First was SimCity, PC game software from Maxis that lets you design and run your own simulated city--offices, traffic, and all. Later, Maxis produced SimAnt (an ant colony) and SimHealth (your own national health program).

Now, phone-company execs can use similar techniques to plan for an uncertain telecom future. A Maxis spin-off called Thinking Tools in Monterey, Calif., is working with Coopers & Lybrand Consulting, Pacific Telesis, and Nynex on a program called Telesim, due out later this year. "These telephone executives have no experience competing," says Andrew Zimmerman, head of Coopers' infocom unit. "But they've got to learn how."

Telesim has players act as phone-company CEOs, making such choices as whether to invest in cable or wireless. Customers, competing companies, and regulators keep them jumping. And on the wall of their cyberspace offices is a sailboat painting. Do well, and sails fill with wind. Fail, and the boat sinks.

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