Bob’s Brain is a fun simulation about how we think and do things. It allows the players to experiment with a series of life problems without the risk of consequences or embarrassment. You can play it for fun or for serious learning.
In Bob’s Brain one player takes on the role of the therapist. They make up situations that Bob encounters. The other players are the voices inside Bob’s Brain that decide what he does next. Each voice is a different track of Bob’s self-talk. Often the voices don’t agree and dice are rolled. After each turn, the therapist adds new troubles to the situation, building on the natural consequences of the other player’s choices; so you reap what you sow. The game ends when the players run out of action cards or run out of time.
How to set up the game
The therapist deals five action cards to each player. They will play these cards to make up what Bob does next.
The players need four six-sided dice. When players roll off against one another they will roll two six-sided dice. The high roller wins. The winner has the option of vetoing the other player’s action or allowing both to happen. Re-roll ties.
The therapist describes who Bob is. Often it is best to make Bob just like the players, so they are simulating themselves, but Bob can be anyone, any gender, at anytime, anywhere.
The therapist then assigns the players a role. They either want Bob to succeed or fail.
The therapist starts the game by describing a problematic situation that Bob faces and then asking the players “What does Bob do?”
The players say how Bob solves his problems by playing a card that inspires them to make up a little story about what happens next. The therapist may ask a player to start the turn or wait till someone jumps in. Alternately play can just go around the table so the turn order is set.
Other players may then play one of their action cards and add to the story or challenge the last player and say what happens instead. If they add to the story there is no roll and their action automatically happens. If they challenge, they say what happens instead. Both players roll. The winner decides which action happens and takes the other player’s action card (giving them two cards – this is important at the end of the game).
Each player gets the chance to play a card and add to the story. Once everyone has had a chance to play a card and add to the story or challenge the last addition, the turn ends.
The therapist starts the next turn by taking what the players made Bob do and building on it. The therapist makes the situation more complex. They may add new characters, create new wrinkles to the plot, move time along, roll time back, or switch locations. This is a demanding role. The other players are aided by actions cards in deciding what to do next. Cards limit their choices – which strangely increases creativity. The therapist on the other hand has no limits on what they can do but also no aids to their creativity. The only rule is that the action make sense following what just happened and that it lead the game off in interesting directions.
A helpful rule of thumb is to pick a theme for the game before it starts. A theme could be “Let’s get Bob in trouble”, “Let’s get Bob in a fight”, or “Let’s get Bob drunk”.
The therapist doesn’t get to say what Bob does but they may encourage and help the other players as they make up stories. It is okay to go off into discussions anytime an interesting point arises.
The game ends when the players run out of action cards. Players may draw back up to five cards as long as the action deck lasts or play with just their initial five cards (for a shorter game). The therapist may also end the game at any time due to time constraints.
For larger groups, drop the cards and have players make up their actions unaided. Players still roll to see who wins challenges but no cards are exchanged. Large groups or classes demand more from the players. The therapist will need to be more encouraging to help people overcome their natural shyness.
When cards are used, each player adds up the numbers on their cards at the end of the game. This determines the order in which players make final statements. The player with the lowest number goes first, the player with the most goes last. In final statements players wrap up the story by saying what happens to Bob after the game. The last player gets the final say.
Bob’s Brain can be played for fun. In this is the case the players are tracing the foolish escapades of the hero and the game can end when it ends.
If the game is played for education it is important to talk about what happened. Debriefing in simulation games is when most of the lessons are learned. The therapist may point out patterns and important moments. Players get to share what they realized by playing and say what they want to take away from the game into their own lives.
Versions of Bob’s Brain have been used in psychotherapy, education, planning, and to enhance communication since they late 1980’s. They are referred to as Matrix games because players make up actions based on a matrix of information they have about a given subject.