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Family game night, or CIA training exercise?

Professional development can be all fun and games sometimes
A closeup of the popular board game Monopoly. Casey Martin/Shutterstock

I love board games. Some might argue it’s because I’m of a certain vintage — the 1980s sure seemed like the heyday, with a little role playing Dungeons & Dragons thrown in for good measure — but a good sit-around-the-table night is still tough to beat.

There were a lot of board games under our tree this year — from Urban Myth to Game of Thrones Monopoly to Harry Potter Clue, and a few expansion packs for Cards Against Humanity thrown in for good measure. (If you haven’t played, you’ll die laughing – but hide the children before you do. It’s definitely in the category of NSFW.)

In an era of tablets and smartphones and unlimited Wifi, all these games have been unwrapped, unboxed and played with teenagers at the table. That says something.

But it turns out what I thought was a simple family game night was actually a clandestine CIA training exercise. Or at least it could have been.

A report by CNN’s Selena Larson outlined why the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is turning to board games to train its agents. David Copper, among other duties at Langley, has been a game maker since 2008 — he “creates games to train CIA staffers including intelligence agents and political analysts for real-world situations,” the report said.

One game, called “Collection,” tasks analysts to work as a team to solve international crises. Another game, called “Collection Deck,” takes a page from Pokémon (the card game, not the app) with cards representing strategies and hurdles.

As a training exercise, it’s kind of genius. Professional development in the workplace is often a tough, boring pill to swallow with many a seminar inducing far more yawns than actual knowledge. Translate that experience to a well-designed board game, with relevant, real-life scenarios, and the engagement and knowledge sharing is bound to increase and stick.

It also seems nearly impossible for the average organization to pull off properly. Odds are you won’t have a board game developer on the payroll. Plus, a lot of time needs to be spent researching and customizing the game to ensure it is relevant, offers true learning and steers away from the eye-rolling cheese so many employees abhor (and frankly expect).

But if you have a creative mind on the team, or a really good professional development consultant, it might be worth exploring.

As for me, I’ll return to the kitchen table all prepped to make my accusation in the Harry Potter version of clue — I think Hermione did it with the Sleeping Draught in the Owlery.

Was I right? Well, I could tell you. But I’d have to kill you. This could be CIA training, after all.

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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