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There's no more pitiable moment on a game show than when losing contestants are kissed off with no other prize than a copy of the home game, giving them a chance to relive their public humiliation in private.

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Now the same ignominy is available to telecom employees. Burn Rate, a new card game that approximates the trials of tech firms in the “new economy,” is rapidly gaining popularity as layoffs in the tech sector continue.

Here's how to play: You're the CEO of a technology firm. You start out with $100 million and four employees. Profits are unattainable in the game, so the winner is whoever runs out of cash last. Players have to manage their costs by avoiding bad ideas (e.g., hawking free Internet access or hosting an online grocery store); keeping your staff free of dreaded vice presidents (incompetent despots that can commandeer entire departments, doubling the burn rate); and, most importantly, getting rid of bad employees through layoffs.

That firing slackers is the best way to win has made the game a hit among the real-life victims of downsizing, said the game's inventor, Rich Koehler. Koehler himself was laid off last year from Qpass, a Seattle firm that builds m-commerce infrastructure for wireless carriers.

Koehler says players who lived through the tech bubble-burst in real life enjoy the game's vicarious juxtaposition (which puts them on the other end of the pink slip exchange), just as people once did with the world's best-selling board game.

“The game Monopoly came out during the Great Depression,” said Koehler. “Everyone was broke. It was a satire of the economic conditions of the time. One of the reasons Monopoly was successful was it allowed the victims to turn the tables and be the person in power making these decisions.”

Burn Rate can also be educational for the unemployed, he said. “Now people can sit back and reflect, ‘Wow, THAT's why I was laid off.’” Players in focus groups have even suggested the game be used to teach business students about cash flow management before they dive into the real world.

“It really communicates the feel of having a limited budget and having it start to run out,” said Koehler. Doesn't that sound fun?

Crash course in leadership

“Through the smoke, we could see that two metal beasts — one blue, one white — had locked rear bumpers. Though the blue car was more powerful, the driver could not break free. So what did he do? He began smashing other vehicles with the white car. Why can't that man run WorldCom?”
Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, on the “educational, patriotic and spiritual value” of the demolition derby

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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