Board games and economics have lot more in common than what you might think at first glance. I played a lot of games while studying economics, it was also during the early years of university that I really got into the hobby. It came naturally to try and combine the two and I noticed that the analytical framework from economics was helpful in understanding the structure and design of games. It is also really useful for developing strategies, to the detriment of my friends and family.
For example, Catan is partially a game of comparative advantages, Carcasonne can teach you about sunk costs, and Ticket to ride (among other games) has scarcity as one of its fundamental mechanisms. A lot of games also feature some sort of economy which players have to manage. And in certain genres the whole point of the game is to manage an economy.
Economics is defined as the study of consumption, production and distribution of goods and services. Basically a fancy way of saying it’s a field concerned with how much a burger at 2 am after a night of heavy drinking is really worth to you. Economics almost always boils down to studying human behavior in order to grasp how individuals make economic decisions. Or it simpler terms: choices. Economics is ultimately about choice.
The goal of this blog series is to advance our knowledge of game design. I’m of the firm belief that long term goals should be lofty. I choose to set my goal as ‘our’ knowledge, i.e. the knowledge of the human race, as I want explore if economics has something to contribute to the design community. As I’m relatively inexperienced as a game designer this series will however probably expand my own understanding more than anything else. My hope is that I through my own learning and writings can inspire others and spark discussions. Therefore, I must set out to teach you – young padawan. Much to learn, you still have.
You must learn to crawl before you can walk. Before we can dive in to the really juicy stuff like doing case studies of complex games we have to learn the basics. If we know the basics then we have some common language for further discussions. As with nearly all scientific fields advanced theory and concepts are built upon a foundation, without knowing the foundation you will have a much harder time understanding more modern thought.
Case studies and examples of board games featuring economic concepts. Once we have a foundation then we can start applying our common framework. Case studies of games make a great basis for discussion, my intention is to play interesting games and write about their inner workings from the perspective of an economist. Likewise, I think that using examples of games when introducing economic concepts is a fun and hands-on way of learning.
Economics might inspire new themes and mechanisms. With the ultimate goal of furthering game design trying to come up with new mechanisms seems like a no-brainer: there might be untapped potential. Therefore, in all my entries I intend to leave the reader with one or more challenges related to board game design. My hope is that this will trigger you to to come up with ideas and further the discussion. It might look a little something like this:
Challenge: come up with a game that captures the feeling of waiting in line for a burger at 2 AM on saturday night.
Feel free to leave an answer to this challenge in the comments section below.
NEXT UP: What is economics? Part 1: goods and services.