What are the learnings from board games?

Board games that teach financial and economic concepts, and skills such as resource management and decision-making are now becoming popular

Board games — whether you are stuck indoors on a rainy day or too lazy to head out — offer way more than a time-fill. Financial board games can teach a lot. With a roll of the dice and strategising as the game goes along, you can learn to prepare financial game-plans, make money through trade, survive through an economic downturn, prevent bankruptcy and even unearth financial scams. These games can help understand financial concepts, dynamics of the economy and skills such as resource management and decision-making.

With financial literacy levels in the country quite low, games that can help impart such knowledge, even if at a basic level, can be useful. There are several financial board games in the market such as Debtzilla, Stoneage, Wongamania Banana Economy, Power Grid, Black Friday and our very old Monopoly. Many board game enthusiasts in cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai, come together regularly to play these games.

BusinessLine reached out to a few frequent board game players to know what they learnt while also having fun.

Personal finance

A rupee saved is a rupee earned. Your expenses, if not managed right, can land you in big trouble. It is important to budget for expenses and save some of your earnings. Vinothraj J, who works for a wealth management firm in Mumbai, imbibed this important lesson quite early from the financial board games he has been playing for many years now. Stoneage is among the board games Vinothraj plays.

It is a four player game. The game is set in the Stone Age and the players take the role of hunters, collectors, farmers and tool makers. They place their men in certain regions and take turn to activate their positions with the limited resources available at their disposal. That is, players can choose to mine gold or do farming. At each turn, they must have enough food to feed their people or they face losing resources or points or both. The winner will be the one with maximum points, calculated based on the number of farmers and food production, tool makers and tools, and so on. A player can learn how best to utilise the resources in hand and what he can forgo to get additional resources.

Vinothraj says, “If the economic condition isn’t favourable and you don’t have money, then you can sell your resources to eat and survive. For me, it is a big learning in terms of personal finance because if I don’t have enough money, then I will have to sell my possession to feed myself”.

Economic concepts

Some board games such as Power Grid and Settlers of Catan give a broader understanding of the economy, its working and impact of key events on a country and how the market reacts to such events.

For Kushal Mahendra Shah, who has been playing board games as far as he can remember, helps him realise the importance of long-term investment and its returns.

For instance, Power Grid is a classic board game to learn market functions. In this six player game, the players are to bid for power plants or purchase the plants at a good price, buy resources (coal, oil, garbage or uranium) to power the plants, that will eventually power up your territory. The player who has powered most of the cities wins. Once the power plants are bought, you need resources to power them. With six players buying the same resources, say oil or coal, the price tends to go up as the supply shrinks and look for alternative resources, which come at a higher cost. You have to decide on whether it is worth buying a plant or going for such expensive resources such as uranium.

“You not only understand the price movement but also the importance of value of time and money,” says Kushal, who has formed board game communities in Mumbai and has brought people together to play.

Financial concepts

There are board games specifically designed to help understand financial concepts better. For instance, Debtzilla is a (four player) board game, where the players have to help the economy battle corruption, crime and lawlessness due to an incompetent government. The players take the role of heroes to battle high inflation and debts, Ponzi schemes and financial scams and crisis. In addition to being heroes, the players have regular jobs to perform, pay for daily expenses, credit cards and loans, and handle inflation. As the game progresses, a villain or a citizen comes out when a card is drawn; players have to work together to combat the villains and help citizens. The players win when they defeat all the villains. If not, the undefeated villains scam the citizens, rob their investments and bankrupt the economy. To some degree, the concept of compounding of debt is also explored in this game.

Varun Devanathan, an entrepreneur and board games enthusiast, says, “Debtzilla is designed to understand different types of debt, the harm they can cause and how to get out of them. The game has different scenarios such as inflation, bankruptcy, recession and financial scams. This, in a way, highlights the consequences of these scenarios in real life too.”

Hyderabad-based Sireesha Behara, who has a collection of about 700 personal board games, says her experience with board games has improved her bargaining skills in real life too. “I am now able to bargain for the best price when I buy, whether financial or other products,” she says.

Stock market concepts

There are games purely for understanding the stock market workings, such as Black Friday, Stock Exchange and Acquire.

For instance, Black Friday is a (five player) stock market board game, with a built-in bubble about to explode. The players can buy/sell shares, buy silver/gold or pass his/her turn, one at a time. The actions of all players change the probability of the crash. When they start selling, the probability of the crash will get higher. If they only buy shares, the crash will come later. As the player continues to buy/sell shares, the prices get adjusted. To win the game, you have to have a close look at what the others do to be in the position to sell the highest share at the right time, to get the most money. The silver/gold price will rise too, eventually, when the market crashes, the players with the maximum wealth in terms of silver/gold and cash wins. The game teaches you the right time to sell/buy shares, why the silver/gold (asset) keep increasing and how the prices get adjusted. Riddhi Dalal, who runs a dedicated place for playing board games (Creeda) in Mumbai, says she learnt to take calculated risk after playing Black Friday. “Real life market workings will be different, but at least I know why and how the prices move and when to sell”

Knowledge is indeed power. Better still if it comes with fun attached.

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