An Introduction to Agile Games. Part 2: Retrospective Games

In my last post, An Introduction To Agile Games. Part One: Planning Poker, I talked about how agile games and improve our work life and add benefits during our sprint planning.

Today I'm going to talk about how using a game during our sprint retrospective we can motivate our teams to get "UnStuck" from their current work process.

Fearless Journey – the game that gets your team UnStuck


The goal is to have each team member share in obstacles they feel are out of the teams control and are stopping the team for achieving their goal. Using 48 influence strategies from Linda Rising and Mary Lynn Manns’ book Fearless Change. It should also increase optimism that a particular, important goal is achievable. Side-effects can be the teaching of consensus decision-making and appreciation.

What you'll need

  • An agile team

  • A facilitator

  • Obtain 100 blank, very small index cards (DIN A8-size, or 7.4 x 5.2 cm). A colour other than white would be helpful, but white is also ok.

  • Print and cut the Strategy Cards. (colour printer not required, just nice-to-have) including a few blank cards

  • Print and cut the Game Board (only odd numbered pages are essential. Or, print all pages with "duplex" option, for double-sided cards with "FearLess Journey" on the back.

Setup before the game

The following resources are available from

  • Distribute the 100 blank index cards approximately evenly between players (or teams).

  • Players create from 1 to 6 obstacle cards. An obstacle card lists an issue which they consider likely to block the path to Success. Avoid cards with only the name of a person or role:
    expand these to also name the issue involved. Players will have blank cards left over. Written and blank cards together will become the Obstacle stack.

  • Lay out the playing surface (see diagram below) with Start and Success cards to left and right on the playing surface, separated by 11 Path cards (or about 40cm)

  • Write the title of the team’s predetermined Current State and Challenging Goal on A8 index cards and place them on top of Start and Success cards respectively

  • Shuffle Obstacle cards well to mix blank and written cards. Place the stack on the playing surface, face down

  • Shuffle the Strategy cards and deal 5 to each player. Place the remainder in a stack, face down

  • Place the Path cards in a bag or container. Players will pull cards from this container without seeing them (for example, by holding a box under the table)

How to play

  • The player chooses a Path card without seeing it, and lays it on the playing field. At the start of the game, he or she lays it next to the Start card, connecting to the path there.

  • The player also draws a card from the Obstacle stack (unless the Path card drawn is a Dead End, in which case play immediately passes to the next player).

    • If the Obstacle card drawn is blank there is no Obstacle and play passes to the next player.

    • Otherwise, the player reads the Obstacle out loud and places it over the just-placed Path card, blocking progress on multiple Paths because Obstacles are larger than Path
      cards. (Path cards blocked fully or partially by an Obstacle become unavailable until unblocked).

  • The team may decide to take action on an Obstacle, see Addressing Obstacles.

  • The current player draws replacement Strategy cards, if needed to maintain a total of 5. When the stack is depleted, he or she may choose a card from any other player’s hand.

  • Play passes to the next player. Play continues until Success is reached, or a pre-defined time-box expires, or no Obstacles remain, or the players are bored.

Addressing Obstacles

  • Several actions are possible after the Obstacle card is placed on the Path, blocking it.

    • Players collaborate to find a Strategy (or a combination of Strategies) from any team member’s hand that could eliminate one Obstacle on the playing field. It may be the
      current player’s Obstacle, or any other Obstacle on the board.

      • Any player proposes a Strategy (or combination of Strategies, from any player’s hand) by saying something like “I have an idea” or “This might work”.

      • All players must agree, see Reaching Consensus. If no agreement, the proposal is withdrawn and the team continues to deliberate.

      • Once agreed upon, the Obstacle and related Strategy cards are placed together to the right of the Success card as a reminder of success.

      • Players who contributed Strategies receive replacement Stretegy cards from the hand of the current player, along with a statement of appreciation (ex: “Thanks for
        your suggestion” or “I appreciate your help”.)

    • The team may disagree that it is (still) an Obstacle at the current point in the game. Again, all players must agree, see Reaching Consensus.

      • Once agreed by all that the Obstacle is no longer an issue, it is placed the right of the Success card as a reminder of how Obstacles sometimes Dissolve. If this effect
        can be directly relate to one successful Strategy/Obstacle pair, place the Obstacle with those cards, otherwise it stands alone.

    • The team may decide to do nothing (for now) and pursue a different Path in subsequent turns.

Reaching Consensus

  • A turn is only ended when the whole team agrees on whether to act and what to do. This may be difficult if the team does not have a good culture of discourse and decision making,
    and the facilitator should be prepared with simple ways to improve these discussions.
  • One recommended consensus process which involves proposal + discourse + voting is a Sociotratic vote, which may also use Thumb Voting (also called Roman Vote). Markus Gärtner has a wonderful post about methods of consensus-based decision making in teams if you looking for additional references.
  • Another method is called the Decider Protocol
    • it can be found in the book Software for Your Head and online at:

  • Agreeing together not do do anything is also a decision and is acceptable.
  • The team may have trouble with this step, and things may take too long, killing the fun of the game.
    • In this case, the facilitator could ask the team to name a reasonable timebox (say: 5 minutes), after which the facilitator will end the turn with an outcome of "no action".

Optional Step: Debrief

The facilitator can watch for patterns and frame questions to make players aware of these patterns afterwards. Some fictional examples:

  • What was the fun part of the game? What roles did people play in decision making? How hard was it to come to consensus?

The facilitator can also point out team learning, by asking open questions like:

  • What was difficult? What was easy? What surprised you? How was this different from your usual way of making decisions? How would you change your work as a result?

Optional Step: Action Planning

The team has now agreed on some strategies that might be successful to reach a challenging and important real-world goal! To move this learning into reality, an Action Planning step lets
the team consider the successful strategies and identify up to three which the team wishes to try right away. They may tackle the most important problems first, although it may be more
comfortable to build some experience and get some successes by starting with a few “quick wins” before moving on to harder obstacles.

Action planning should identify:

  • the problem to solve (so you don’t lose track of the “why” once you get into the details)

  • the action planned (next step or steps)

  • who will do it (or facilitate it and track its progress if multiple people are involved)

  • who else wants to be involved, or should be invited

  • target completion date for at least the next step

Also include the date when this plan will be reviewed together, and who will facilitate that meeting and make it happen.


At the first international 2011 in Germany, Ole Jepsen instigated the workshop & helped Katrin Elster, Ellen Grove, Martin Heider, Melanie Meinen, Christine Neidhardt, Deborah Hartmann Preuss, Sebastian Schürmann, Andreas Thier & Nancy Van Schooenderwoert to dream up the basics. Antti Kirjavainen advised on game creation.
Deborah Preuss & Ilja Preuß subsequently created this version of the game.

(cc) Fearless Journey Game by Deborah Preuss and Friends is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

More Games?!

Looking for more agile games for your retrospectives? Check out Tasty Cup Cakes and do a search for Retrospective.

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