Thursday, December 11, 2008 by Dave Blum

Jen and I had some people over the other night for dinner and games.  We like this kind of party because it tends to take the pressure off of the introverts to make dazzling conversation with strangers.  Whether it’s for parties, networking events, or corporate team building activities — games somehow provide focus to a get-together; with the attention concentrated on a game, people get to know each other in an informal and indirect way, without the need to break up into intense, face-to-face pairings. (I guess this is why I’ve been doing game- and puzzle-based team building exercises all these years…they’re engaging ice breakers without being too contrived or touchy-feely.)

As always during our game nights, we played a few of our favorite games, including, 25 Words or Less, Wits and Wagers, and Balderdash.  However, the hit of the night was a simple little card game called The Great Dalmuti.  The goal of the game is really quite simple: be the first to get rid of your cards.  You do this by following the lead of the person before you. So, for example, if the person to your right plays three 12’s, you need to play three of something lower than 12’s, for example three 11’s, three 10’s, etc.  The next person then has to play three of something lower than you, and so on.  The game requires a small amount of strategy — but chess or bridge it is not.  What makes this game so fascinating is what happens after everyone has gotten rid of their cards.  For every round, the first person out is named “The Great Dalmuti”; the next person out becomes “The Lesser Dalmuti”; next after that is “The Merchant” (depending on the number of players, there can be several Merchants); the penultimate player out is “The Lesser Peon”; and the last person is dubbed “The Greater Peon”.  The Great Dalmuti then gets up and moves to the specified Dalmuti seat…in short, the throne.  The Lesser Dalmuti gets up and sits to their left, the Merchants sit to the left of that, then the Lesser Peon, and finally the Greater Peon.  So, at the end of every round, depending on the order they went out, players get up and move to their new seats, thereby gaining a new status in the hierarchy.

As you can see from the titles, there’s a somewhat feudal element to this game.  Players are encouraged to act out their roles. The Great Dalmuti and Lesser Dalmuti are essentially royalty; they should lord it over the others a bit.  The Greater Peon is at the bottom of the heap and needs to be a bit subservient, collecting and shuffling the cards, bowing and scraping, etc.  The status relationships are intensified by the gameplay.  At the beginning of each round, the Peon must give his/her two best cards to the Dalmuti in exchange for the Dalmuti’s two worst cards. The Lesser Peon must give his/her one best card to the Lesser Dalmuti, in exchange for that person’s one worst card. This is called “taxation”, a rule that makes it very difficult for the two Peons to get out of their lowly positions.

Although the game may sound simple, we played it for 3 hours — and would’ve played even longer if it wasn’t already 2:30 am!  It is truly amazing what people will do in an effort to gain and maintain status.  In a work context, just think what people will do to get a corner office!  Monetary compensation is important, certainly; but it seems to me that status is really where the juice is!

So, the next time you’re searching around for team building ideas, consider adding the element of status to your activities Or just play the Great Dalmuti; it’s a wonderful conversation starter.