When you play a game, you tend to come up with ways you can get a better score the next time you play, or how you might win. I never quite considered the correlation from board games to retrospectives until I witnessed it for myself.
Over lunch one day, I observed a team playing a card game known as ‘Tempel des Schreckens’ (“Temple of Horrors”). The rules of the game are simple - each player is assigned a character card - either an Adventurer or a Temple Guardian at the start of the game. There are usually more Adventurers than Temple Guardians. There are 3 types of card to be found - treasure, empty chambers and fire traps. The two roles have different aims - the Adventurer wants to find as much treasure as possible, whereas the Temple Guardian wants to protect their treasure. The game is one of social deduction, played in rounds to try to find out who is secretly a Temple Guardian.
What I found from my observations was interesting. The players were suspicious of those who actually have different roles within their normal working team, for example, Developers vs ScrumMaster and Testers. But, the players began to better learn the objectives of the card game the more rounds they played.
When they went back to their desks after lunch they spoke about what they would do differently the next time they play, and how to ensure that their role wins. Of course, this is what you do when you play a game - it brings out people’s competitive streaks. Therefore, if you’re having trouble with getting a team to really buy in the “retrospective” ceremony, consider using a fun card game and use this as your baseline. Everyone can inspect and adapt things to improve or what they would avoid doing again. It’s up to us agile facilitators to help to coax that out of teams who are more cautious about the value of retrospecting.