Stage Managers Play More Than Drinking Games

by David J. McGraw
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A Dozen Games for Stage ManagersRecently the question of how stage managers practice their soft skills was posed in an online forum and my immediate response was GAMES! I will confess that I am life-long fan of games of all kinds but, beyond general enjoyment, I find them to be incredible learning opportunities for stage managers. Games can teach you how to analyze a problem and develop strategies to solve it, read people and their bluffs, cooperate with colleagues, negotiate with those in power, and even learn how to benefit when you know you are going to lose. 

I have grouped a dozen games into four categories for when you are looking for a team-building exercise, a chance to hone your skills, or just enjoy some time with your company.  I have included only board/card games (though I cheat with one game that started online) as they include more face-to-face time for those soft skills. I personally prefer longer, deeper games, but I have limited this list to games that run 5-60 minutes and can be taught in under 10 minutes.

Ice Breaker Games

Whats It To Ya?

Looking for a way to build comradery or introduce the new person to your team? My favorite is What’s It to Ya?: a rotating dealer displays five random cards with an object or value on each and everyone has to guess how the dealer will arrange the items from most to least important. I love this game because people can reveal their values without feeling like they are stepping onto a soapbox or that others will judge them; we are just trying to score points by guessing the order.

The Game of Things

The Game of Things and What Were You Thinking? are similar games that work well with larger groups and don’t have to be played at a single table. In both, a prompt card with a question is read aloud and everyone writes down their answer. In The Game of Things, the lead player has to guess who wrote what. In What Were You Thinking?, you want your answers to match with those of other players. These games are very appealing because everyone is active all the time while sharing glimpses of personality.

Cooperative Games

Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Island, and SpaceTeam

Coop board games have been on the rise for some time and, as a parent, I have deep respect for games where everyone has to work together to win. Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert are races against time to escape a disaster. Pandemic, and its many variations, has you also race against time but the goal is to save humanity from an epidemic (far more fun than it sounds). The only drawback in early play is that a knowledgeable player can become the leader when these games are most satisfying when the whole group truly collaborates. Enter SpaceTeam, which started as a phone/tablet app but is now also offered as card game. Players are on an accident-prone spaceship and each can see a problem and need to communicate with the rest of the team to solve/repair it. Ever have a crisis erupt backstage and everyone rapidly offers different solutions over headset? This game has the team learn to balance multiple problems and communicate quickly. The phone/tablet version is less expensive and zanier but you need everyone to download the app.

Find the Liar Games

Ultimate Werewolf and The Resistance

Not that a stage manager would ever lie… but being able to see through bluffs is a good skill for SMs to have in their kits. There many great deceit games, but I like the fast, easy games that can be taught to a large group quickly. The classic is Werewolf, which can be played with just a standard deck of cards (though the specialized game is easier for new players). There are a range of newer versions with extra levels of intrigue – my favorite of this generation is The Resistance. These games appear to be cooperative in that the group must work together to solve a problem. The catch is that, at the start, some players have drawn cards that make them enemies trying to sabotage the work of the team. The team must try to try to work together as paranoia builds over whom to trust.

Nonverbal Games

Telestrations and Mysterium

The last major category of recommendations for stage managers are visual-based games. We need a sharp eye for detail and a way to communicate without text. The classic party game of charades is great, as well as the game Telestrations, which is a combination of Pictionary and the “telephone game” as a concept such as “double-play” has to go through a whole line of players drawing without anyone saying a word. 

I am also a big fan of games that have you discern meaning from fanciful illustrations. Dixit has players select a card that best expresses an abstract concept such as “loyalty.” Mysterium, a cooperative game, takes it one step further: one player is a ghost who sends visions to the other players so that together they can solve a mystery (in under an hour!). Come for the beautiful artwork, stay for communicating without saying a word.

Bonus: If literature is more your style, might I recommend Bring Your Own Book for a baker's dozen? As the name suggests, each player brings their own book (or grabs a script off the shelf) and races to find a line anywhere in the book that matches a randomly drawn prompt. Which line from A Winter’s Tale works as a Facebook status update? Or which line from The Fantasticks would work on a business card? All those weeks of being on book finally come in handy!

Bring Your Own Book

There are hundreds of great board games and card games (let alone video games) to discover. Which ones do you think best serve stage managers?