8 Great Short Games for Groups

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At the Play4Agile 2012 conference in Rückersbach, Germany, in February, I especially enjoyed two sessions. Both sessions were about short games which can be played in trainings and workshops with groups, e.g. to warm up or to make a point in demonstrating team dynamics like collaboration or the like.

Below I describe 8 games from these sessions; there were more, but these were my favorites – or I simply couldn’t remember the others.

For each game I list

  • the number of participants
  • an estimate for the duration
  • the learning objectives and purpose
  • the material needed
  • a short description with instructions for the game’s facilitator
  • the possible progression for better understanding the game’s nature

For the learning objectives and purpose, I’ll additionally recommend a short debriefing after the games, where you’ll find even more valuable outcomes.

Spoiler alert: the following instructions might contain key information about learning outcomes and the order of events. While this information is vital for the facilitators, they might spoil the fun and learning if you want to play these games yourself.

Chair Game

number of participants: >= 9 (the more the better)
duration: 15 min
learning objectives/purpose: Success only through collaboration; working together across teams; finding a higher common goal; silent communication
material: >= 20 chairs
short description: Have the participants form 3 groups. Tell the participants not to talk anymore. Give each group one of the following instructions on a card (group should keep it a secret for the other groups):

  • arrange all the chairs in the room in a big circle
  • put all the chairs in the room upside down
  • group all the chairs in the room to pairs

Make sure everyone in the groups reads the instructions. Tell the groups to execute their instructions. If at some point every group is stuck, tell them that there is a solution that every group will be able to successfully execute their instructions at the same time. Debrief when there’s no movement in the room anymore.
possible progression: Groups will first fight each other, later hopefully see that they can all reach their goals together. The end state of the chairs is a big circle with pairs of chairs turned upside down.

Count to 33

number of participants: >= 3 (not more than 20)
duration: 5 min
learning objectives/purpose: simple things can be hard to achieve; listen to others
short description: Have the participants stand up and form a circle. Let the participants shout out numbers in the sequence from 1 up to 33 clockwise. Give the instruction:

“Whenever your number is dividable by 3 or ends with a 3 you have to clap your hands together instead of shouting out the number.”

Whenever a participant makes a mistake, the following participant has to start all over again with 1. Debrief when the group reaches the number 33.
possible progression: Participants will end up with this sequence (numbers are shouted): 1 2 clap 4 5 clap 7 8 clap 10 11 clap clap 14 clap 16 17 clap 19 20 clap 22 clap clap 25 26 clap 28 29 clap 31 32 clap
miscellaneous: Marcel van Hove pointed out:

“I think it is nicer when the last number is spoken out loud. So maybe stop at 32 or if you play it with nerds try to get to 42! And you can control the duration of the game by setting the goal (number).”

Escape the Room

number of participants: >= 3 (the more the better)
duration: 10 min
learning objectives/purpose: collaboration; silent communication
material: 1 chair per person
short description: All participants sit on a chair randomly distribute in a (large) room. Let participants lift their feets from the ground. Announce the following instructions:

“The goal of the following game is to escape the room. From now on, nobody is allowed to touch the floor or speak anymore.”

possible progression: Some participants hop with their chair to the exit. Others, often the ones furthest away from the exit, will cooperate by forming a bridge with their chairs. Some will also help others, e.g. by ‘islands’ (i.e. participants on chairs not connected to the bridge help by extending the bridge in their direction).


number of participants: >= 10 (the more the better)
duration: 10 min
learning objectives/purpose: warm-up; deals with post-meal coma
material: 1 chair per person minus one 1 chair
short description: Have the participants build a circle of chairs with one chair per participant (except for yourself). Assign a fruit out of three or four possible fruits to each participant and yourself, like

“Strawberry, banana, apple, mango, strawberry, banana, apple, mango, strawberry, banana – and I’m an apple.”

Explain the rules:

“Whenever the person in the middle calls out a fruit, the participants that fruit was assigned to have to get up and quickly find a new chair to sit on. When they get up, the person in the middle also tries to find a chair. Given that there is one chair less than the number of participants, one person will end up without a chair, and the game starts over. Instead of a fruit the person in the middle can shout ‘fruitsalad’, which means that everybody has to find another chair. It is not allowed to sit on any of your neighbour’s chairs.”

possible progression: Big fun in a fast paced game, where you have to react quickly.

Counting In The Dark

number of participants: >= 5 (not more than 20)
duration: 15 min
learning objectives/purpose: collaboration; silent communication
short description: Have the participants stand up and form a circle. Let them close their eyes. Tell them to count to 10 aloud. Whenever two people shout out any two numbers together, let the group start over.
possible progression: People will start calling out numbers with a high possibility for calling them out together, so they have to start over and over again. Since their eyes are closed, they can’t use sign language. They have to collaborate to find a appropriate strategy like letting one person alone do the counting, or by using a counting token which will be passed from one to the other.

Tornado Tim

number of participants: >= 5 (the more the better)
duration: 10-20 min
learning objectives/purpose: getting to know each other
short description: Have the participants stand up and form a circle. Start by saying and doing three things in this order:

  • an adjective beginning with the same letter as your forename
  • your forename
  • a gesture describing the adjective you mentioned before


“Hi, I’m burned Bernd. (waving his hand like he touched a hot plate).”

In the next turn the last player’s right neighbour has to repeat what all his predecessors said and did (in the same order), followed by his own adjective, name and gesture. Game ends with the last person.
possible progression: After the game, most of the participants will be able to remember most of the other participants’ names, like burned Bernd, cycling Carsten, rocking Robert, naughty Nadine, … Some participants might even join the current speaker by forming the words with their mouth and do the gestures together with him, and often they will help someone who gets stuck.


number of participants: >= 6 (not more than 20)
duration: 15 min
learning objectives/purpose: collaboration; warm-up; deals with post-meal coma
short description: Separate the participants in two teams. Let each team form a queue, where each participant should place their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of him. Name that formation a ship. Name the last person of the ship the captain and the first person of the ship the torpedo. Let the torpedos stretch out their arms (safety reasons!).
Let the ships formate in the room, so that both torpedos face the same wall and the ships are at least 2 meters apart. Let everyone except the captains close their eyes.
Explain to them, that the captains steer the ship. They do so by tapping on the left shoulder of the person in front of them to steer the ship to the left, or by tapping on the right shoulder of the person in front of them to steer the ship to the right. Each tap received by one of the persons on the ship should be passed to the next person, right up to the torpedo.
To fire a torpedo, the captain taps both shoulders. When a torpedo is fired, the person playing the torpedo detaches from the ship by walking straight away from it. When the torpedo hits the other ship, the hit player will be dragged from his ship to the torpedo’s ship, where both the torpedo and the other player go to the end of the ship and one of them becomes the new captain. The first player on the ship becomes the new torpedo (don’t forget the streched out armes!).
Game ends when there’s only one ship left.
(Safety warning: With a bigger group, you might want to recruit up to four persons to prevent the players to run into furniture or walls. Place them in the middle of each wall of the room. Also keep an eye on the torpedo, so that they don’t forget to stretch out their arms all the time and walk slowly when fired.)
possible progression: lively movement in the room; I never saw the end of the game, since the smaller the ships, the easier to steer and to hit something with the torpedo, and the bigger the ship, the easier it is to get hit by a torpedo.

Body Count

number of participants: >= 2
duration: 5 min
learning objectives/purpose: coordination; warm-up for creative work; simple things can be hard to achieve; little changes have huge effects
short description: Have the participants buddy up. Let them alternating, repeatedly, and aloud count to 3. Example: Person one counts “1”, Person two counts “2”, Person one counts “3”, Person two counts “1”, etc.
After a while (15-30 sec), stop the game and tell the participants to count to 3 again, but this time, whenever one player used to count “1”, she should clap their hands.
After a while, replace counting “2” with jumping. After another while, replace counting “3” with a short duck dance (wiggling your bum alone is sufficient).
possible progression: It’s actually hard for people to follow these simple rules. Even the mere alternating counting is hard to do, since the players have to concentrate hard who has to say what. Replacing numbers with gestures is even harder to concentrate on. It’s difficult to do something cognitive and something physical at the same time. It connects different parts of the brain. This will really wake you up.

Special thanks to

  • Sam Laing for coming up with the idea and hosting the first session, and for letting me host the second session
  • Marcel van Hove and Meike Mertsch for proofreading the game descriptions
  • everyone playing with us in these sessions, everyone making this conference such a great event, and all the organizers who created an amazing environment to play within

If you played one of the games according to these instructions, please leave a comment regarding how it turned out for you. Thanks!

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About Bernd Schiffer

Bernd Schiffer is consultant, trainer and coach for Agile Software Development in Melbourne, Australia. Learn more about him on his personal homepage, have a look at his company Bold Mover, or contact him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, XING or LinkedIn.