Card Games for Soft Skills

In our our soft-skills toolbox, we find a lot of things we use day-to-day. Basic communication, small talk, escalation, architecture discussions, code reviews, and in some cases, gossip. These are skills we use frequently, and it's no surprise, the more we engage in them, the better we get at them.

On the other side there are a set of skills that we don't get to use that often. Skills like Negotiation, hiring, firing, and strategic planning don't seem to ever grow unless your job explicitly forces you to engage in those actions on a regular basis. The challenge with improving these skills is that they require contextual situations, alongside willing participants to engage with. It's not like there's a bunch of people you can fire just to get better at it (or at least I hope not); Likewise, you can't just head out to the "negotiation rage" and work on your "growing the pie" game.

So how in the world are you supposed to get better at these types of skills?

This is the challenge that I set upon addressing with the creation of a suite of small card games. Each game is built around a core mechanic that these soft-skills require in order to be effective. The more you play, the better you get at the particular skill. Want to get better at communication? spend a lot of time thinking about how the other person is going to react to a piece of information. Get better at shipping products? Put yourself in a situation where everything goes wrong, and you have to cross the finish line.

Each game below has been custom crafted with months of research, playtesting, and re-tooling. It's been a part of training for Googlers, attendees to UCLA's Technical Management Program, and has regularly received praise regarding hyper skill advancement in a short period of time. I hope you enjoy these games, and more so, I hope they get you prepared for the next step in your career.


Unicorn or Bust.

All players represent a team of employees trying to get their startup from boostrap to IPO in 52 weeks. To get there, they will have to bargan, trade resourcs, trim the fat, and avoid the horrible problems that await them.

This game teaches the skills of challenge triage, oppertunity assesment, and in some cases, having to make the decision on when to fire a fellow team mate.

Ship It!

Oh no! All the tasks have been mixed up! You and your fellow product managers have to work together sort everything out, get the proper tasks assigned to the proper people, and do it all before time runs out. The hard part? You have no idea what cards you're holding, and have to rely on the other players to give you that information.

Empathetic communication is the defacto skillset for success in modern business environment. This activity helps you think hard about the things you're going to say, how you're going to say them, and how the other player's might mis-interpret what you said!


Get used to chaos! You're an engineer at a thriving tech company with a flair for "shaking things up." Your goal? To be the most impactful engineer there, and you do that by working on tasks across existing products that include things you're new Vice President deems important. The catch? Every year, you get a new VP, with a new set of priorities. Good Luck!

This game teaches the core skills required to help manage and responde to rapid changes in the work place in the most impactful and productive way possibles.

The Queen's Road.

“The Queen's road” is an activity that focuses on developing individuals ability to negotiate, reach compromise, and make sure that both the projects’ needs, as well as their own, are accomplished. The Queen has tasked your group with the building of a new set of roads through her city. The catch is that you’re sharing this responsibility with others, who each have their own goals & priorities. Learn how to bargain, negotiate, and compromise to get the highest scores possible.

This game is all about Negotiation. While some people approach this skill as a "battle" the smart practitioners know that it's about collaboration, compromise, and understanding the needs of those folks you're working with.

Too Many Droids!

TOO MANY DROIDS helps immerse the team in highly stressful, simulated chaos to accomplish personal activities and help the team accomplish its goals. In this activity players will realize that their strategies for “getting things done” falls apart once the stakes get high enough. As a team they will have to come together, develop a plan for communication, resource sharing, and what to do when things go from bad, to worse.