5150 - The Negotiating Game


Susan Myrland

Instructional Objective

Players will learn alternatives to positional negotiation by using interests and motivations to achieve mutually-agreeable solutions.


The game is designed for adults who would like to learn and practice negotiation skills and techniques.

Object of Game

Players are part of a team that is trying to get a product to market. Each player has a different role (CEO, Content Expert, Creative Director, Union Boss, etc.) with different, often conflicting, priorities. As they move through different phases -- conducting research, designing the product, creating a prototype, production, and marketing -- players have two minutes per phase to agree on a course of action. If they cannot reach a majority vote, everybody loses.

The name "5150" refers to the nature of negotiating, and is also a term used by California law enforcement as code for someone who is crazy.

Game Materials

Time Required

The game is for 2 to 6 players and requires 10-20 minutes per round. Players can play as many or as few rounds as they wish.

Playing the Game

One player draws a Situation card and reads it aloud to the group. The Situation determines the type of product and level of risk involved. Players can use this to help make decisions.

Each player draws a Role card and reads it aloud to the group, placing it face-up so others can refer to it. Roles provide the foundation for decisions and priorities. Players are coached to take a moment and put themselves in their role, thinking about their motives, goals, and common interests with other players.

Each player receives an equal number of chips. (Three chips per phase would be ideal, but the game store didn't have enough in stock!)

Players roll the die to determine who goes first.

The 2:00 timer is started, and players put one or more chips on one or more choices for that phase. Chips can be moved after being placed or more chips can be added. Players can use as many chips as they want, but they must place a minimum of one chip per round.

Alternate play for 2 people - Players take turns going first. If Player 1's choice only requires one chip and an agreement is reached, Player 2 does not have to spend a chip and the game advances. Players keep track of the number of chips spent and may challenge the other person to "kick in something" in future rounds.

If a clear majority is seen, the timer is stopped and the group advances to the next phase. If there is no majority, players must negotiate a solution. If the clock runs out, everybody loses!

After each phase, one player draws an Event card and reads it aloud to the group. Event cards change the balance of power and the course of negotiation.

Strategies and tips are given, along with suggestions for using negotiation in real-life settings.

Design Process

The original idea for the game was very different and somewhat amorphous, involving concepts of shifting values and bartering. The first clue that it would not work happened when I sat down to play the game with my husband. When it was his turn to conduct a negotiation, he refused, saying it was not in his interests.

I referred to Keller and Suzuki (1988) for further research into the area of motivation, and decided that some consequences were in order. I also incorporated the elements of a typical negotiation: an external driving force that brings both parties to the table, a sense of time pressure, and incentives or disincentives to participate. The process of getting a product to market emerged as a metaphor, enabling players to take different roles while still working on a common goal. This also allowed me to break the game flow into segments, or phases, introducing random events between phases that would change the relationships. Fidelity was a concern, as I did not want the game to get bogged down in business details, but remain generic enough that anyone could understand it.

The design process was occasionally chaotic and frustrating. A meta-negotiation evolved as I continued to recruit my husband to play the game with me, over and over and over again. I was surprised at how differently he would interpret the concept and instructions from what I thought they were. This is, in fact, an element of negotiation -- the ability to understand and value another viewpoint without seeing it as simply bad or wrong.

One of the aspects of the game that seems to work well is its flexibility to include someone's personal experiences, making the game more complex. And, since it's designed to be short and fairly fast to play, players can create variations such as changing the balance of power or creating partnerships that span multiple games.

Although I reviewed several books on negotiation during this process, most of them dealt with traditional oppositional tactics that can create hostility and mistrust. The key book that became the foundation for this game is Getting to YES, by Roger Fisher and William Ury. I strongly recommend it for anyone who interacts with a boss, client, child or spouse.


Alessi, S. M. (1988). Fidelity in the design of instructional simulations. Journal of Computer-Based Instruction, 15, 40-47.

Fisher, R. & Ury, W. (1981). Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Gruenwald, G. (1995). New Product Development. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books.

Grunfeld, F. (1975) Games of the World. New York, NY: Plenary Publications International, Inc.

Jandt, F. E. (1976). Win-Win Negotiating. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Karrass, C. (1970). The Negotiating Game. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell.

Keller J. M., & Suzuki, K. (1988). Use of the ARCS motivation model in courseware design. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.). Instructional design for microcomputer courseware. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lepper, M. R., & Malone, T. W. (1987). Intrinsic motivation and instructional effectiveness in computer-based education. in R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.). Aptitude, learning and instruction. Volume 3: Conative and affective process analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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