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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Standards Game

Did you ever wonder how standards organizations work?  I created this little game to give you an idea.  It's a game best played with 4-8 players.

It doesn't start out with rules, though, instead it starts off with bylaws (because bylaws can be changed).  The bylaws and operations manual are purposefully confusing, ambiguous and subject to interpretation by the players (because that is the way that governance works).


  1. The object of the game is to gain the most influence.
  2. To gain influence, you must successfully complete or kill projects.
  3. Anything agreed to according by consensus of the players is legal.  Consensus in this case means without objection.
  4. Momentum is important.  Any action taken on a turn that is completed by a player with consensus of the group (without objection by any other player) stands, unless it is immediately reversed.  The player immediately following must use two influence cards to raise a motion to reconsider actions in the previous move, and all other players must use one influence card to vote to reconsider.  A successful vote to reconsider is considered sufficient to reverse the action (because in the real world, after a successful vote to reconsider, the next move is to vote to change the action, and if you wouldn't consider changing it, you wouldn't vote to reconsider).
  5. There can be at most 4 projects before the board at a time.
  6. No more than 50% of players may be aligned identically, and all alignments must be present in game play (see starting play).  Any time a player is to be assigned an alignment that violates this rule, they must be assigned a different alignment (at random unless there is only one choice).  
Operations Manual
He or she with the most influence at the end of play wins. 

Influence is measured by the number of cards a player has in his or her hand at the end of play.  Influence cards are distributed based on influence, and are used to perform actions in the game.  Influence cards come from a standard deck of 52 cards (with or without jokers).

Paying with influence: In many cases, members can select which influence card they use from their hand.  However, when paying with influence, the card thus chosen MUST be chosen randomly from the member by another member.  This represents the often random costs on the use of influence in the real world.

Starting the Play 
Each player is initially given four influence cards, the first is dealt face up and determines the player alignment.  This card must remain face up in front of the player. Alignment determines the powers that a player may execute during play.

If the face up card is in the suit of Clubs, the player is a member of the public sector.  The public sector can hire consultants (they provide cards to consultants who act on their behalf during the consultants turn, as well as act in their own turn).  The public sector can create only one project per game, but can commission consultants to do so as often as they like.

If the face up card is in the suit of Diamonds, the player is a consultant.  Consultants can be hired by the public sector an unlimited number of times.  A consultant can create only one new project during the game that has not been commissioned by a customer.  

If the face up card is in the suit of Hearts or Spades, the player is a consumer or producer in private industry.  A member of the private sector can initiate projects as often as they like, but commission a consultant to act for them only once per game.

The game is played in a series of quarters.  Each of these is played in round format.  

Determining the agenda.  In each quarter, players play in the order of their face up card, from highest to lowest.  At the beginning of each quarter a play can replace their face up card with another face up card of the same suit from their hand to change the order of their turn in the agenda.

A token is used to indicate who currently "has the floor".  The player with the floor may act.  When they are done, they must pass the token to the next player on the agenda.  When that player accepts the token, the current player's turn is over, and all actions they performed are completed.

New Business.  When a member has the floor, they may propose a new project.  To propose a new project, the member announces the proposal by selecting an influence card from their hand, and placing it face up before themselves on the board.  They must then place an influence card face up on the project to show that they are participating in it.  They can then solicit participation from other members.  Each member choosing to participate must place one of their influence cards face up on the project card.  No more than half + 1 of the members may participate in any single project.

Determining the Project Leader. The highest rank participant card above a 9 becomes the project leader.  In case of ties, the first played card of the same rank is the leader.  If less than three members choose to participate in the project, the project fails, all cards are discarded, and the proposer must pay an influence card.

A proposed project that has at least two participants (including a leader) moves forward to the voting stage.  Those that do not remain active but not ready for voting, see old business below.

Old Business: A proposer of a project that does not yet have a leader must solicit leadership, withdraw the project, exchange their participation card with a higher card, or pay an influence card to keep the project alive.  If another participant wishes to pay an influence card to keep the project alive, they may do so during the proposer's turn.  The withdrawer of a project must pay an influence card to withdraw the project.

A proposer or leader of a project that has a leader may also withdraw the project, citing inability to reach concensus.  The withdrawer of a project must pay an influence card to withdraw the project.  Anyone participant opposed to withdrawl can pay an influence card to keep the project alive.  All cards played on a withdrawn project go to the discard pile.

Opening the Ballot: Any project with a leader can declare itself ready to be voted on by declaration of the project proposer or leader, and by the use of an influence card by any one of the project members.  When ready for voting, turn the project card face down (but leave others face up).

Distribution of Influence Cards:   Before voting, influence cards are distributed as follows:  Members get one card for each project they are a participant in.  Proposers of a project get one card for each project they have proposed (remember that a proposer must be a participant initially). 

Voting:  Voting is a random activity.  Members shuffle their hand and remove two cards.  They must then place a randomly selected card down on each project they are participating in, representing their vote.  A red card is a negative vote, a black card is a positive vote.  To determine the outcome of the vote, tally all red and black cards separately, (counting Aces as 1, and face cards as 11).  If the black pips exceed the red by more than double, the ballot passes without need for reconciliation.  If the red pips exceed the black pips by more than double, the ballot failed, and must be re-balloted or withdrawn.  Discard all votes on a failed ballot.  Otherwise the ballot must go through reconciliation (see below).

Reconciling Comments.  During this phase (which immediately follows voting), an attempt is made to clarify the results for ballots which have not yet failed or passed.  Each player is given the floor once again to perform resolution actions.  Members can use their influence to change votes of another member by playing a card of a different color on that member's original vote.  Once the tally of red vs. black votes for a project exceeds the 2:1 ratio, that project has been reconciled.  If it started out in the black, and was passed through reconciliation, then it is concluded, and influence is awarded for it.
If it started out in the red, and was passed through reconciliation, then it is ready for reballoting in the next cycle (but someone must use influence to get it to the next voting stage).
If it goes into the red, regardless of where it started, the proposer and leader must pay influence cards, and the project has failed.

Redeeming Influence on a successful project: Return to your hand each card used to represent your participation, or for voting, and each card used by other members to influence your vote (make it more positive or negative) on a project. Return also to your hand the project card if you are the proposer.  If you are the leader or the proposer of a project, take an extra influence card from the deck.

Budget Crisis
If at any time all influence cards are no longer available (because they have all been distributed), declare a budget crisis.  Each member must contribute one influence card, plus one for each project they have proposed or lead to the organization.  The quarter is immediately closed, and a new quarter starts.  No voting or reconciliation takes place in the closed quarter due to the crisis.

Lapse in Membership
Due to the need to pay an influence card, a member may have to use their "alignment card" to complete an action.  The first time this happens to a member, such a result introduces a temporary laps in membership, and the alignment card is turned face down.  The player can take no actions during any subsequent round, until they have paid their dues.  They do benefit from the first available distribution of influence, and simply return one of those influence cards back to the influence stack.  At this time they then turn that card face up and can resume in play.  The second time this occurs, they must pay two influence cards, and so on.  If they cannot pay sufficient influence within two quarters to return to active membership status, they are out of the game.  A lapse in membership can also simply be declared by the member, in which case they are treated as a lapsed member, and they must pay the influence penalty to return to active play.  

All the cards of a member exiting the game are returned to the discard pile.

Lack of Balance
At any time in which the balance of participation of any one alignment in the game exceeds 50% of the remainder, the game is over.  This can happen through lapse in membership.

Players can enter and leave the game at will.  New players become new members at the start of a quarter, when they are given their initial 4 cards.  

OK, play-testing anyone?


  1. I'm up for this! I think we'll need a tournament at the next IHE face-to-face

  2. It would be even funnier if only it weren't true.


  3. Yes there is a lot of truth to it all Keith...this game takes a lot of effort!

  4. My family and I play-tested this last night. After "one year", my youngest daughter (the consultant), won. My eldest daughter complained that she always loses to her sister in any game like this (she was a consumer, and came in last). My wife was a producer and came in second. I was a public agency, and came in second to last.

    We noted a couple of issues:

    You probably want to use two decks of cards. We ran into budget issues twice in a row with four players. With more you'd probably never get past the first stage.

    Influence used to get a ballot ready for voting should go back to the influence pool, rather than on the project. That way, it's "spent", rather than remaining in the pool. It creates a bit of tension around getting the project ready: Who will do the work?

    Position is very important, as it can prevent you from participating in projects.

    There aren't rules about killing projects, but I suppose there should be.
    You can oppose a project, divvying up the influence spent on it with other opponents if successful. For opposition to succeed, there must be more opponents than proponents. To oppose, simply apply your influence card to it face down. Face down cards spent opposing the project are split among the project participants if the project succeeds. They are returned to the project opposers if the project fails. Opposers can vote on the project if they choose (whereas participants MUST vote). Opposers gain no influence cards for opposing a project during the influence distribution phase.

  5. Love it!! I think I'll try it out on the IEEE!