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Board games and executing strategy

Remember when board games were all about racing to a finish line (like Trouble) or sabotaging your opponent (such as Sorry!)? Remember when the themes of the games were all about money (Monopoly) or war (Risk)? I can still hear my little sister’s voice sneering, “Sorry!” (She wasn’t sorry.) I can still feel the humiliation of being the first person eliminated in Monopoly, sitting in boredom watching the other players finish.

Those days are behind us. Today’s board games challenge players to understand and translate a mission into a strategy, think creatively about how to bring resources together to implement it, solve problems to carry out the strategy, and adapt to the shifts that inevitably arise.

Sounds a lot like business strategy execution, doesn’t it? Many engine-building or worker-placement games offer a way to practice the skills of translating a mission into a strategy and adapting to changing conditions. In fact, many reveal parallels to the Insight Experience Cycle of Strategy Execution™.

 

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Take the game Catan, in which players aim to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Like in business, players must assess their resource allocation to maximize efficiency and success. In a game called Tiny Epic Galaxies, players expand their galactic empires through strategic deployment and management of their fleets. Players ADAPT tactics in response to dynamic game conditions and opponent actions.

6.11_Strategy-Execution-model-adapt

In Ticket to Ride, players collect cards of various types of trains and use them to claim railway routes on a map. The game challenges players to strategically build their rail networks, manage resources (train cards), and sometimes block competitors’ routes. Ticket to Ride mirrors business elements like route optimization, strategic planning, and competitive positioning. Pandemic is a cooperative game where players work as a team to treat infections around the world while gathering resources for cures. It requires strategic planning, teamwork, and crisis management, reflecting business strategies in risk management and collaborative problem-solving. Both games highlight the need to IMPLEMENT and MEASURE strategy.

 

6.11_Strategy-Execution-model-Measure-Implement

Wingspan, created by designer Elizabeth Hargrave, is my favorite of these games. (And it isn’t, like the games of my childhood, about war or money!) In Wingspan, your mission is to attract birds into your habitat and provide them ways to eat and lay eggs. Your success at this mission is measured in points. Think of these points as the “profitability” of your habitat. How do you earn points? Here’s where strategy setting comes in. There are many ways to earn points in Wingspan. How you combine those methods creates your strategy.

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In these modern board games, depending on the cards you draw or the rolls of your dice, some choices can disappear while others emerge. Oh ho! This sounds like market conditions! In some games, for example, one player might have an additional way to earn points that other players can’t access. Or there may be a bonus goal that one player’s resources are especially poised to meet.

Considering all of that, and the resources you start the game with, each player sets a strategy for achieving the mission. In Wingspan, it is: How will I attract birds to my habitat—and help them eat and lay eggs—to earn the most points I can? This is akin to business leaders deciding how best to deploy resources to meet strategic goals effectively.

It’s not possible to earn points in all the ways in every game. Depending on the conditions you are given, you must choose which ways of earning points you are going to pursue and which ones you’re just going to ignore—just like in management. A leader must prioritize, instead of chasing every opportunity.

As leaders, we are constantly challenged to be agile and flexible amidst changing conditions. We are given a mission, we decide on a strategy, and we do our best to execute that strategy with the resources we have. If leaders fail to notice how emerging technologies will affect their market, their strategy may fall on its face. So we stay alert, recognize the shifts, and decide whether to correct the course—and how and when to do that.

Such games provide opportunities to build and practice the skills needed to operate effectively as leaders. They present a chance to UNDERSTAND and TRANSLATE a mission into a strategy and execute it.

6.11_Strategy-execution-model-Understsand-Translate

Best of all, they are engaging and fun, they connect us with other players, and they get us thinking in new ways about new things.

To read more about our own solutions to translating a mission into a strategy, head to the Executing Strategy page of our site. And to improve your board game strategy, watch this video:

 

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