It’s all Phil Drury’s fault.
The winters were cold growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and you had to get creative about what to do. Phil’s Dad had a huge collection of well-designed board games, and after playing a few, I was hooked. We started with games with simple rules like TwixT and Feudal. Then we moved to our all-time favorite, Rail Baron, which simulated building the railroad empires in the late 1800s. I still love that game.
Board games have come a long way since then. There’s been a resurgence in game design in the last 20 years, with Euro-style board games becoming popular with everyone from college students to NFL players. There are even bars that specialize in teaching and playing them. These games are designed better – faster play, the right balance of strategy and luck, and game mechanics where people are ‘in the game’ until the end.
At our house, we play board games when we have down time during holidays, vacations, and when the weather is bad. We even write our high scores and exceptional memories on the inside of each game’s box top. One of our favorites was when my youngest daughter Josie won the game Ticket To Ride for the first time when she was six years old. She wrote her score along with ‘YELLOW IS THE COLOR’ to proudly document the color of her trains. She still chooses yellow to this day. (Josie also owns the record for most trains thrown at her sister Gabby at the end of a game. It’s held for years at 22.)
I see well-designed board games as a great metaphor for business development. To win, you need a strategy, you have to maximize limited resources, and you have to collaborate with others.
Here’s what board games can teach us about business development:
Strategic thinking To win, you have to craft a plan based on your current strengths, and follow that plan to know what to do next. In a board game, this might be investing early in resources that will pay off later. In BD, this might be coming up with a unique positioning of the value you can provide, and then designing a buying experience that creates curiosity around your value.
For your biggest opportunity right now, what is your path to victory? How can you create curiosity around it and communicate it clearly?
Resource optimization To win, you have to optimize limited resources. In a board game, this might be investing in optimal ways each turn. In BD, it might mean investing your time efficiently, like in a well-designed Give-to-Get that creates demand for your expertise.
How can you efficiently invest your most limited resource – time – to create demand?
Collaboration To win, you have to work with others to succeed. In a board game, it might mean negotiating to trade resources in ways that helps you and another player. In BD, it might mean working with your entire network to find ways to be helpful to your prospective clients in ways where everyone wins.
What creative ways can you connect your Raving Fans with people that don’t know you well yet – designing interactions where everyone benefits?
Keep moving forward This is maybe the most important thing we can learn from board games. To win, you have to keep moving. In board games, this is easy. When it’s your turn, you move. In BD, it’s not as easy. We have to find ways to keep the buying process moving forward, even when we’re busy.Imagine playing a board game and saying “I’m too busy. I’ll skip this turn.” It would never happen, and if it did, you wouldn’t be in a position to win. Yet that’s exactly what we do when we get busy and don’t move our BD activities forward every week. Not doing something each week is like skipping your turn in a board game.
What mechanics can you put in place so that you’re always moving your BD opportunities and relationships forward – every single week?
Board games are not only fun, but playing them can sharpen our thinking and build our BD skills. The four mindsets above are all important, but I believe one is absolutely essential for BD success: keep moving forward.
The winners in BD are the ones that keep moving, proactively taking their turn, ever forward – every single week.
Ps Here’s a holiday bonus for you. Below I’ve listed my family’s favorite board games. These are Bunnell family tested and approved. I’ve organized them roughly in order of complexity and the effort you need to put in to get playing.
Love Letter. Easily the most portable game ever. I can fit the entire game in my shirt pocket. You can learn the rules and play your first game within about 30 minutes. We carried this one all around Europe on a vacation a few years ago and would play it during down times waiting for our next train. Countless times we said, “Let’s just play one more.”
Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. Easily the best party game. You need a crazy facilitator for this one. Everyone else plays the secret role of either a werewolf (trying to murder the townspeople at night) or a townsperson (trying to execute the werewolves in the day). No one knows exactly who’s who until the end. Pro tip: Make barn animal noises while everyone’s eyes are closed to make people laugh and think you’re not a werewolf.
King of Tokyo. Looking for fun? This is your game. Players take on roles of large 1950s B-movie monsters trying to take over Tokyo. You win by clobbering the other monsters or by gaining more super-powers like Giant Brain or Extra Head. For extra craziness, we sometimes play with our green-cheeked conure, Paris, on the kitchen table. Paris looks like a small parrot and is about the size of the game’s cardboard monsters. For some reason, he hates them. As he wanders around the table he randomly attacks monsters. Our rule: if he knocks your monster over, you lose a life point. We’ve had more than one glass of wine spilled during his surprise attacks, even from players with a Giant Brain.
Settlers of Catan. The all-time best-selling Euro-style game with over 25 million games sold worldwide. Players take on explorers of an island, building settlements and cities in a race to grow quickly. The best part? Lots of collaboration. You need to trade your resources with others to buy what you need. “Two wheats for an ore! Anyone? C’mon, it’s a good deal!”
Memoir ’44. This is a great World War II simulation game. The rules are a little harder, but the benefit is that the rules work across dozens of WWII battles you can choose from. My nephew Spencer and I have an ongoing tally of who wins the D-Day landings, and we’re currently tied. Spencer, look for me to take the lead this holiday season. You’re going down, buddy. Omaha Beach is mine.
Dominion. This is a quickly learned deck building game. It’s great for two players, is fast paced, and because you can choose which 10 decks (among dozens) you play with each game, the path to victory changes every time you choose different decks. Addictive.
Betrayal at House on the Hill. This one wins the clever award. Here, everyone is on the same team, exploring a haunted house until the haunting occurs. Then, one person, chosen by random game elements becomes the betrayer, trying to kill everyone else with unique super powers. Play this one by candlelight for extra effect. The rules are relatively complicated, but worth it. Is it coincidence my wife, Becky, always seems to betray our family? I think not. The wrath of Mom strikes back every time. I think it has something to do with the kids not putting their dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
Puerto Rico. Ready for more of a challenge? This is our favorite difficult game. It is similar to the game Settlers, but with more complexity. It also has an ‘explore and build an empire on a newly-discovered island’ feel, but is more difficult to master. After playing it dozens of times, I still don’t feel like I have it down. Maybe next year. Puerto Rico might be the most like life: always changing and ever challenging.
All of these games are winners. Give me a shout if you are thinking about buying one and want some personal advice on what might be best for your family. You know I love being helpful. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.