Games Economists Play: Games 11 - 20

Game: #11  
Course: Micro
Level: Principles and up
Subject(s): Oligopolistic interdependence
Objective: To demonstrate interdependence
Reference and contact: Ray, Margaret A. "Oligopoly and Interdependence in the Classroom." Classroom Expernomics, 2(2), Fall 1993, pp. 1-2, or contact Dr. Margaret Ray; Department of Economics; Mary Washington College; Fredericksburg, VA 22401-5358;
Abstract: Explain the general idea of a payoff matrix. Randomly pair students. Write the following payoff matrix on the board (or a variation thereof):
  Your Choice
    A C
Your Partner's Choice A You: F
Partner: F
You: F Partner: A
C You: A
Partner: F
You: C Partner: C

Ask students in the pairs to choose a grade (incommunicado, of course), write it down, and hand it in. The dilemma of lack of information, or having to infer information about the partner becomes immediately apparent. This can then be linked to the prisoner's dilemma and other games and/or to antitrust regulations, to international cartels (that can legally communicate), and so on.

Class size: Small and up
Time: Half a class period and more as desired
Variations: Itself a variation on #10 discussed above; other variations include permitting information, varying group size (say, to 3, requiring a three-dimensional payoff matrix), changing the payoffs, etc.
See also: Oligopoly games


Game: #12  
Course: Micro; development economics; international economics (depending on variation)
Level: Principles and up (depending on variations used)
Subject(s): Endowments/market exchange/wealth distribution
Objective: "This simulation illustrates three issues: (1) the potential of market exchange to generate mutual welfare gains; (2) the role of unequal financial endowments in affecting market opportunities; and (3) the impact of differences in individual skills, effort, and creativity on the observed distribution of wealth" (Williams, 1993, p. 325)
Reference and contact: Williams, Robert B. "Market Exchange and Wealth Distribution: A Classroom Simulation." Journal of Economic Education, 24(4), Fall 1993, pp. 325-334, or contact Dr. Robert Williams; Department of Economics; Guilford College; Greensboro, NC 27410;
Abstract: Students are randomly placed into 'poor,' 'middle class,' and 'wealthy' groups. The initial endowment for each group are differently colored M&M candies. Each color represents a different value (from Brown=1 point to Green=10 points). The total endowment across the groups is distributed 1:2:3.

Students are given 5 to 7 minutes to freely trade their M&Ms with one another, within or across their wealth group. The incentive for wealth accumulation is that accumulating the 3rd M&M of a color increases the value of the portfolio, i.e., the marginal value of the 3rd M&M of a color is higher than the inframarginal values, or values of the 1st and 2nd M&Ms.

Students are provided with a handout detailing the value of each M&M, to record their trades, and to compute the value of their portfolio after each trade. Time permitting (50 or 75 minute class period), students debrief themselves, and then play a second and perhaps a third round.

Depending on the topic at hand, the instructor may use the game to illustrate a number of economic concepts relating to pareto optimality, mutually beneficial exchange, the impact of initial wealth endowment, the influence of students 'animal spirits' and intuitive grasp of trading opportunities on wealth accumulation, the difference between absolute and relative poverty, the idea of charity (one student gave some M&Ms away to the 'poor'), and so on.

Class size: Small (can be adapted to larger classes)
Time: 50 to 75 minutes
Variations: (a) make the initial endowment more or less skewed to reflect initial income distribution in different countries; (b) let the groups represent countries rather than income-classes within a country.
See also: Wealth games


Game: #13  
Course: Micro
Level: Principles and up
Subject(s): Preferences for Income Distribution/Lottery/Rawls
Objective: To investigate "how much income redistribution individuals desire in society with random differences in individual incomes" (Beck, 1992, p. 2)
Reference and contact: Beck, John H. "An Experimental Test of Preferences for the Distribution of Income." Classroom Expernomics, 1(1), Spring 1992, pp. 2-3, or contact Dr. John H. Beck; School of Business Administration; Gonzaga University; Spokane, WA 99258;
Abstract: The game consists of three parts with the same information but different rules for each part. The information consists of a handout with three columns: (1) lettered A to O; (2) labeled 'odd' with payoffs ranging from A=$25 to O=$7.08; (3) labeled 'even' with payoffs ranging from A=$0 to O=$7.08.

In part A, students circle a letter in column (1) indicating the desired payoff row. Once the sheets are signed and handed in, a die is rolled. If it lands on an odd number, students get the payoff in the odd-column; if it lands on an even number, students get the payoff of the even-column. The 'higher' the letter (A is highest, O is lowest), the more risk the student takes (A-odd: $25; A-even: $0), the 'lower' the letter, the more risk-averse is the student (O-odd: $7.08; O-even: $7.08). Payoffs are not publicly announced.

In part B, the same procedure is followed, except that a die is rolled for each individual in class and the potential payoff for that individual is publicly announced. Then all papers are put in a bowl and only one is drawn at random to determine the actual individual payoffs for the entire class.

In part C, the entire class must agree (within 15 minutes or else the payoff is $0) which payoff-row to circle, then a die will be rolled separately for each individual to determine an 'odd' or 'even' payoff for that individual.

In all parts, payoff-transfer payments are not permitted.

Class size: Small to large
Time: One class period
Variations: None indicated
See also: Wealth games


Game: #14  
Course: Micro
Level: Principles and up
Subject(s): Public choice/industrial organization/rule-governed behavior
Objective: To discover how the structure-conduct-performance (or: rules-behavior-outcome) triplet functions, as the structure (i.e., the rules of the game or laws of society) are changed.
Reference and contact: Goodman, Frederick L. and Robert Parnes. ["The Marble Game."] Copyrighted by Frederick L. Goodman and Robert Parnes; School of Education; University of Michigan, 1973; description received via Dr. Kurt Schaefer; Department of Business and Economics; Calvin College; Grand Rapids, MI 49506;
Abstract: This is a marble game, simulating a small society including legislative, executive, and judiciary bodies and many other players in society (jailers, bankers, insurance, lawyers, etc.), depending on the class size. The game-purpose is to obtain a job (either private or public) and to accumulate survival marbles. The game contains "natural laws," overseen by the GOD (Game Overall Director, i.e., the instructor), and "social laws," made by the rule-makers in the game. Natural laws cannot be broken; social laws can, and dealing with that is subject to the laws the game-society determines. During the course of the game, the social laws can be changed and the dynamics and complexity of the game unfolds from there on.

Whereas the game is not specifically designed for the teaching of an economic principle, it does relate to matters economic and serves a number of pedagogically useful functions: (a) as a powerful motivator; (b) to keep the totality of interactions in mind (general, rather than partial, equilibrium aspects); and (c) to help students experience how rules help determine behavior or shape incentives to achieve desired outcomes. Additionally, the game is flexible enough to be put through the paces from relatively simple to extraordinarily complex; to be played but once, or to be played repeatedly during a quarter or semester at increasing complexity.

Class size: 8 to 50
Time: 2 hours for a basic run (however, to set up the game for the very first time is fairly time-intensive; perhaps students can earn extra credit to do the set-up)
Variations: Numerous to endless; up to the rule-makers and the GOD.
See also: Institutions games


Game: #15  
Course: Micro
Level: Principles and public finance
Subject(s): Voting paradox/medium voter/cyclical majority
Objective: Time-effective games to illustrate the voting paradox
Reference and contact: Sulock, Joseph M. "The Free Rider and Voting Paradox 'Games'." Journal of Economic Education, 21(1), Winter 1990, pp. 65-69, or contact Dr. Joseph M. Sulock; Department of Economics; University of North Carolina; Asheville, NC;
Abstract: First game: Students are asked to preference rank three recently covered topics (say, the social security system, corporate income tax, and food stamp program) from high (A) to low (C).

Second game: students are asked to preference rank the number of exams they'd like to have in the class, either 3, 4, or 5.

In either game the vote is secret, ballots are collected and tabulated in class. Under majority-rule with two rounds of voting, one can now play through the options for game one: A against B; B against C; and A against C. In twelve times of playing, two classes actually produced a cyclical majority effect! In the other cases, the order of voting determines the outcome.

For game two, the classes have generated rankings of 3-4-5, 5-4-3, and 4-5-3, but never 5-3-4 and 3-5-4, situations in which both extremes (i.e., 3 and 5) are preferred to the middle option (i.e., 4).

Playing both games can be instructive because the 'exams' vote deals with cardinal extremes, whereas the 'topics' vote doesn't (it is unreasonable to say that, e.g., the food stamp topic is an 'extreme' preference).

Class size: Small
Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Variations: None indicated
See also: Public goods games


Game: #16  
Course: Micro
Level: Principles and public finance
Subject(s): Free-rider problem
Objective: Time-effective game to illustrate the free rider problem
Reference and contact: Sulock, Joseph M. "The Free Rider and Voting Paradox 'Games'." Journal of Economic Education, 21(1), Winter 1990, pp. 65-69, or contact Dr. Joseph M. Sulock; Department of Economics; University of North Carolina; Asheville, NC;
Abstract: "The students are instructed that they may 'contribute' any amount of money from $0 to $10. I explain that I will increase the amount collected by 20 percent, and the resulting total will be divided equally among all class members (but not the instructor). Students are allowed to interact with one another regarding the amount each will contribute before the contributions are made. However, at the 'moment of truth,' no interaction is permitted, and anonymity is guaranteed" (Sulock, 1990, p. 66).

Dr. Sulock explains that a typical contribution ranges from $1.25 to $1.75 per student, and that the instructor can draw a number of useful lessons: (a) the optimal contribution, of course, would have been $10. Thus, each student's contribution (output) is economically inefficient; (b) economically, too little has been 'produced' (contributed) and that is the crux of the free-rider problem; (c) an efficient level of 'production' (contributions) could be achieved through taxation (an involuntary contribution); (d) if the group were smaller, a more efficient level of contributions might have emerged which is why, e.g., fire and police services in very small communities do function on the basis of voluntary contributions, rather than involuntary ones (taxes); (e) each student's contribution generates externalities (this game allows to link the topics of public goods and externalities).

Dr. Sulock lets classes play for real money. Usually around 50 percent of any one class free-rides totally (i.e., a contribution of $0). Repeating the experiment in the same class often results in all contributions being $0!

Class size: Any size (Dr. Sulock's classes usually range between 15-20 students)
Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Variations: None inidcated
See also: Public goods games


Game: #17  
Course: Micro
Level: Principles and public finance
Subject(s): Public goods/free-riding
Objective: To teach the concepts of free-riding/public goods/property with a minimum time requirement
Reference and contact: Leuthold, Jane. "A Free Rider Experiment for the Large Class." Journal of Economic Education, 24(4), Fall 1993, pp. 353-363, or contact Dr. Jane H. Leuthold; Department of Economics; University of Illinois; Urbana-Champaign, IL 61801;
Abstract: Each student is provided with the following information: "You have one hundred (hypothetical) dollars to invest in one of two assets. Asset A pays a fixed return of 5 percent on your investment. Asset B pays a return of 10 percent on the total class investment, to be divided equally among all students in the class. So, for example, if the class decides to invest $1,000 in Asset B, each of [e.g.,] seventy students in the class will receive a (hypothetical) return of $1.43 (1/70th of 10% of $1,000) regardless of his or her investment in the asset. You may divide your money between the two assets in any way you choose. How much do you want to invest in: Asset A ________? Asset B _______? Total: $100." Then the form also asks for some demographic information (age, sex, party affiliation, etc.).

The "game" is conducted at the end of a lecture period. Students are not to communicate with one another. Prior to the next lecture, the instructor or an assistant compiles the results for display and discussion. Pedagogically, it is important not to mention anything about the free-rider concept until after the game. Students can compute their own free-rider index (amount invested in asset A divided by total investment of $100) and compare that to the class-index (average for the class already known to the instructor). Let students calculate their own individual return on investment as well (from private asset A and joint asset B).

Next, select a small group of students (perhaps only 3), invite them up front, and let them replay the game where they may freely discuss investment strategies with one another (usually, they will all invest only in asset B, thus maximizing their joint returns). This leads to a discussion of information and group size and contributions to or fund-raising efforts of non-profit organizations (such as public radio).

Finally, share the free-rider index by demographic breakdown with the class (do women behave differently than men; etc.)

Class size: Large (200+)
Time: Less than one class period
Variations: See Hoaas and Drouillard (1993)
See also: Public goods games


Game: #18  
Course: Micro
Level: Public finance (but also useable in principles)
Subject(s): Public goods
Objective: To teach the concepts of public goods provision
Reference and contact: Leuthold, Jane. "A Public Goods Experiment for the Classroom." Journal of Economic Education, 18(1), Winter 1987, pp. 58-65, or Dr. Jane H. Leuthold; Department of Economics; University of Illinois; Urbana-Champaign, IL 61801;
Abstract: Each pair of students is given a payoff matrix for jointly picking a number (0, 1, 2). For example,
Number A’s payoff B’s payoff
0 0 0
1 -1 3
2 -4 4

A is the "controller" who will offer to make a number available. B can concur or reject. A and B may bargain over any side payments B is to make to A for A to make a number available. Unknown to the students, the number represents the number of units of a public good for which A pays (hence the negative payoff) and on which B free-rides (hence the positive payoff). After the bargaining, the instructor supplies marginal cost information for the public good and total surplus is calculated.

The experiment consists of four variations with different payoff matrices. In experiment I the players have identical preferences but only know their individual payoffs; in experiment II players have different preferences and know only their own payoffs; in experiment III players have identical preferences and know each other’s payoffs; and in experiment IV players have different preferences and know each other’s payoffs.

The results are that with "full information" (about preferences), students are more likely to choose the optimal number of public good units than under "partial information." Students learn about the public goods provision problem, about bargaining, about free-riding, about the importance of group size and differential preferences.

Class size: Small to large (pairs of students; but large numbers of pairs might need supervision by student volunteers)
Time: 30 minutes; 50 minutes with discussion
Variations: Vary the group size beyond two players; find a way for anonymous bargaining to eliminate one-on-one peer pressure and see how the outcome changes.
See also: Public goods games


Game: #19  
Course: Micro
Level: Intermediate and up (perhaps principles, too)
Subject(s): Pollution rights trading
Objective: Students often have trouble accepting, let alone understanding, the concepts of pollution rights and "optimal" pollution levels. The game teaches them that they themselves, like it or not, will arrive at that optimal level!
Reference and contact: Nugent, Rachel. "Pollution Rights Trading Game." Classroom Expernomics, 2(2), Fall 1993, pp. 3-5, or contact Dr. Rachel Nugent; Department of Economics; Pacific Lutheran University; Tacoma, WA 98447
Abstract: Divide the class into several industries (say, software, pulp mill, steel mill). For simplicity, only one polluting substance is considered. All industries are provided with a table detailing current output, current emission, current profit, marginal cost of cleanup per unit of pollution (a constant cost for simplicity), permissible emission levels, a limited number of tradable permits, and cost information on two options: (a) pay for cleanup and (b) reduce output. A third option is to trade the permits at prices the students are to establish as they trade within a given time-period. [Nugent (1993) contains a sample table with data and optimal solutions.]
Class size: Small
Time: One or more class periods
Variations: Play several rounds; change permissible emission levels; reduce number of permits; and so on.
See also: Externality games


Game: #20  
Course: Micro
Level: Upper-division finance/economics
Subject(s): Money and banking
Objective: To teach the inverse relation between interest rates and bond prices
Reference and contact: Gillette, David. "Bond Markets in Money and Banking." Classroom Expernomics, 2(1), Spring 1993, p. 2, or contact Dr. David Gillette; Division of Social Sciences; Northeast Missouri State; Kirksville, MO 63501; ph: 1-816-785-4334;
Abstract: "Bond buyers (households with money to lend) have endowments of money that they can either leave in the bank and earn next to nothing on, or they can try and buy higher yielding bonds in the market. Bond sellers (firms with investment projects to finance) begin the game with an option to issue a bond on which they would have to pay some outrageous interest rate. Both buyers and sellers are given reservation interest rates that, as part of the experiment, they must convert into dollar prices. All bidding is conducted in prices, not interest rates. Bonds may be either zero-coupon or interest bearing. The buyer with the highest average yield after the final trading period and the seller with the lowest average borrowing costs [win]. Since they are required to bid in dollar prices yet win according to average interest rates, this version of the [double oral auction] experiment has been successful in driving home the inverse relationship students often find so difficult to grasp" (Gillette, 1993, p. 2).
Class size: Not indicated
Time: One class period
Variations: None indicated
See also: Money games


Games 1 - 10 Games 11 - 20 Games 21 - 30 Games 31 - 40 Games 41 - 50 Games 51 - 60
Games 61 - 70 Games 71 - 80 Games 81 - 90 Games 91 - 100 Games 101 - 110 Games 111 - 120
Games 121 - 130  Games 131 - 140  Games 141 - 150  Games 151 - 160    

Games Economists Play

Copyright 2000 by Greg Delemeester and Jurgen Brauer
Last Updated: 02/20/2005