Here's how you get ahead in bureaucracy: boost your civil service rating by attending grad school, serve on a blue ribbon task force to make valuable contacts, move fast in a departmental reorganizations so you'll acquire more staff. Forget filing grievances - that's a sure way to lose.
Those are the rules of a game called Bureaucracy devised by a 31-year-old health economist named Bruce Spitz. After years of fine tuning, Spitz has had a graphic artist design the board, and he's written the rules for a game whose resemblance to the real world of the federal governments is not coincidental.
"An individual chooses a lifestyle at the beginning," explains Spitz. "There are four categories: lifers, overachievers, empire builders and hustlers."
All players begin at the bottom of an organization chart, unless you choose to be a woman. Women may begin one step higher but receive only half the awards (though full penalties) during the course of the game as everyone tries to accumulate prerequisites (years of service, civil service rating, staff and contacts) that lead to promotion. The objection: to become director of bureaucracy, or to accumulate $250,000 and buy your way out, or to simply outlast all other players.
Some squares are blank, requiring a player to consult the civil service director for clarification. Another reads: "Mistakenly allocated enormous window office. Add three years and six staff." Empire builders and hustlers are permitted to lie (a plus that is balanced by the potential of scandal if discovered), but all players are allowed to pass The Buck. Should a player land on a crisis square, the Max Weber I Ching Book of Changes must be consulted. (In the 19th century, it was Max Weber who explained that a bureaucracy is a neutral machine, that bureaucrats are merely instruments following orders from above.) The Book of Changes may command such things as lateral transfers, promotions, or demotions.
Spitz conceived the game while working in Michigan state government. When he moved to the Urban Institute in Washington as a senior analyst in the health care field, he "realized Washington was the same thing blown up." He pushed ahead with Bureaucracy, developing a simple set of rules as well as a more difficult set for the player ready for "the full splendor of irrational complexity, obscure language and inverted goals," as the rulebook says. His hope: to market the game. Number of players: four to 10. Playing time: about two hours. Or a lifetime.