6 Surprising Games That Can Work For Gamification


We run gamification workshops across the globe and one of the most common challenges that senior managers and HR leaders face is how they can implement gamification on a smaller scale and take that first step. Much like any new initiative or vehicle for change, the idea of implementing gamification in the workplace is much more overwhelming than the reality. It’s a bit like anticipating a big social event, even though you know you’ll enjoy it once you’re there and get a lot out of it, finding an outfit and booking a babysitter seems like a lot of work so you decide to just miss out. The same goes in the workplace, despite the playful nature of the end result and the numerous benefits of gamification, CEOs and HR managers alike often sidestep it for fear of the time and money they need to invest to make it happen.

While there are many impressive gamification setups out there a good starting point is to use the premise of existing popular games and apply them in a workplace setting. To inspire just that we have come up with a list of surprising games that can work for gamification and demonstrated just a few ways this could help you meet top HR objectives but also generally just make the working day that little bit more interesting for everyone.

1. Murder Mystery: a shared goal with a creative twist

Best for: Team building + strategic thinking

The term ‘team building’ often inspires more eye rolling than “engagement” as so many employees are used to being forced into social events with free booze and awkward team building exercise. Rather than sticking to the status quo consider using the tried and tested formula of a classic Murder Mystery, which when you think about it includes all of the core elements of any good team building activity - a shared challenge that needs to be solved.

A murder mystery format is ideal for getting staff from across departments together to tackle a problem and it’s also cost-effective, so it’s a win win. How far you go with the creativity is totally up to you. It could be as simple as presenting teams with a problem and giving them a number of tools and tasks to get to the root of it and solve that problem, which could be fictional or real. In this setting, colleagues will assume roles, assign tasks and work as part of a team to problem solve their way to success and, as there are no props involved, this format is easy to set up and can be run over an afternoon - or throughout a weekend to lighten a training course.

Alternatively, of course you could just play an actual murder mystery in the workplace to boost staff morale and productivity; just don’t take heed from The Office US and use it as a distraction tactic! No idea what we’re talking about? Here’s a little video clip of that moment just for you:

2. Rounders/baseball

Best for: Onboarding, orientation + compliance

Ah Rounders, an old classic that either brings back good memories of making the 4th base and finally actually hitting the ball or reminds you of being picked last. Whatever their experience, the chances are that the majority of your employees will understand the premise, which makes it a great game strategy that you can easily apply in the workplace.

You could setup a morning session of ‘rounders’ for instance as part of the onboarding process and introduce new recruits to different areas of the business.  Each department can be setup as a base, and they are set the goal to make it to all of those bases and complete a given task to move onto the next. As part of this process the seemingly boring elements of onboarding like compliance or security can be woven into the process. Spreading training, compliance and orientation throughout departments, an employee will have familiarity with all areas at the company from day one. Add to that a form of competition - perhaps a time record, or multiple new beginners ‘playing’ at once - and you’ll find employees build rapport quicker.

Of course, you could also send your whole team outside to play an actual game of rounders for half an hour - allowing employees to find common ground in new contexts, broadening internal communication and improving overall productivity. Sometimes getting employees out of the office onto their feet is the best way to get the best out of them when they make it back to their desk - revived and energised.

3. Pandemic

Best for: Strategy, L&D + collaboration

Pandemic is an award winning game designed by Matt Leacock that tasks teams with saving the world from bio-warfare. It was first published by Z-man Games in the US in 2008 and became one of the most successful cooperative games to hit the mainstream. While it may appear a little intense for a workplace setting, it’s prime picking for gamification because it’s played in limited time by a wide range of players that need to work collaboratively to reach a specific goal.

So ideal in fact, Serious Game Designer Tania Vercoelen also designed her own board game Project Ninjas, which works on a similar premise and was created to help managers develop strong teams. Players work together with 4-5 other ninjas on a mission to complete a project on time, while mitigating the risks and challenges along the way. 

At the end of the game players are encouraged to discuss how well they collaborated, communicated and if there was any leadership within the team. They then consider what they could have done differently if they were to play again. Tania continues to use the game in a variety of learning workshops, including project management training, collaboration, leadership and communication skills.

4. Scrabble & word games

Best for: Communication, creativity + recruitment

Using word play can provide a myriad of solutions to your workplace issues, in particular it can help with internal communication and assessing verbal knowledge during the recruitment process.

For example, you could create a custom scrabble game for each department or purpose, here are a few examples to help get you started:

  • All the Feels - Communication + change management: Encourage teams to use words that describe how they feel to help them better communicate and understand each other. This could be in general in terms of well-being and motivation but also more specifically in regards to a specific project or new change in the business. This could also help encourage creative thought, and also be a particularly helpful means of expression for neurodivergent employees who struggle to put their thoughts and feelings into words.

  • All Aboard the Scrabble Board - Onboarding: If you frequently have larger groups of new hires get the newbies to all use words that describe a personality trait or memory and then share it with the rest of the group.

  • The Scrabble Effect - Project based feedback: Nobody likes to hear negative feedback and we all know the sandwich effect (saying something good, bad, then good) doesn’t always work. So why not try the Scrabble Effect? Players are encouraged to use words that describe the input from the previous players work on their latest project or their overall input in that month. Constructive feedback delivered in a playful way - win win. 

  • Sassy Scrabble Babble - Recruitment and development: For the roles that require a good level of literacy Scrabble can be the ideal way to see how many words they can find to describe a specific skill set, industry or given topic. This would work best in team development session or a group interview setting.

Scrabble really is an easy win for gamification in the workplace. Heck, if you’re feeling ambitious create a custom giant scrabble board in the break or games room and get people to build on the board throughout the day or week - the winner gets to go home early on Friday!

5. Crystal Maze-like Puzzles and Escape games

Best for: Time management, working under pressure + team building


Create short, Crystal Maze-like puzzles in the workplace and see how your employees manage their time and work under pressure. Problem solving skills will be put to the test, while dividing your departments into different teams allows them to build on their abilities to work with new groups to achieve a shared objective. Not sure you quite have the budget and time to build your own puzzles? There’s actually a good number of existing escape rooms and mobile escape games that you can leverage. Either book the team into your local escape room for a team building experience or bring the puzzles to you.

The intensity of a 1-hour escape room game creates a sense of urgency. Players are solving puzzles and working together to analyse and resolve a set of challenges, which means they are also collaborating, leading and taking initiative. In an interview with HR revolution earlier this year gamification expert Michiel Van Eunen explained the further benefits of an escape room format, which is that added dynamics of communication, trust, flexibility and responsibility. In addition, there is the incumbent “herd” psychology, competition, stress and time pressure that goes unnoticed by employees who are intensively engaged in the challenge at hand and, therefore, naturally revealing their true behaviour and patterns. He said:

“If you register what happens in an Escape Room during one hour of playing, you will have a wealth of information about those players. Somehow, Plato already knew that 2400 years ago. The power of the Escape Room is not just in the 60 minutes of intense play. It’s the part right after, that matters. The part where we look back and say: ‘What just happened ?!’ Depending on the time, the group and the development goal (or learning goal), we can look back at the Escape Room – at both individual and team level - through different lenses.”

Michiel Van Eunen
Escape Room Designer

For more inspiration you can check here it from the man himself:

6. Guess Who?

Best for: onboarding, team building + knowledge building

An old classic and those who enjoyed a good ol’ game of Guess Who? Back in the day will remember that satisfying sound as you snap down and edge ever closer to winning the game. For the benefit of Millennials scratching their heads as to what on earth this simple looking game could be, the game is simple really - very similar to the better known Forehead Detective or the Heads Up! App. It’s a two player game where players can only ask yes or no questions to rule out characters with particular traits. The first player to guess the other players hidden character - wins. 

You can also get to know the game here:

It’s the perfect setup for onboarding new employees and improving the knowledge of teams - especially when you have expansive or global offices. Whether you take it quite literally and build custom cards and boards for each department to add a playful twist to orientation or just use the same premise to create a gamified people directory.  Gamifying a way for new employees to get to know their peers will help them feel welcome, boost their morale and resolve unconscious incompetence.

Taking it up to another level you could add some clues to solve along the way or key learnings from each individual that can be unlocked along the way. A good example of this working in practice was MHS Homes intranet launch campaign, whereby employees needed to find clues on individual’s profiles and learn more about their peers in the process.

Now all you need to do is pick a game

There are so many classic games that can work in the workplace, now all you need to do is pick one and get started. If you have any more questions just get in touch or if you need something fast for an upcoming meeting or event you could check out the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®​ methodology.

About the author 

Pete Baikins

Pete Baikins is an international authority on gamification, a lifelong gamer, successful entrepreneur and a lecturer. As CEO of Gamification+ Ltd he mentors and trains companies world-wide on the use of gamification to solve business challenges. Gamification+ won the Board of Trade Award from the UK's Department of International Trade in January 2019.

Pete is co-host of the health gamification podcast Health Points and is also Chair of Gamification Europe, the annual conference for Gamification practitioners.

Pete is an Honorary Ambassador for GamFed (International Gamification Confederation), having previously been the Chair from 2014 to February 2019, whose aim is to spread best practices within and support the gamification industry.

After 15 years as a Lecturer on gamification and entrepreneurship at the University of Brighton he now guest lectures on Gamification at King’s College London and at ESCP Europe at post-graduate and under-graduate levels.

Over the past 20 years Pete has built and sold two businesses. One was in security software and the more recent one was a telecoms and internet connectivity business. He is also an Ambassador for Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce in the UK.

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