The Card Game War and One Little Change

As a little kid I loved playing the card game war. War is an incredibly simple, pure luck card game. Two or more people are dealt all the cards in the deck. Then, each turn every player flips over their top card and the person with the highest card wins all the other cards. If two or more of the highest card are the same card, then it’s a “war” where only the players with the highest card then put two cards face down turn a third card face up. Whoever has the highest card wins all the war cards. Finally, whoever wins all the cards in the deck is the ultimate winner.

As a kid, there’s excitement and joyful randomness playing the game. What’s going to flip over next? Is it going to be a war where we have matching cards? Who’s going to win the war? Am I winning?

As an adult, there’s joy in playing with the little ones, but also concern as the game can continue on for hours after one or more players are out. Ideally, three or four of us could play and the downtime between getting out and starting a new game wouldn’t be that long. When I first played with my kids, after decades of not playing the game, I was taught a new rule: every time that a war occurs, each opponent puts one additional card face down. So, instead of always having two cards face down for each war, the first time you have two down, the second time you have three down, and on and on.

One little detail — adding an additional card for each war — changes the game so we can play more often, with more people, and have more consequential wars as the game progresses.

While there are no silver bullets, I’ve found that there are step function improvements that can come with changing one little detail. In the moment, they’re rarely identifiable, but with time, the results can be dramatic. The key is to keep iterating, keep improving, keep working through ideas. All the work is necessary, but some little changes are more valuable than others.

The next time you’re iterating on the product, go to market motion, or any other initiative, remember the war card game and how tweaking one detail can dramatically change the entire experience. Make the small changes knowing that they build on each other and occasionally one little update will turn into a major improvement.

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