Meeting by the Numbers

What makes a game "good"

When you're trying to help people get something together, the first thing you have to do is get them together. And energized. And nothing does this faster and more wholesomely than a game. Especially if the game is presented in such a way that it is: easy to understand, easy to play, and clearly non-threatening.

A game to start things rolling again

When a meeting reconvenes, especially after a long break, the best kind of game is one that can easily accommodate stragglers.

Starting the Numbers Game

One of my favorites is a game called "Numbers."

We used to play it, with some rather bizarre variations, at the New Games Foundation. Everybody sits in a circle, and counts off, beginning, naturally, with me. I'm Number One.

As Number One, I get to start the round. All I do is call another number. And the only thing the person who has that number does is call another number. And that's how you play the game. Simple?

Well, almost.

The Challenge

See, if someone actually does make a mistake, that person goes to the end of the circle (to my left) and take the last number. And, just as logically, everybody who had a lower number has to move up one number. Which of course means that all those people have a new number to remember. Which of further course means that they are ever so much more likely to make a mistake.

As the game goes on, it also becomes more incumbent on the person who gets called on to respond pretty much immediately. Which of course gives people yet another opportunity to make mistakes, and have to change seats, and numbers, and get more confused.

When new people come in, they get a new number, take up their position at the end of the sequence, and, since people rarely call the last number (what's the point?) they are not really challenged to say or remember anything until someone makes a mistake. And, by that time, they pretty much understand what the game's about.

The object, if there is one, is to get to be Number One, because Number One is the one who gets to start the round. Which means that the lower (closer to One) your number is, the greater the challenge, because the more often your number gets called.

Increasing the challenge

The game stops being so much fun if nobody makes a mistake. So, you make it harder. Decrease the delay tolerance, for example. Especially after a mistake is made and people have to change numbers. My friend Charles Parsons tells me of a variation. He writes: "suppose the mistake-maker's number is removed from the game. E.g. with 10 players: number Six makes a mistake and now becomes Eleven. Now there is no number Six. Everyone must remember this!"

Or, if you have a multilingual group, play it in, for example, Dutch.

Thumper, too

There's an oddly similar game, called "Thumper." Very much like Numbers, actually. Frequently employed as a drinking game, in fact.

Instead of numbers, each player has a unique gesture. Go around the circle and give every one the opportunity to create a gesture (a physical gesture, like batting the eyes, sticking out the tongue, shrugging the shoulders, pointing the finger). Have everybody repeat that player's gesture in a genuine, but futile attempt to memorize each.

The game procedes as in Numbers. Player Number One starts by making someone else's gesture. That player is then obliged, in the minimal reasonable time, to make some other player's gesture. And on, and on.

Once people seem to understand this game, you can play both games, Numbers and Thumper at the same time.


Who needs numbers? Saying each other's names is more than enough challenge. Especially when the group is "at speed" and you're expected to respond more or less instantly. Odd how many times people find thenselves forgetting their own name.

For a little more insanity, try playing it in a handpile, where the person who just got named gets to put his or her hands on top.

Beyond challenge

Or, if you're into bizarre variations and want to make the game a little more threatening and a lot more physical, you can try playing it the New Games way. Everybody gets on the floor and lies on their stomachs. Already more threatening. And, for the more physical part, when you make a mistake you have to roll your body over the backs of the higher Numbers. Last time I introduced that particular variation, we got on the floor all right, but everybody quit before anyone could really get, so to speak, rolling. It's really fun, though. Honest.

Then there's the "official" version of HaHa Numbers as developed by some of the more profound denizens of the US Forest service during the 2002 Leading With Fun session. People assume the standard HaHa position with heads on each other's stomachs, as shown. Instead of calling out numbers, people say "ha" for number one, "haha" for two, "hahaha" for three, etc. Just watching this game I laughed maybe harder than I've ever laughed in my veritable life!