The Beer Game Production-Distribution Exercise:

Running Large Sessions


This page provides support to run sessions of the beer game production-distribution exercise (particularly large sessions). The beer game exercise is a simulation of a production-distribution system for a consumer product, such as beer. There is no actual beer used in the exercise, and another consumer product, such as juice or milk, can be discussed, if appropriate. The exercise demonstrates the impact of system structure on human performance in a complex process, and it provides a vivid example to introduce systems concepts. Press here for further information about the beer game, including a diagram of the playing board. Game supplies are available from the System Dynamics Society. The beer game and supply chain dynamics are discussed in detail in John Sterman's book Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World, Irwin McGraw-Hill, Boston, 2000.

I moderated sessions of this exercise as part of the orientation for incoming students in the Master of Business Administration program at Arizona State University for several years. These sessions included from 104 to 159 students, playing from 13 to 20 games simultaneously. For game sessions of this size, it is important to carefully prepare your supplies and to have a substantial number of facilitators to assist you (if possible, one facilitator for each game).

It is difficult to obtain an adequate sound system, and a whistle helps to signal the end of each week of play. Also, post the game steps for each week, as well as the current week, in a place that is visible to all players and facilitators. It helps if you can stand on a raised platform where you can see the progress of the games.

We used a combination of faculty and second year MBA students as facilitators. Most of them had previously played the game, and I trained them by having them replay the game (with a modified retail order deck). Then we discussed problems that can arise and how to "fix" these.

Generally, most games settle into a routine by about week twelve and progress smoothly after that. However, it is important to quickly identify a game that is having difficulty and, if necessary, have facilitators from games that are progressing smoothly move in to help straighten this game out. Your biggest risk in a large game session is that some players will become bored while waiting for "problem" games to be fixed.

We used the game session partially as a mixer for the students, and therefore players were randomly assigned to game tables. This was done by putting a number on each table and using shuffled index cards with table numbers on them to assign students to tables. The listed starting time for the session was 9:00 am. It was generally about 9:30 am by the time initial announcements were completed and I began the game session. After the game teams selected names, I had each team shout out its name, and then we got the game under way. Play of the game was over about 11:00 am, and the teams usually completed their summary charts by 11:15 am. At that point, we had a brief introductory discussion while the facilitators posted the game records on the wall, and then we broke for box lunches at 11:30 am.

During the lunch break, the game supplies were collected, and the game boards were taken off the tables. The debriefing continued after lunch at about 12:15 to 12:30 pm. The winning team was announced, had its picture taken, and was awarded its prizes (Arizona State University beer mugs). Then the discussion continued for about a half hour and concluded with the video on the beer game that is available from the System Dynamics Society.

The materials below are helpful for training moderators and facilitators, and for running the game exercise. These are in Adobe Portable Document Format, and you need Adobe Reader to view or print them.


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Last updated January 29, 2008.