Industry, Debt & Trade

Programme Idea 3

The Trading Game

Why does Uganda have such a large National Debt? Uganda is still very dependant on the international price of coffee, as this is the country's main export item and main source of revenue. To understand some of the issues about the process of trading between rich and poor countries, try playing the following game:
   Time required:  1 hour
   Number of people:  15 to 30
   You will need: A large room with seven tables (chairs optional)
30 A4 sheets of plain paper (same colour)
30 'pound notes' of £100 each
2 sheets of coloured, sticky paper
4 pairs of scissors
4 rulers
2 compasses for drawing circles
2 set squares
2 protractors
14 lead pencils
2 chart of shapes (Download PDF file (10k)

1. Put sets of equipment into 6 plastic bags as follows:


 2 scissors
 2 rulers
 1 compass
 1 set square
 1 protractor
 1 sheet paper
 6 'pound notes'
 4 pencils


 10 sheets paper
 1 sheet sticky paper
 2 'pound notes'


 4 sheets paper
 2 'pound notes'
 2 pencils

Suggested Country Names:
Suggested Country names:
Suggested Country names:

2. Display the charts (10k pdf file) at either end of the room.

3. Brief your games organisers and banker

The game leader - acts as the United Nations that is ~ impartial, intervening in disputes, and so on. You will keep notes of transactions, interesting comments and corruption. You are also responsible for introducing new elements (see later).

The Banker - keeps a record of the wealth made by groups. Divide the sheet of paper into six columns and when groups bring shapes to you, you credit their column with the appropriate amount.

N.B. Do not accept substandard shapes.

4. Leading the game

Divide the group into 6 even-sized groups and ask them to stand beside one of the tables.

  • Put the bags of resource materials on the tables.

Now read out the objectives and rules of the game:

The objective of each group is to make as much wealth for itself as possible by using the materials given to it. No other materials can be used. The wealth is made by manufacturing paper shapes. The goods you are going to manufacture are the shapes shown on the Diagram of Shapes. Each shape has its own value as shown on the diagram and these paper shapes are given to the banker in batches for checking and crediting to your bank account. You can manufacture as many shapes as you like - the more you make the wealthier you will be. There are just four simple rules:

  • All the shapes need to be cut with clean sharp edges using scissors and must be of the exact size shown - the shapes are taken to the banker for your account.
  • You can only use the materials that have been given out.
  • There is to be no physical force used during the game.
  • The game leader represents the United Nations and will intervene in any disagreements.

Announce that 'manufacturing can begin'.

5. Manufacturing

At the beginning of the game there will be a lot of confusion and the group will bombard the game leader with loads of questions e.g. 'where can I get scissors?'
'what's the sticky paper for?' and so on.

Resist all temptation to answer these questions - just repeat the rules or stay silent.

After a minute or two they should begin moving around the room and begin trading, but the initiative should come from them, not you.

6. Let manufacturing and trading continue for up to 45 minutes.

Notes for game leader ,Watch what is happening. Grade A groups will begin making shapes as soon as they have all the materials and equipment, but they will soon run out of raw materials and probably try to buy some paper from the other groups,

Watch how groups negotiate prices and determine 'terms of trade'. Note any alliances and deals, any cheating or stealing, and bring these into the discussion at the end

Stimulate activity

Once trading is under way the game leader can introduce new dimensions.

Change market values

When the banker has a lot of any one shape, shout out that the market value has dropped on that shape and risen for another. (Make sure that the banker has registered the changes, that is rectangles now £ 50, circles £ 700.)

The parallels for this are the way countries' economies can be geared predominately to the export of one product. When the market value dropped, for example for coffee, the economy of Uganda suffered badly in 1989.

Alternatively a change in market value may mean that, for example the rich groups find that their compasses are no longer as useful as they were. Countries do find that their technology has been outdated by changed circumstances.

Increase the supply of raw materials or technology

Give one group an extra supply and announce to the world that a new deposit of raw material has been found. This parallels the find of oil or an important mineral, which brings about rapid change.

Using sticky paper

Two groups will have a piece of coloured sticky paper, but will not know what it is for. You can send a discreet secret message to two other groups telling them that if they stick small squares of sticky paper on any of their shapes they will treble their value. (N.B. Tell the banker.) This parallels a resource which a country does not realise the full value of. Other nations buy the deposit cheaply and later make huge profits.

7. End

At the end of the manufacturing time, get the banker to add up the totals and announce them.

8. Debrief

Bring everyone together for a debriefing discussion.

Leading the Debriefing

If the game goes according to plan, it will become clear that the whole set up of the game is unbalanced from the start. Some groups will feel this unfairness keenly.

You could start the discussion by asking if anyone feels that something wasn't fair.

Listen to the grievances, and if some are directed towards other groups, ask these groups to respond and explain their actions.

The game attempts to reflect structures in the real world.
How real is the situation?

Can the group think of any real situations where people with raw materials are exploited by those who have all the technology.

Try exploring the feelings felt by the poorer countries in the game. The feelings of frustration and even potential violence, illustrate the sentiments of many of the Third World countries in the face of Western countries controlling interests.

What is unrealistic about the game?

Using the sticky paper may have provoked reaction. Explore this with the group and ask them to think of parallels. For example, Britain buying up the copper rights in Zambia and the early oil companies in the Gulf.

Why didn't the richer countries share their resources more freely?

What would have happened if the groups had co-operated? If any alliances did form during the game, get the countries involved to talk about how the alliance worked. Parallel their experience with that of real groups like the O.A.U.(Organisation of African Unity) or the European Community. Many participants may say that they would have acted differently if it hadn't been a game. Try and unpack the phrase 'it's just a game'.

How real is the situation?

What is unrealistic about it?
Why do we apparently have different sets of values
for 'life' and for 'games'?
Why do we leave our Scout values of co-operation, sharing and friendship behind just because it's a game.

Idea taken from Christian Aid

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