonds… and so on all the way to the KING of Hearts.
  • Likewise, if the stack begins with the ACE of Spades, then next comes the TWO of Diamonds followed by the THREE of Clubs… and so on all the way to the KING of Spades.
two example stacks
  • This will surely cause confusion, so answer any questions related to the pattern. (I will often display a slide the with the pattern for all to see, or write it large on a flipchart or whiteboard.)
  • Give the teams their next (pre-shuffled) “double deck” reminding them not to start yet keep the rubber band on).
  • Announce that they have next two minutes to plan for round #2.
  • After two minutes planning, collect each team’s estimate (time) for round #2 and have them begin (start your timer). Write the new estimates on the scoreboard.

After Round #2

Same instructions for you (facilitator) as previous:

  • Note and record times…
  • Quick quality check…
  • Collect completed stacks…
  • Ask again how that felt, any observations, etc.

This time I encourage all teams to conduct a combined multi-team retrospective, sharing tips and techniques with the other team(s). After all, it’s not really a competition 😉

Round #3 in action

Round #3 and Debrief

Run Round #3 in the same manner as Round #2.

Tally up the final scores and debrief after all three rounds are complete.

a sample scorecard on a flipchart
sample scoreboard