Game of Matches

Here is a super fun game you can play with friends at a campsite to teach them about bottlenecks and flow and statistical fluctuations and dependent events. Your friends will love it.

Put 5 containers in a row. Call them container A, container B, and C, D, E. These are your factory workstations. Parts move through the factory, and to represent this, use something like matches or pebbles to represent these parts.

Here’s the game. Roll a die. Whatever number comes up, move that many “parts” into container A. Now roll the die again. Move that many parts from container A into container B. If you don’t have enough parts to fulfill the roll (for example, if you roll a 5 and there are only 4 parts in container A), you can only move 4 parts.

That’s it. Keep rolling the die and moving “parts” forward.

As you will see, it’s hard to move “parts” through the “factory.” Deficits are passed along; they propagate forward. Container B can only output whatever it has in stock; if Container A isn’t passing parts along, Container B is helpless.

Alex plays this game with the boy-scouts. They are highly entertained. Pretty hard to imagine this happening with kids now that we have iPads.

This game illustrates how dependent events interact. It’s obviously very intuitive that problems from one workstation affect the next station in line, but the analogy of this game helps to cement the concept.