Compare Software vs. Board Game

There is not a significant difference in the gameplay itself between the software and board game versions of Making Change and Systems Thinking, but the software versions give organizations much more flexibility in number of participants, eliminate demanding administrative tasks and provide a three year simulated time period for deeper learning. Here's brief table with their differences. Also refer to the Frequently Asked Questions section for more info.


Years of simulation play

Maximum participants

Team Numbers

Cost per person



3 years

Unlimited/ 40 suggested

Teams of 2-3

Depends on participant numbers. With 30 it’s $30 per person. Can be less or more.

Up to two full cycles of Making Change in a half day, or two full cycles of Systems Thinking in a full day


2 years


Teams of 3-5

Not applicable

One complete cycle in a half day for Making Change, or full day for Systems Thinking


FROM:  David Crandall, President

RE:  Comparing the board and computer versions of Making Change Happen and Systems Thinking/Systems Changing simulations from The NETWORK Inc.

I frequently get questions from folks who have experience with our board games when they learn that we converted to computer-based versions as part of our Change Leadership Series of CDs.  Naturally, they want to know what the differences are between the two versions and why they might use one or the other in their work.  This brief summary offers a comparison of the two forms to aid in decision making by potential purchasers.  

First, the underlying research-based and practitioner-proven concepts remain the same in both versions, as do the contents of both the Leader’s Guide and Handouts.  Essentially, participants familiar with the board versions will immediately recognize the layout of the game board on the computer screen, as well as the roster of People and list of Activities.

The computer version of Making Change has two small changes compared to the board version:

The innovation that is the vehicle for game play is IT 2020, an instructional technology innovation rather than an Equity program used in the board version.  Also, there are three years of play rather than two in the board version.  This is a significant enhancement in that it allows learners to observe and understand how patterns of change emerge over a longer period of time. It is, therefore, possible to “Talk to” Al a third time and the interaction among other activities changes since the change unfolds over a longer period of time.

Beyond these differences, the main differences that would influence a decision to use one or the other version are the following:

  • Number of players and composition of teams – the board version contains three game boards and typically accommodates a maximum of fifteen participants, five per board.  As a practical matter, it is unlikely that a single board with only two or three players would be a typical configuration.  The computer version, which is copied to the hard drives of individual workstations in a lab or on laptops, can accommodate as few as one with the upper limit determined by the availability of hardware for participants.
  • Facilitator aids – in the board version, it is difficult for a single facilitator to manage a session of more than twenty-four participants without additional assistants who can be monitors receiving teams’ documentation, collecting bits and supplying feedback cards.  The computer version eliminates monitors and enables a facilitator to manage as large a group as s/he is comfortable with.  Additionally, the board version relies on the facilitator of a session to create whatever presentation or explanation s/he wants to use for a group.  The computer version includes a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation, enabling group leaders of varying experience and comfort levels to start from a default presentation and use it as is if desired.
  • Time-saving – the board version of Change typically requires at least a half-day for an adequate professional development experience, including time for a solid debrief.  Systems calls for a full day or more, although it does not have to be done in one sitting if used in a multi-day institute.  While the debrief elements of both will still require ample time, the computer version eliminates the need for monitors and the time taken by teams reporting to a monitor, checking their documentation and securing feedback.  Thus, the total time needed is dramatically reduced with the computer version; it is possible to complete two complete game cycles with some groups.
  • Accuracy and time for monitoring team performance – in the board version, we have observed that the monitors occasionally become overwhelmed with the pace of requests for feedback cards. This can lead to errors in the feedback card given. In the computer version, this does not occur. More importantly, by letting the computer provide the feedback automatically, the facilitator is freed up and actually has time throughout the session to observe the teams’ working process and provide substantive feedback to teams as they move through the simulation.
  • Team work and development – although it may be difficult for users exposed only to the board version to visualize, the computer version also encourages a similar degree of teamwork. We typically play the computer version in teams of two or three but teams of 5 are also feasible depending upon the logistical arrangements. Indeed, we actively discourage the use of the computer version in a single-user configuration except in follow-up use of the simulation after learning the lessons of change in the initial workshop, other classes/sessions or readings.
  • More focused debrief – because the computer maintains the Strategy Record, the accuracy and legibility of entries is assured, keeping the focus of reflection by teams on the logic of their choices of activities rather than trying to decipher a colleague’s handwriting.  Errors of data entry that lead to incorrect feedback being received are also eliminated.
  • Deeper learning encouraged – as powerful as the initial engagement with the games is for virtually all participants, the physical requirements of time and space make it difficult to accommodate multiple exposures with a given group.  The result is that potential deeper learning is less likely to occur with the board version than with the computer version that can be left on computers in a lab or deployed on laptops with an individual license for individual, self-paced replay.  Indeed, users of the computer version are often so energized that they play the simulation as many as 10 or 20 more times during and after the workshop. Most important, the computer version ends with a proficiency rating and suggestions for improvement to encourage a ‘return match’. This is highly motivating as it provides a benchmark on the success of the user’s change strategy.  These can be structured to recommend replay in pairs/trios by a facilitator/instructor or left to the discretion of individuals.
  • Suitability to a university learning context – as suggested above, the logistical requirements limit play of the board version to a single session. In university settings where the simulation may be used as part of a course, the opportunity for students to play numerous times allows them to achieve a level of “mastery” that would be unusual when exposure was limited to the board version. Moreover, this ability to play numerous times independently of the instructor meshes well with assignments such as a strategy analysis which may require multiple learning opportunities as the learner works through a process of blending learning through trial and error with the theoretical lessons of the simulation.
  • Cost per participant is comparable – when the board games were last being sold, the cost per participant for Change, assuming 15 players, was $35.  For Systems, $38.  Our history of purchases suggests that most facilitators worked with groups larger than fifteen, therefore requiring two or more games for optimal result.  Using thirty players and the current cost of licensing a CD/computer version yields a cost per participant of less than $30.

At the end of the day, it is a matter of personal preference which version you choose.  Some introduce the concepts with the board version and follow-up with the computer version.  Some facilitators prefer the interaction that five person teams bring to a workshop versus the pairs/trios that typify the settings using the computer version.  If teamwork or group dynamics are an explicit focus, the larger group size might be an advantage.  If communication and/or problem-solving is important, perhaps the smaller configuration would generate more data for subsequent reflection and discussion.  Some locations don’t have an adequate computer lab.  Even now, for some groups using technology is unfamiliar.  Whichever you choose, we hope you find using simulations to enhance learning as rewarding as have the hundreds who have preceded you.