The “403 Forbidden” card game

There is a subtle but important difference between naming something and explaining something.

You might be able to point at some code and confidently say “that is a clean solution”. But what does that really mean? Could you explain that term to someone else in plain, simple language? Could you do it without using the words “clean” or “solution”? Now many of these familiar-sounding terms do you think could you explain to a friend in 60 seconds?

The game aims to improve people’s clarity of thought and precision of language. It’s only by asking people to communicate ambiguous, vaguely faimiliar or, even, complicated terms to a colleague in plain, easy to understand language that we realise how much we rely on buzzwords and jargon to fill in the blanks in our own understanding!

The game can also help upskill newbie developers and testers or assist interviewers to assess the communication skills of candidates. It could also help break down the language barrier/bridge the communication divide between technical (devs, testers) and non-technical (Product, Business, Design) team members.

Phil Karlton famously said, “There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things”. Once you play the game you’ll realise there’s a third; “explaining things”!

What you need to play the game

  • Index cards
  • A pen

The Cards

The scope of terms you decide to include can be as broad or narrow as you like. See table below for some examples of what I use in my version.

RetroPOSTHotfix releasegit reset –hardStory
Dev completeResponseIntegrated Test502 Bad Gatewaychmod 777
BooleanTechnical work++Port 443JSON
LGTMSerializationContext switchingLegacy codeCredential Stuffing
Brooks LawPropertyQualityBearer TokenHello World
Senior DeveloperPACT===Fibonnaci numbersPair programming
Build agent#ffffffw3schools.comDoneJenkins
\nMVCPathSnake caseWireframe

The Rules

  1. You can not use any word written on the card, or derivative of it, to explain the term or acronym
  2. You have to explain the term in the context of software development i.e. don’t start talking about houses or apartments if you’re trying to explain “property”

How to play

  1. Split into 2 teams of 2. Each team takes turns to play
    1. The game can be played with just 2 people but it’s a lot more fun to play it in groups!
  2. 1 person on each team is the Describer; the other is the Guesser
  3. Each team has 60 seconds to correctly name as many terms/acronyms as possible
  4. The Describer can pass/skip on a maximum of 3 cards, called Skipped cards, per turn
  5. At the end of the 60 seconds, the Opposing team get an opportunity to earn bonus points. They get 20 seconds to describe as many of the Skipped cards as possible
  6. Each correctly guessed card is worth 1 point
  7. If the Describer breaks either rule, the card is immediately discarded. No points can be earned on discarded cards
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