Economics-focused board games gives students the opportunity to simulate real-life scenarios for a deeper understanding of how economics concepts work. This makes them an effective and refreshing teaching tool to utilize occasionally in class. While economics might not be the most common topic used for board games, there are significant number of excellent options you can choose from for teaching purposes.
In this article, we have listed our top six recommendations for the perfect board games to use in an economics class. These board games vary in unique design and age-appropriate levels, ensuring there is an option for economics classes from as early as middle school up to advanced students in college.
A favorite board game amongst economic enthusiasts is Power Grid. In this game, players represent a power company striving to power as much of a network of cities as possible.
To do this, they will purchase power plants at auction to expand their network and power more locations than their opponents. Each plant can power a specific number of cities per turn, but where the real challenge comes in is that some also require a specific number of raw materials (ex. oil, coal) to function.
This means that players not only have to focus on strategically bidding and purchasing the best plants but also on acquiring sufficient resources to utilize them without wasting energy. This quickly becomes a balancing act of having sufficient funds to maintain your power plants
Settlers of Catan
Following the trend of acquiring and managing resources, Settlers of Catan focuses entirely on players using natural resources to create roads, civilizations, and settlements. These structures along with dev cards help them earn victory, and the player who obtains ten victory points before their opponents wins.
Different structures will require different materials that can be acquired in a number of ways. The primary way players obtain resources is through the resources affiliated with the board square(s) they control by placing and building settlements. However, they can also trade-in resources at ports or negotiate with other players.
The biggest challenge with Settlers of Catan is that resource squares are assigned a number token that represents a dice roll. When a player rolls the dice, anyone controlling the resource square/terrain hexes bearing a token of that number may collect its associated resource. Since some dice rolls are more common than others, and certain resources are needed to create various structures, players have to be strategic about where they build, what ports to control, what resources to acquire, and so on.
Monopoly is a beloved board game that’s been around for nearly a century and is an easy entry option for any economics class with younger students.
The game is all about buying and selling real estate where players take turns trying to first purchase or sell property and then build upon that property with houses and hotels to increase its value. At the same time, they try to avoid renting out property to their opponents or landing on detrimental properties and locations (ex. jail, income or luxury tax).
To win, players need to avoid bankruptcy by strategically deciding when it is in their best interest to purchase, sell, or build while potentially negotiating with their opponents to achieve their goals.
Players who enjoy the overall concept of Monopoly but want a refreshing alternative will love Acquire. Instead of purchasing properties, players buy and sell hotel chain stocks to acquire as much wealth as possible. Once a player’s hotel chain size reaches 41 or all the hotel chains on the board are safe, the player with the most money/holding the majority of the shares wins.
This is a highly strategic game that requires the players to think like capitalists/CEOs and focus, not only on purchasing and selling stocks, but on other economic skills, such as money management, recognizing beneficial merger opportunities, and choosing the ideal time to invest.
While there are numerous stock-oriented boards games currently in existence, few demonstrate the structure and nuances of the stock market as well as Stockpile.
As you might have guessed, the aim of the game is to purchase and sell stocks at the most profitable points to accrue the most wealth.
There are multiple types of stock that will increase and decrease in value as the game progresses. The financial forecast will inform all players of a stock increase or decrease that will occur, but a fun factor of this game that increases the need for strategy is that each player is also privy to a unique piece of information that the others aren’t regarding what will happen in the market during that particular round.
During the supply phase, players will draw cards that they must carefully place face down or face up depending on their goals, what information they have, and what information they don’t want their opponents to have. They’ll then attempt to purchase the best stockpile in the following demand phase despite not knowing the value of every card it contains. This, in addition to stock splits and action cards, forces players to constantly adjust their plans throughout the game to ensure a profit.
The Game of Life
Most students are introduced to economic-based content around the age of nine or ten (Grade 4 or 5). At this time, they’re learning very basic concepts that are easily highlighted in The Game of Life.
Compared to the other options on our list, The Game of Life is far from the most challenging board game nor the most insightful regarding economics. Still, we believe it definitely has a place here, as it teaches young players crucial concepts that will affect them later in life, such as how a salary works, why purchasing insurance or investing might be beneficial, common ways to obtain (Pay Day space) or lose (taxes, school, donation) money, etc.
Any time a young player is confused about how an aspect of the game works or how it would affect them in real life, take the time to pause the game and use it as a teaching opportunity where you explain in a manner that suits their age.