Game Design Friday

Game Design Friday: Officeball


an office game in several variations
Game Design © 2007 by Scott Jon Siegel
[email protected] |

Every last Friday of the month, Scott Jon Siegel brings us another unique game design you can play just about anywhere. This week, in honor of Labor Day, Scott presents Officeball.



More than three (more is better).


    a job in an office (preferably with a desk).
    a smallish object (like a toy or office tchotchke) to be the “ball.”


Officeball is less a proper game and more a simple core mechanic intended to be the basis for more complex rules. All Officeball games challenge players in a professional work environment to fight – vigorously and subtly – for possession of a particular office object, known as the “ball.” The rules presented here give only a few ideas for Officeball variations. Players are encouraged to build upon the concept as they see fit.

Setting up:

All participating players need to agree upon one object to be the ball. The only requirement here is the object be portable and small enough to fit on top of a desk (no mini-fridges, for example). Once the object is decided upon, it should be placed on the desk of a neutral, non-playing office member. If no neutral office member can be found, players should flip, draw straws or RPS for starting possession of the ball.

Gameplay begins at a previously specified time or when the (potentially) neutral player announces the start of the game.

How to play:

There are several different ways to play Officeball, but the standard rule of play always remains the same: At any time during the game, a player can take the ball from any other player’s desk – or “steal” the ball – provided the following conditions are met:

    1. The stealing player has a legitimate, work-related reason for visiting his/her colleague’s desk.
    2. The ball has not changed hands in the last two minutes.

If both conditions are met, the stealing player can remove the ball from his colleague’s desk and bring it to his own. When this occurs, the ball is said to have “changed hands.”

Regarding the first condition: To preclude players from simply walking up and taking the ball at any time, every move in the game must be supported by a logical, work-related purpose. This can be a work-related question, or even a request for a particular work-related item (“Can I borrow your stapler?”). Approaching a desk without a work-related purpose is an invalid move, and moves that are attempted without a proper work-related purpose or with a clearly fabricated excuse (e.g. requesting a stapler when you already have one) can be denied by the player in current possession of the ball, and the ball will not change hands.

Regarding the second condition: The two-minute rule exists to prevent the ball from changing hands too rapidly. After the ball has successfully changed hands, the player in current possession of the ball is given a two-minute grace period in which no other players can steal. If any players attempt to steal during this time, it is the responsibility of the player in current possession of the ball to remind them of the two-minute rule.


As mentioned previously, Officeball can take many different forms. The following are only a few suggested forms of play:

1. Casual Officeball:

Arguably not even a game at all, this is the most straightforward variation of Officeball. Players simply follow the standard rules, with no method of keeping score. The two-minute rule is entirely optional in the casual variation.

If necessary, the player in possession of the ball at the end of the workday can be declared the “winner.”

2. Officeball Melee:

A free-for-all version of the basic rules, Officeball Melee adds scoring to the game at set intervals. Coupled with the two-minute rule, this makes for interesting play sessions that can last the entire workday.

Scoring Intervals: Every 15 minutes, whoever is in current possession of the ball scores one point. The intervals should be tracked independently of all players, either by a neutral office member or ideally by an egg timer set to go off every 15 minutes.

Remember, the two-minute rule still applies here, meaning a player can’t steal the ball less than two minutes after the last successful steal. Keep this in mind, and strategize to score the most points.

At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.

3. Team Officeball:

Team Officeball relies on the scoring intervals set in Officeball Melee, but adds team play and additional rules for “passing” the ball (a team-based alternative to stealing).

Teams: Players should be divided into two or more teams of equal size to play Team Officeball. During the game, players score points for their team, rather than for themselves.

Passing: Instead of waiting for the ball to be stolen, a player in possession of the ball can choose to pass it to another player. To do so, a player must approach a teammate’s desk with a work-related purpose with the ball in hand. After the work-related purpose is complete, the passer passes the ball by leaving it on his teammate’s desk.

Passes do not adhere to the two-minute rule, although the ball can’t be stolen until at least two minutes have passed since the ball last changed hands. The same “work-related purpose” rules apply with passing as with stealing.

At the end of the game, the team with the most points wins.

Next page: Designing Office Ball

Recommended Videos

Designing Officeball

Officeball’s design process is an excellent example of something called “The Loop.” The Loop – as defined by a former professor of mine – is a process of working in a particular direction, but resetting to the last workable point when you reach a dead end. The Loop was described to me as being applicable to graphic design, but it’s oddly applicable to game design as well. It teaches iteration and encourages designers to let go of ideas and directions that become counter-productive. In the case of Officeball, it was incredibly useful to keep this in mind, as the development was full of red herrings.

Since I didn’t want to make another Magic Numbers, I opted to eschew dice and other traditional gaming implements for something less conventional. Since I’ve been working in an office environment over the summer, I wanted to design a game specifically for that sort of space. I chose a common office object to work with – a hole-puncher – and based my design around using that object.

After purchasing a hole-puncher, I tested several potential mechanics by punching holes in paper (sounds fun, I know). The earliest concept used the punches as movement pawns in a boardgame. Rather than moving a piece, a player would punch holes near other punches to indicate movement. In practice, however, the idea seemed merely novel and not enough on which to build a solid game.

After deciding to abandon the hole-puncher entirely, I made the decision to continue working with my starting concept – to build a game ideal for an office environment. Given the number of people in an office, I decided to work on a large-scale social game, along the lines of Mafia. I decided to make my game about spreading rumors.

I knew players would work with fictional rumors, which would be provided by special cards at the start of the game. Each player would begin with a rumor about another player, as well as a card identifying which rumor was about them. In my mind, the game would be about keeping one’s own rumor a secret, while trying to spread the other rumors as quickly as possible.

One early design had players spreading rumors by passing the rumor cards around but trying to avoid being handed their own rumor. This proved problematic in testing, as it was impossible your own rumor card.

Other implementations proved equally problematic. In each case, I wanted the rules to cleanly follow the logic of spreading rumors, but I also wanted to include a strategic element. Despite several iterations of the formula, however, I was never able to devise a rumor-spreading mechanic that worked strategically.
Looking back, this had a lot to do with my own insistence in keeping the mechanics simple. What makes rumors interesting is how they propagate. This is difficult to emulate in a social game, which relies on a small footprint in order to involve the broadest set of players. By refusing to complicate the design, I made it impossible to build out the concept of a rumor game any further. The idea couldn’t grow, and I knew I needed to start over again.

Not wanting to loop back for the fourth time on one project, I decided to lower my ambitions to better suit the constraints. I knew I wanted to build an office game, and that I wanted it to be large-scale and social. I also knew that I had to keep it simple, and not rely on complicated or counter-intuitive mechanics.

For inspiration, I looked at Faceball, a new game born out of Yahoo’s Flickr offices, which amounts to grown men in office chairs hitting each other in the face with a beach ball. I believed a slightly more dignified and covert sport could be designed, and using both Faceball and as references, I set to work.

Both ThinkGeek and Faceball reintroduce the concept of play into the drab office environment, and I wanted to mirror this in my game design. The problem with Faceball, however, is its gameplay is disruptive. I wanted to create a similar sense of play in a game that could be played parallel to work activities.

My starting concept was to adapt soccer or basketball to the office, having players move an object from one end of the office to the other in order to score a “goal.” This forced me to think about methods of movement across the office and non-disruptive movements in particular.

I decided to integrate passing of into a common office activity: walking over to a colleague’s desk. In my office sport, players would pass the ball to their teammates by approaching their desk under the pretense of work. Steals would happen in the same manner, with an opponent approaching a desk, asking a question, then taking the ball back to his or her desk.

In this game, however, movement across the office was difficult to track. What prevented a player from walking all the way up to the goal with the ball? Why would a player ever want to make a short pass? And what would be used as goals in this sport? These questions were all easy to answer, but I was hesitant to begin tacking on additional rules and provisos.

Instead of adding, I chose to subtract, simplifying the game to one of possession, where the only direct goal of the game was to possess the ball for as long as possible.

Officeball is less a game and more a game mechanic. The rules give several example games to be played with this mechanic but also emphasize the players’ ability to amend and append to the rules their own cases and scenarios. At the same time, Officeball is only mildly subversive, as players can’t make a move without a legitimate work excuse. And the best part is it’s limited only by the imaginations of the participants.


About the author