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?

This game aims to improve people’s precision of language and clarity of thought. It’s only by asking people to communicate ambiguous, difficult or unfamiliar 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 it can be used to improve Product/Business/Design people’s vocabulary. It could also be used during interviews to assess the communicating skills of¬†candidates.

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 in your game can be as broad or narrow as you like. See the table below for some examples of what I use in my version.

Retro POST Hotfix release git reset –hard Story
Dev complete Response Integrated Test 502 Bad Gateway chmod 777
Boolean Technical work ++ Port 443 JSON
LGTM Serialization Context switching Legacy code Credential Stuffing
Brooks Law Property Quality Bearer Token Hello World
Senior Developer PACT === Fibonnaci numbers Pair programming
Build agent #ffffff Done Jenkins
\n MVC Path Snake case Wireframe

The Rules

  1. You can not use any word, or derivative of it, to explain the term written on the card
  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”
  3. Don’t refer to people, processes, tools or any other kind of information that relates to your current work i.e. if you’re explaining Jenkins, don’t say “the tool we use here to do builds”

How to play

  1. Split into 2 teams of 2. Each team takes turns to play
    1. The game can be played with only 2 people but is more fun in groups
  2. Each team consists of a Describer and a Guesser
  3. Each team has 60 seconds to correctly name as many terms/acronyms as possible
  4. Each correctly guessed card is worth 1 point
  5. The Describer can pass/skip on a maximum of 3 cards, called Skipped cards, per turn
  6. 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
  7. If the Describer breaks any of 3 the rules, the card is immediately discarded. No points can be earned on Discarded cards

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