#play14 Luxembourg 2018: The Serious Games Unconference Turns 5

Florian Ferbach
Florian FerbachApril 12, 2018

At Marmelab, we're huge fans of #play14 and we've been going there a few times already.

Last year I only had the occasion to attend for a day. It was already awesome. I wanted to live the full experience, what best occasion than the 5th year anniversary for that?

Let me tell you what it was like...

How To Start A Conference The Right Way

#play14 always starts on an evening. The goal is to help everyone get to know each other before it actually starts.

I arrived there at the end of the afternoon, dropped my luggage at the hotel, and directly went to the venue. Even if I've already been there, I still find the place incredible. The whole area has been built on top of a former industrial site and preserves some vestiges of the past. See for yourself...

The session started with some icebreakers that you can play easily with a big group of people. From Count to 33 to "Get to know each other with some not so personal questions" (best name I came up with), every game was made so that people get in the right mindset.

Once the things were livened up, it was time for dinner! The configuration made it so that you can chat with everyone easily. It was great to be able to continue the conversations we just started. And also, the food was awesome.

With all that hubbub, someone suddenly raised his hand, then followed by another one, and soon everyone had their hands up, then silence... That's how organizers call for attention at #play14. It was time to move on.

The Open Space Technology

Straight to the subject, the organizing team brought us in front of the marketplace to present the games we would play at this #play14. The marketplace was empty, because that's how an unconference works: participants come and propose subjects. How does that work? The organizers are lazy (their words) promote auto-organization, so they asked the attendees to actually introduce the rules of the markeplace. In 7 different languages. It gives you an idea of how diverse the group was.

If you're curious about the technical details, check the Wikipedia article about open Space technology. But the best way to learn is to participate!

We continued with even more icebreakers, like Hello Johnny, which was both awesome and horrible at the same time.

Then some of us went to a nearby pub to have a last drink. And... Guess what? We played more games! Not as serious as the previous ones though, like exploding kittens. You got it right, it's about not(?) making kittens explode.

First day

First actual full day, we headed from the hotel to the venue, where coffee and pastries were waiting for us.

To make sure we all were fully operational, the organizing team delegated suggested we do some energizers. We were up and running thanks to the help of Sonja and Dov!

It was then the time for the marketplace : everyone pitched their games so that people had an idea of what it was like before joining.

I participated in many different games and I wouldn't want to spoil your future experience. I'm gonna limit myself and talk only about a single game for each day.

And where I had the most fun was ...🥁 ... the Dice Game that Christian animated. The pitch was simple but the game mechanics are genius. All the participants could roll different dices and "Christian the robot" gave a result. The goal: find the algorithm that powers the robot.

It was really challenging, and we learned a lot by doing the retrospective. The only black spot is that you can hardly play more than once.

Anniversary Party

For its anniversary, the #play14 team organized a giant quest in Luxembourg City.

After forming random teams earlier in the day, we all boarded on the train to the city at about 5pm.

We then had 11 different steps that made us discover different parts of Luxembourg City, and for each of these steps we had a question, a riddle or a challenge. We were a team of action and we particularly liked the challenges!

We finally arrived at the final step at "Abbaye de Neumünster" where we could heat up with some nice drinks and food!

Guess what happened at the end of the evening? Well.. More playing! A rumor says that #play14 attendees don't actually need sleep if they keep playing...

Second day

The second day had about the same organization than the first day. Marketplace, energizers, and more games!

One of the craziest energizer was Nippon, facilitated by Sylvain. What is it? A lot of fun, watch the video below...

The game that caught my attention on this second day was "Another Brick in the Wall" proposed by Cédric and Chris.

The concept is fairly simple and quite topical: it's about building walls. Not those you think of. Actually, we were in team of about 4 and needed to build lego walls from patterns. The problem? On first round, each person of the team only had a limited numbers of bricks, only of a single colour. The colours are used as a metaphor for a particular skill.

On next rounds, you can learn from your peers to be able to use more than one colour, but that process will slow you down. The challenge is to find the balance between producing and learning.

The game is still in its alpha phase and can get quite messy with so many people (we were like 30?). What it tries to prove is really interesting though, and I really want to see it running with improved mechanics. I would love to use it with our customers!

#play14 is also the occasion to build or put to the trial your own fresh game. Adrien and Yoan made us discover their werewolf-inspired card game Troublemakers. I also had the occasion to test the mechanics of a maybe-future dominoes game that aims to understand the impact of estimations and deadlines on products. The profiles of the attendees make it so that the feedbacks we get are very valuable, and help hugely into shaping the game mechanics.


So much happened in those few days that it's really hard to sum everything up.

Just like past year, what I remember the most are the people. All attendees are awesome, everyone wants to share knowledge and experiences. It's about serious games, true, but it's also a lot about human interactions. Kudos to the organizing team for setting up such an atmosphere!

I think the sentence from their rules : "Be prepared to be surprised" is what sums it up best. Go there open minded, and find your own takeaways. Trust me, it's worth your time.