Games and life lessons

Among the many games played here on Planet Feingarden (both physical and mental) is a card game called “The Great Game of Mao”.   The rules are somewhat murky, since one of the rules is that you can’t tell anyone the rules, but it is a card game loosely based on the game “Crazy Eights”.  When it is your turn to play a card from your hand you must play a card that matches either the number or the suit of the card previously played.  If you cannot play such a card, you draw an additional card from the deck and your turn ends.  The first person to play the last card from their hand wins the round and you shuffle the cards and deal the next round.  Pretty straight forward, really.

At its core “The Great Game of Mao” just adds 2 new simple rules:

  1. When a player wins a round, they get to make up a new rule.
  2. When a player is told that they’ve broken a rule, they must immediately draw a card.  (Optionally they may also be slapped or punched depending on the Sadism Quotient of the players, the quantity of beer previously consumed, and other variables.)

That’s all.  Again, pretty simple, but in practice it’s the most evil game ever invented, mainly because of what is NOT in that list, specifically, there is no rule that says you have to tell the other players what rule you’ve decided to enact after you’ve won a hand.  There is also no rule that says you have to tell the other players what they’ve done wrong when they’ve done it, you simply tell them to draw another card and they have no choice but to comply.  The opportunities for mayhem here are limitless.  As just one simple example, let’s say you’ve just won a hand and you decide that all players must draw cards from the deck with their left hand.  The cards are shuffled and dealt, the play moves around the table until some poor schmuck can’t play and likely draws a card with their right hand.  You, knowing they’ve broken your rule, tell them, “Draw again.”  The odds of them using the same hand again are almost 100%, so they draw another card and you tell them, “Draw again.”  It goes on like that until the person figures out what they’re doing wrong.  Unless…..

Unless you don’t want them to be the only one who suffers.  There is no rule that says you MUST call every rule violation, so after the first hapless schnook draws a few cards you give ’em a pass and pound on the next person for a while.  This serves the dual purpose of spreading the hatred around the table more evenly and diluting the information that the other players have available to infer what the hell your rule is.  As Zach says, it can end friendships pretty quickly.

There are no restrictions on rules, so things can get pretty creative.  In the situation above, a wise but frustrated player might decide that whatever Bob’s rule is, it’s really annoying.  Unable to figure out what Bob’s rule actually IS, this wise player might win a hand and make a rule that whenever Bob says the word “draw” Bob must also draw a card.  If Bob doesn’t figure out your rule he’ll draw as many cards as he inflicts and if he does clue in then he’ll probably stop calling people for drawing with their right hand.  Either way, Bob has effectively been negated.

Earlier this week I was thinking about how wonderful “The Great Game of Mao” is as a life lesson while I was sitting in the HR office.  Allow me to explain.

I’ve recently been assigned some duties involving payroll and time sheets.  The way the system works is that employees enter their time against various (mostly mythological) projects in a web-based timesheet system.  This system then discards all the project accounting nonsense and creates a record of the “exceptions” such as sick time, vacation, and so forth for each employee.  Next, a supervisor is responsible for … get this… manually entering the exceptions into a spreadsheet for that employee’s payroll group.  These spreadsheets get loaded into a different system that presumably totals everything incorrectly, someone in operations sacrifices a live chicken, and paycheques fall out of a printer or direct deposit transactions are generated.  Somehow, I assume that most everyone gets paid because there aren’t too many employees that I know of who would show up every morning for free.

This Gong Show of a system forms the basic game, but as in “Mao” I’ve discovered a whole layer of hidden rules simply by breaking them.  I don’t have to draw an extra card but I do get soul-punishing emails from HR and the payroll people who seem to have very little respect for my powers of deduction.

The first email informed me that I had to fill out the attached spreadsheet by noon on a specific day.  That’s all.  Fill out the spreadsheet.  I correctly guessed that the sender was the person I was supposed to send it back to, but after that my luck ran out.   I had NO clue which of the 20 or so columns I was supposed to mess with, no clue where I was supposed to get the info from (no one had told me that I’d been given approver privileges in the time sheet system), and no clue about what the effective dates were for the pay period.  I dared to ask some of these questions but the people I asked seem to have played “Mao” already so the answers were less than helpful.  In response to my question about effective dates of the pay period I was sent another spreadsheet that contained all of the start and end dates for all pay periods in 2014 for all payroll groups across the entire company.  There are over 20 of them, all different.  I don’t know which one my employees are in.

The second email informed me that I’d read the spreadsheet wrong and posted information into the wrong pay period.

The third email informed me that one of my employees who works 37.5 hours per week is only paid twice a month instead of every two weeks because he’s on a different payroll than everyone else so we only enter 35 hours per week for him.  How that adds up only a payroll person can explain.

I don’t really remember what the rest of the emails said but as things currently stand I have one employee who has just returned from a 3 week vacation to find that he has more vacation than when he left, everyone in payroll has my phone on speed dial, several other employees have requested a transfer into my group because I’m without doubt the most popular supervisor in the company among the rank and file workers, and I’m more sure than ever that “The Great Game of Mao” provides an incredibly valuable life lesson for anyone who plays it.

The good news is that I’m pretty sure I’m winning.

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