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The International Trade Game
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I first encountered this game as a secondary school student in a geography class (I believe). While I’ve forgotten a lot about my time at secondary school, I do remember playing this game, the fun I had and the lessons I learnt from it. Recently, I found the perfect excuse to try and run the game for myself, which was a great success.
For a more in-depth description of this activity, click here.
There is quite a lot of preparation needed for this game. Firstly, you will need to ensure that you have enough players in your class. 5-6 teams are recommended, and each team needs between 2 and 6 players. In other words this is a game that can work well for 10-36 players. If you don’t have enough students, you could propose joining your class with another.
Each of the teams are going to represent a country and will be given a pack of resources at the beginning of the game. These packs need to be prepared in advance. There are three possible packs which are:
- Rich country
- Middle-income country
- Poor country
In games with six teams, you can have two of each. If you only have five teams, remove one middle-income country.
The packs should contain the following:
2 pairs of scissors
1 set square
1 sheet of A4 paper
6 x £100
4 sheets of A4 paper
3 x £100
10 sheets of A4 paper
2 x £200
If you can’t find certain items, you may substitute other items. I didn’t have a compass and so provided a CD-sized disk.
To avoid students introducing other paper into the game, I ensured that I used coloured paper that they were unlikely to have.
In addition to these packs, you also need to have access to a large amount of toy money. It’s recommended to have:
- 30 x £50
- 60 x £100
- 20 x £500
- 40 x £1000
Approximately that’s about £70,000. Personally, I would recommend having more, or telling students that they have to bank the money before the end of the game for it to count towards their final total.
To download my free money printable, click here.
Pre: Have students clear their desks and put everything away including any pens or pencils.
On the whiteboard you need to draw the possible shapes that students need to produce. Add measurements and the value of each shape.
1: Put students into the teams they will work in and ensure they are sat together. I also had the teams pick a country (with the condition they could not pick a country they or their classmates were from). This had no bearing on the packs they were given. I also had them write the country names and display them on their table.
2: Assign the packs randomly. I did this by having someone from each team role a dice.
3: Tell students the basic idea. They are a country and they need to manufacture the shapes on the board to make money. The team with the most money at the end of the game wins.
While it is tempting, you should avoid telling the students any strategies that they can use to win the game.
4: In the first few minutes the students will seem confused about what to do. The rich countries will likely start to manufcture shapes but realise they have a shortage of paper. The poor countries will realise they need to trade some of their paper for at least one tool to manufacture some of the shapes. The richer countries may attempt to sell or loan their tools to the lower income countries.
5: After a while, students will start to bring shapes to trade for money. You will need to check the measurements. If the shape doesn’t match or if it has rips you may offer to buy it for less than the market value. You are under no obligation to buy the shapes and if it doesn’t conform to the specification, you may simply reject it.
6: As the game progresses the prices of the shapes should change according to how many of each is being produced. If a lot of one shape are being produced, the price should decrease and vice versa. This should discourage students from stockpiling shapes.
7: During the game, you might also:
- Offer another pair of scissors. This should be done within the first 5-10 minutes of the game.
- Offer more paper – 5 or 10 sheets. These should be put up for auction and can be done as often as needed.
- Restrict teams from using certain items for a set period of time (e.g. 5 minutes). This could be because of weather, natural disasters, civil unrest in their country. Particular students could also be removed from the game for several minutes if needed.
8: As the game draws to a close, you should give students a 5 minute warning so that they can get their final shapes sold.
9: At the end of the game add up how much money each team has. The team with the most wins the game.
The game is an excellent springboard into conversations about economics as it demonstrates a number of key principles such as supply and demand, and the behaviour of monopolies or cartels.
Similarly, it could be used to discuss strategy as the rich countries should be able to bully their way into the lead while the poor countries may struggle to get the upper hand.
You may find the following tips helpful in running the game:
- If you have enough students, you could give one the role of trader. This will free you up more to referee the game.
- When students have shapes to sell, make sure they come to you (or the trader). At some point several will come at once, so ensure they queue in an orderly fashion.
- Keep a ruler for measuring the shapes. Deduct money for being under or over sized, for having ripped edges and if they have any part missing.
- If one team attempts to steal from another you could impose a sanction or have other countries decide how to punish that behaviour.
- When finishing the game, give students time that they need to get in the queue by. Do not let any other students queue after this time.
- You could award points for stock in hand if a team failed to trade all their shapes although this should be at a heavily reduced rate.
You could add an extra layer to this game by using two different colours of paper and having different prices for shapes of different colours. The colours would then represent different resources and one could be effectively replaced by the other by the end of the game.