Looking for a game to teach about inflation to 10th graders
May 17, 2024 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm teaching a unit on inflation to my high school students, and I'd like to find (ideally) or make (less ideal) a game based on teaching the basics of inflation.

I've seen this game on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' website, and I'm thinking of something similar. I'd like, if possible, to add in a wrinkle. If I can, I'd like to add in a bit about how inflation can make loans more "sensible" than savings, but that might be adding too much to the mix.

What I've got in my mind now is a simple game based on the auction on the website, with two rounds, varying starting levels of (fake, naturally) cash, and objects worth bidding on. In round two, roughly double the amount of cash is distributed, and a new auction is held.

It seems a little simplistic, but I'm trying to get that out of my head and focus on how kids would see it. I don't want to load them down with too many options, but I also want the game to be able to explore the wider impacts of inflation. Any ideas, or better games I haven't seen yet?
posted by Ghidorah to Education (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How much you can pack in might depend on what concepts the students are already comfortable with. E.g. if the students intuitively regard prices as fixed and haven't encountered an auction before as a mechanism for pricing a scarce resource, there might already be lots of new concepts being introduced with the game linked from the fed reserve bank.

Here are some commercial card games / board games that are somewhat related:

1. No Thanks!

In this game each player starts with a fixed number of coins. There is a card in the middle of the table, each player has a turn where they either take the card (picking up a card loses that player points, but it depends on which cards they already have) or place one of their coins onto the card to avoid picking it up. If a player decides to pick up a card they also get to keep any coins that have been placed on it.

Pros: simple game, very quick to teach & for players to learn. Maybe takes 15 minutes or less to teach and play a game. Players have to estimate the value of each coin token during the game, and these valuations fluctuate during the game.

Cons: doesn't really teach inflation, but you could play two games and allocate different numbers of starting coins to each player along the same lines as the Fed Reserve's inflation game. Each coin owned by a player at the end is worth 1 point, so this gives the coins some fundamental/intrinsic value in the game world, unlike real fiat currency. This is a game is played for points / the prestige of being the winner, which doesn't necessarily have much real world value.

2. High Society

This is a simple card game where players act as wealthy socialites, each starting with a hand of cards representing various large amounts of money. Each round a card goes up for auction representing some high status thing, worth a certain amount of status. Players then participate in an auction. The highest bidder gets the status and pays their bid to the bank. At the end of the game any player with the least amount of money loses, then from the remaining players, the highest status player wins.

Pros: simple game, very quick to teach & for players to learn. Maybe takes 25 minutes or less to teach and run a game. includes actual auctions. The 2018 edition has quite nice artwork.

Cons: doesn't really teach inflation, but you could play two games and allocate different amounts of starting money to each player along the same lines as the Fed Reserve's inflation game. One quirk of the game is that no change is ever given (if you bid $10k then want to raise your bid, you cannot take back your $10k bill, you need to add one or more bills) , which makes for a more interesting game but isn't how real life usually works. This is a game is played for points / the prestige of being the winner, which doesn't necessarily have much real world value.

3. Container

In this game players simulate an economy where they manufacture widgets, store widgets, load widgets into container ships, and ship and sell widgets to an island full of consumers. Players compete to make the most money. Each player can participate in all steps of the value chain, but the rules do not permit a single player to "vertically integrate" -- if a player produces widgets, they cannot use their own service for the next step in the chain (storing widgets) -- they must pay another player for that service. The game does not set the price for anything, each player sets their own price for each of the goods / services offered for sale to other players.

This game actually includes inflation! There is usually a fixed amount of cash circulating in the games economy. But when goods are delivered to end consumers, part of the payment takes the form of a "government subsidy" of cash injected into the game's economy.

Pros: game actually includes inflation! game requires players to set prices and evaluate prices offered by other players when buying / selling goods and services, which may change over the game as the amount of cash in circulation increases.

Cons: game is long and reasonably complicated. E.g. it might take 2-3 hours to play a game, assuming there is an experienced player familiar with the rules who can teach them to everyone else, and that the other players are somewhat familiar with other board games and are able to pick up the rules relatively quickly. This is a game is played for points / the prestige of being the winner, which doesn't necessarily have much real world value.
posted by are-coral-made at 7:06 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]

Most any idle-style game will at least get the idea across, where as you make more of the first resource and begin trying to make the next, the multiplied difficulty of doing so rapidly makes the previous resource feel nearly worthless. Not exactly inflation, but it might help?
posted by Scattercat at 10:04 PM on May 17

I don't know if you want anything this extensive, but in about 5th or 6th grade our teacher had about an hour every Friday where we would have a "market". He gave everyone X money every week and we brought various things from home to sell to try to get rich. This went on for several weeks near the end of the school year - maybe 4, 6, or 8 weeks, approximately.

The inflation over time became blazingly obvious to everyone as each week there was more money in circulation but roughly the same amount of goods for sale.

That last day was absolutely insane as there was both literally millions of dollars floating around the room and everyone knew that it would all be worthless at 2:00pm on the dot. People were paying an amount that we considered just a few weeks ago to be a completely unattainable fortune for like a candy bar or an apple or whatever.

I don't know if it made as big an impression on all my classmates, but when for example we would read about some hyperinflation scenario where people where people were bringing literal wheelbarrows full of bills to buy a sack of potatoes or whatever - it all made perfect sense because we'd experienced it all first-hand in a completely realistic way.

FWIW I came out of it with a giant box of comic books that kept me in reading material for the whole summer . . .
posted by flug at 1:11 AM on May 18 [16 favorites]

A few games jump to mind.

Inflation is a trick taking game that is based on 'simulating' hyperinflation. It is fast and fun. You start with low numbers but end up with huge numbers at the end.

QE is a bidding game where you are bidding on victory points, but the catch is there is no limit. You could bid $100 and someone else could be $200 million. The winner is the person at the end of the game with the most points, but the person who bid the most total money loses all their victory points. It's fun, and you see the numbers jump once people start to realize that can actually just bid what ever.
posted by Carillon at 1:21 PM on May 18

I’ve done inflation before as an auction. Round 1 you give students a small amount of fake money and then auction off a few items. Round 2 you give them a much larger amount and auction off the same items again and track the price changes.

Can you modify that to include a savings account option? I imagine it would “pay out” in extra credit somehow?
posted by lilac girl at 9:33 PM on May 19

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, everyone. I ended up just doing the simple two rounds of auctions with an increase of cash for everyone in round two. It was an interesting group to do it with, as I'm teaching at a *wealthy* private school, so most of these kids have never had to (or, honestly, will never have to) worry much about money, and the randomness of who started off "wealthy" and who didn't seemed shockingly unfair to several of them.

One thing that happened, that I did not expect at all, but I loved, is that a group of boys in the class pooled their resources and formed a cartel. They were largely able to wait until the last solo bid came in and outbid it by one dollar. It was a pretty amazing thing to see, and the in-class reactions to their group seemed to annoy some of the other kids in ways that, maybe just someday will have been the beginning of some deeper thinking about the way things work.

In the end, everyone got at least a couple snacks, and the lesson seemed to go well.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:35 PM on May 30

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