Play to Win is a free gamified business strategy seminar created by Cliton Swaine, founder of Frontier Trainings. Play to Win is the absolute best seminar I have ever experienced. Although many of the principles taught at the seminar are not new, the way they teach and present the material is phenomenal. The three day seminar consists of a series of games, or what Frontier Training calls experiential learning. Experiential learning is corporate babble for live-action role playing -- or more appropriately alternate reality gaming, since the trainers wear costumes, use props, and play the roles of jesters, kings, commodity brokers, and more, while the players interact with the game world as themselves. The trainers are cross-trained and use physical comedy, improv, and roleplaying to present potentially dry subjects.
About fifteen games add up to 40-plus hours, crammed into Friday morning to Sunday night. Here are some of more memorable games:
- Six Thinking Hats--player wear and exchange hats to think differently and empathize. The roles (hats) are: Information (White), Emotions (Red), Bad points judgment (Black), Good points judgment (Yellow), Creativity (Green), and Thinking (Blue).
- Survive To Thrive--resource-management boardgame in which each team represents a nation. A constant shortage can be solved via trading or war. Once one nation strikes another to steal resources, a world war usually breaks out. Reflections on why we choose to fight rather than trade.
- Minefield--a team trust-building exercise in which a blindfolded player must carry a teammate on his or her back over a virtual minefield. The carried person must guide the blindfolded carrier across narrow paths and mines.
My favorite game is Merchant of Tradeus. In opposite corners, the Chinese emperor Hee Go Lo sits on his throne on a elevated platform with his court of spice sellers at his feet, while Italian King Miguldi Vespicci, sits in a mirror fashion with his court of spice buyers. In the back are bureaucrats who sell trading permits, camels, and guards. The head trainers are maharajas who sits on a rug, giving business advice to those who give them foot massages. Bandits, Customs Inspectors, and the Magic Tornado roam the Great Desert in middle of the room, separating China and Italy. The bandits rob you, the custom inspector checks for trading permits, and the magic tornado, a twirling belly dancer, randomly gives a beneficial or determental event card. The trainers give the bare basic rules and then throw you in the game. It up to you to figure out how Merchant of Tradeus works.
The first thing I notice in Merchant of Tradeus was that I was spending too much time in line getting permits. If I were to trade in volume, I would need a team of traders and someone to handle the paperwork. Therefore I massaged the maharaja’s feet and asked him how to start a partnership. The maharaja help me draft a four-sentence article of incorporation. I then recruited four people who looked really lost and set up a division of labor. We had workers who established a trading post in China and Italy, a back office manager who managed the permits and paperwork, and traders who traverse the Great Desert between our trading posts. Our trading company had a modest sum about 300 crowns, which was more than many other players but nowhere near the winner, who made around 40,000 crowns. This one guy "massaged" his way up to the kings and became a wholesale spice broker, bypassing all middleman layers. Furthermore he financed the entire operation by getting a loan from the seller, emperor Hee Go Lo, which allowed him to buy huge quantities. Merchant of Tradeus is about thinking out-of-the-box and making creative win-win deals.
Here is the catch: the course is a little forceful. If you utter the words "try" you must either do ten push-ups or give $10 to charity. They teach that one must either commit or not, never try or waiver. Both my wallet and my arms were sore at the end. On the third day, they heavily market their $20,000 enrollment for all-you-learn in current and future courses. Furthermore some games have game balancing issues and lack elegance. The game balance issues and the terrible "fixes", will annoy the game designer in you.
Play to Win is the most polished gamified learning in the world. I never felt I was in a classroom, or lectured to; rather, I was in a forty hour gameathon. Learning was a byproduct of having fun. I have taken the course twice and perhaps will take it again. I pray that universities and corporations adopt how how Frontier Trainings teaches to truly revolutionize learning. Play to Win is offered for free in California and overseas in the United Kingdom and Australia.