The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Queuing, Krelminology, Corruption and Commerce

Via Marginal Revolution I discovered that the Russian Government had banned the game Kolejka, for being “Anti-Russian.” Alex Tabarrok then quips that they’d probably not be happy with Kremlin, and I suppose not, although where the line between “Anti-Russian” and “Anti-Soviet” begins and ends is not apparent to me. (I would have thought the Kolejka would pass muster in modern Russia, which would try to say ‘Yes, things are bad, but at least we’ve put that behind us.’ But apparently not).

The comments are interesting, in that some people ask (apparently in all seriousness) if there has ever been satirical games about capitalism. There are a fair number of games that deal with corruption at the highest levels, where your goal is to personally profit off the backs of the poor or middle class. Glancing through BGG I can remember or find:

And that doesn’t even count pedagogical games like Monopoly, Anti-Monopoly, Cashflow 101, that game that my dear friend Mr. S_ O’S_ taught/played to teach accounting basics to small business people, and the like. I had hoped to find a geeklist of games meant to criticize economic theories and/or teach, but I didn’t see one (seriously, I figured anti-monopoly would be on a geeklist like this). Perhaps someone will make one.

And many not-stridently anti-capitalistic games demonstrate the less seemly aspects.

1830 does not have official corruption, but demonstrates the agency problem by allowing company presidents to buy assets from players (including themselves) at a mutually agreeable price. This leads to  financial shenanigans by the presidents buying their own assets at inflated values then selling their controlling stake before the price has time to adjust, leaving the company to flounder and bankrupt. In fact, timing this correctly is one of the key insights into the game (and not leaving yourself vulnerable to having to rescue a company after this happens is the zeroth-order strategy).

[For my readers who are not hard core gamers, 1830 was the inspiration for Railroad Tycoon … The computer game. Not the board game based off it].

Food Chain Magnate allows restaurants to grossly adjust prices when they know they have a temporary monopoly, which is often used as a justification for price controls in emergency situations.

My own personal feeling is that I want a game to be a good game. I have no idea about Kolejka (and even Kremlin feels dated and clunky, both in theme and gameplay), but in the interest of adding to the discussion I will detail a small pedagogical game exercise I developed for high school students.

Each player is given an envelope with some monopoly money (usually $1-$20) and some number of scrabble tiles (1-8 or so). I actually use slips of paper instead of actual tiles, but they should be the same (letter + value). You can randomize it, but there should be some ‘rich’ and some ‘poor’ people.

On the overhead (etc) set out a scrabble position and give each player 1-2 minutes to come up with the best play. This is — apparently — how french scrabble tournaments work. Duplicate Scrabble). A player’s score is their word’s score + the amount of money they have. (Even players with more than 8 tiles can only use 7, as per the rules).

Have each player write down their score.

Now — Allow the players 10 minutes to trade tiles and money. Then they play again and record their new score.

Ask each player to say if their score went up or down and have a class discussion.

You can even give one player nothing (no tiles, no money) except something like a sheet of “all legal two letter words” and a strategy article, or perhaps some insight into the position. (For example, have one of the words on the overhead take an unusual hook letter). And the teacher can sit in the front with the OSPD and offer to rent it out for $1/minute (or advice for $1).


Written by taogaming

March 24, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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