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Guest Post: The Distribution Game– A Perfect Class Engagement Activity

September 12, 2012

Our Guest Post today comes from Dr. Chuck Munson, who is  Professor of Operations Management at Washington State University.

It’s not always easy to find an activity that combines true learning with fun and competition. For more than 15 years I have been successfully using “The Distribution Game” in undergraduate supply chain management and MBA operations classes. The game was originally designed by Peter Jackson and John Muckstadt at Cornell, and it can still be downloaded for free (although it may require a modern platform conversion).

Each day for 200 days, the player must choose how many units to order for three retail locations and the supplying warehouse (so this is a multi-level inventory problem). It takes 15 days for the product to reach the warehouse from the supplier and 5 days to reach the stores from the warehouse. Demand is random. The animation is a little bit crude by today’s standards, but it’s still quite effective to see little trucks carrying products across the screen each day.

I like the game because it can be played whether or not inventory formulas have been taught. Students can try to use common sense and some can perform quite well doing so; nevertheless, they seldom beat my performance that’s completely formula-driven. Imbedded in the game are issues of safety stock, balancing setup and holding costs, lead time effects, and lumpy demand at the warehouse. We can usually get through about four games during an hour in the computer lab or with laptops in class.

Game parameters can change: I vary the demand distribution, relative holding and setup costs, and lead times. For me, the most important learning outcomes are: (1) equalize total holding and setup costs, (2) the warehouse should order in integer multiples of the combined retailer order sizes, and (3) the pipeline should be empty when time runs out.

Have fun, and consider awarding prizes to the winners!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. john permalink
    March 20, 2013 12:00 am

    Anyone know if there’s an improved version of the “The Distribution Game” …. so it can run on a 64 bit platform? or if there’s a quick fix? Thanks

    • March 20, 2013 6:22 pm

      Dear John,

      Thank you for your question. We’re still using 32-bit platforms here at WSU, so that issue hadn’t come up with us yet. I asked our computer people to investigate, and I received the following reply: “Unfortunately I have not found a way to overcome this, because the game is a 16-bit (architecture) program. There is no way to overcome this without the program being updated.”

      If I find out any better news, I’ll provide an update. I’d be happy to hear from anyone else who may have heard of a fix for such issues.


      Chuck Munson

      • Vittorio Astarita permalink
        November 16, 2017 11:35 am

        I have been able to run it on every computer using dosbox.

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