We are always inspired by Lavacon, the Content Strategy Conference. Jack Molisani has worked hard to cultivate an atmosphere that fosters learning while celebrating ingenuity, creativity, connection, and has an energy all of its own.

A lot of our most popular presentations and giveaways were inspired by Lavacon. The tarot cards and techcomm psychic presentation and the DITA Guru presentation (which was really more of a series of skits) were all inspired by Lavacon. You can do things at Lavacon that you can't do anywhere else. And we love Jack's conference for that. We're inspired by that.

It's never easy to stand out from the crowd and it's never really our goal. We're confident enough to attract customers who are as good for us as we are for them and we're known for sending customers to our "competitors" if one of them would be a better fit. Our goal has always been to do things that help customers who are a good fit spot us easily.

I'll be the first to admit that a lot of people don't get us. They think that, because we don't do things the way everyone else does, that we're strange and unusual or somehow less successful. That's ok. It doesn't bother us.

We are different.

We're not like most vendors. We don't hand out pens or squeeze balls or post-it notes or try to lure you into talking with us by giving you candy. We don't tell tales out of school or denigrate our competitors.

Instead, we've been known to hand out funny techcomm magnets and buttons, give tarot readings at our booth (using cards we made with DITA and a Arbortext stylesheet), and raffle off Lego Mindstorm kits. People who come to my presentations know I give out hand-crafted, organic soap buttons and other treats to encourage participation and sharing.

We're not like most consultants either. We're non-threatening. We're collaborative. We declare our affiliations and compensatory relationships openly (even though we are not required to do so). We teach our customers to do, we don't do it for them.

We could, of course, but we prefer to help them grow. We help them take ownership of every piece, part, technology, and tool so they can become confident stewards of the products and projects they initiate in their companies.

This is by design, done with intent. And it helps our customers recognize us.

To that end, we designed a pair of boardgames that debuted at Lavacon. In case you missed it, here's what we made...

Content Wonderland

"A sweet little game for sweet little content strategists"

Inspired by Milton Bradley's Candyland, we created a reimagined version of this childhood favorite game to appeal to a technical communications and content strategy audience.

We changed the colors, the card-frequency, the imagery, and the scene names so that it more closely resembled the journey that a content strategy project takes.

For example:

  • If you gather your requirements, you can speed up your project (requirement rainbow).
  • If you do a good job gathering requirements, it means you included your stakeholders from the start and final approvals are a lot easier to bypass (review fun house).
  • Likewise, if you did a good job with your requirements, your tool choice was obvious and you never got lost in the miasma of tool options (cotton candy tool patch).
  • If you didn't, you might find yourself having to go back and get their buy-in (all aboard express)

The rest of the points on the journey demonstrate other points on the journey to increasing collaborative efforts and designing a good content strategy:

  • Taking control of your swinging content
  • Getting some outside help from a consultant (tech comm psychic)
  • Delivering your content to all the channels where your customers consume it (omni-channel delivery)

This was the game most people played. Everyone remembers and loves Candyland.

Content Coasts and Climbs

"an exciting up and down game for skilled content strategists"

A variation on Snakes and Ladders (which Milton Bradley made famous as Chutes and Ladders).

Depending on when you played the game, player movement was determined by dice (70s) or a spinner (80s).

We changed all of the scenarios and switched the game play to cards that were very similar to those from Sorry.

The Sorry cards sped up the game and had two cards that we thought demonstrated behaviors that were interesting to observe:

  • The 7 card allowed players to split the total move with another player and both could move forward or back. You could collaborate or punish. A good collaborator means everyone succeeds. A colleague who gets punished or hurt by someone else's actions remembers that and retaliates later on.
  • Likewise, the 10 card allowed players to either move forward or to swap places with another player. Again, this can work in your favor or in everyone's favor. Sometimes the swap works in both favors depending on where the players are in relation to the coast and climb squares.

This game was a lot harder to make. The scenarios aren't opposites, they're if-thens. And the climbs don't necessarily have exact opposites to the coasts. Rather, this is a game that demonstrates good practices and bad practices.

Here are explanations of a few of the scenarios:

Climbs (ladders)

  • 8-31 (climb) together with 16-6 (coast): When you make your plans and design your project rather than just grab tools and stitch them together, you get a well designed result that's worthy of showing the world and not a messed up shirt.
  • 21-42 (climb): When you get training, the time that you would otherwise spend digging around on your own is suddenly freed up and you can go on vacation.
  • 71-91: (climb): When you share what you learned with others, they appreciate and remember you (your status rises).
  • 36-44 (climb): When all your tools come from the same vendor, you have one hotline to call when you have a problem (no pointing fingers or attempts at shifting responsibilities or boundary disputes).

Coasts (snakes)

  • 62-19 (coast): When you put yourself in a mission critical position and keep the what you did and why you did it in your head, or when you don't cultivate a partner, someone who can act as your backup, not only do you never get to go on vacation, but you're putting your company in a very fragile position (single point of failure).
  • 47-26 (coast): When you don't do your requirements, you end up choosing a tool that is guaranteed not meet all your company's needs (pin the tail on the vendor).
  • 87-24 (coast): When you only look at the product price tag, and ignore the cost of time and resources, you always end up with empty pockets (high cost of "free").
  • 56-53 (coast): When you outsource your project, your planning, or critical implementation pieces to an outside vendor, it can explode in your face or be expensive to do a second (or third or fourth or fifth...) time around simply getting it right (not being a good steward of your investment).

The Player Tokens

Both games used the same set of tokens. Players were free to choose the one the liked best.

There was a gumball machine, a camper, a globe, a set of beach chairs, a margarita glass, a martini glass, a wine glass, a sand bucket, a teapot, a sand castle, a cupcake, flip flops, palm trees, a champagne glass and a crown.

We had as much fun watching people choosing tokens as we did playing the games with them.

How did you decide on these two?

Believe it or not, we actually played a bunch of kids boardgames over the summer. We had Life, Clue, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Payday, Careers, and Sorry. We played them all to see if we could convert them and how we might do it.

In addition, we evaluated them in terms of their being a good booth game: fast, not too complicated, that would invite people to play because they knew that it wouldn't take up too much of their time at the conference.

The one game we thought would be convert-able turned out not to be. At all. That's Clue. It's a superbly designed game. Every element contributes to the overall theme and genre. The meta-structure, the scenario, the game play. Everything. We tried to convert it to an office, but the theme breaks. It was a surprising discovery and a comforting one. This game that I loved as a child was lovable for a really good reason. It's design and construction are tight!

Did you get any takers?

Absolutely! We had a steady stream of players, both groups and individuals. Many came back a couple of times to replay or to play the other game they didn't play the first time.

Everyone who recognized the games had a moment of nostalgia that we shared together and everyone enjoyed the inside jokes of the recasting. It was interesting to see what different choices different groups of colleagues made during the game play as well.

All in all a good time!

P.S. Several people have asked if we're putting them up for sale. We haven't so far, but you never know. If you want one, you really should let us know... or find us at a conference in 2020!

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