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  • Writer's pictureJaslyn Lim

How Financial Literacy Board Games Evolve Over Time

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Even if you are not a board gamer, I’m sure you have heard of, or even played Monopoly before. In fact, almost every household with kids that we know of, has a Monopoly set and almost everyone knows what it is about or even how to play. There are many different versions that can be purchased: the original version; the Disney Princess version or even the Singapore version. It is perhaps the only finance board game most people on the street are aware of.

Monopoly is basically a game that aims to teach players how the property market works. The player is able to buy and sell properties; build houses or hotels; mortgage to banks when running low in cash etc. Whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins and vice versa, whoever is bankrupt is out of the game immediately.

A quick check on the internet shows that the board game Monopoly has its origin in the early 20th century, as early as 1902 and first patented in 1904. This makes it more than 100 years old! Interestingly, a century later, trading; mortgage and interest are still an integral part of our lives. It really amazes me how it can still monopolise (pun intended) the board game market even up till now. Of course, put this to any ardent board gamer and chances are, the person may roll eyes, as there are many more board games genre; varieties and choices out there in recent years, with the advent of internet and crowd funding platforms such as Kickstarter.

Since Monopoly, there have been other popular finance related board games in the retail market including The Game of Life (1960); Payday (1975) and Cashflow 101 (1996), just to name a few. Without going into details on the game mechanics for each of them, they all possess a common similarity, i.e. all mirror real life events to some extent. Take for instance The Game of Life, it is a game of stages of life that people go through invariably such as going to college, raising a family, working, buying a home and retiring.

Payday is identical, albeit on a smaller time scale, and is played on a one-month calendar, dealing with various bills and expenses while earning money and trying to minimise debts. Ratrace (1967) is a game about getting into the high society while engaging in buying luxury goods, gambling in the race course and gambling on the stock market. Cashflow 101 was created by Robert Kiyosaki based on his bestseller book “Rich dad, poor dad” infused a breath of fresh air into the world of financial literacy, by introducing a board game with educational materials and changed how the world view financial literacy. However, its extremely high entry price which is thrice as pricey as the average board game, makes it an expensive way to introduce the masses to financial literacy games.

World economics has become increasingly complicated with more complex financial products being introduced (Derivatives, Cryptocurrency) and individuals taking on more debt, it becomes imperative to bring financial literacy board games up to date that can better engage, educate and inspire widespread financial literacy learning. Many of the traditional financial literacy games also uses the "Roll and Move" mechanics that creates lots of randomness in the game, and players often do not get to make meaningful decisions. In reality, financial literacy is all about making the right choices in the face of uncertainty, and hence, the game mechanics also need to be updated to simulate such real life decision making. With the recent influx new game designs and mechanics ideas, it is a good time to help financial literacy games get a face-lift in terms of the theme and variety of mechanics.

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Modern game mechanics such as worker placement (Pursue of Happiness), auction and hidden information (Stockpile), cooperative and deck building (Debtzilla), variable environment condition (Wongamania: Banana Economy) has been incorporated into the modern financial literacy boardgame. However, the common folks are still familiar with the roll and throw mechanic and introducing new and more advance mechanics which allows exploration of deeper financial literacy themes becomes a hurdle to these financial literacy games. Heavier economic games that last up to 2 hours and features stock market mechanics often put off casual games, resulting in the board game losing its financial literacy value as the games do not get played at all. It is therefore imperative, that financial educators provide substantial amount of support in terms of how to play videos, live gaming workshops and digital versions and rules of the games to help ease the learning curve of these new mechanics.

The theme of a traditional financial literacy game is pretty much simple. Live your life, collect your rent, pay off your bills and become rich! Better creative elements can be incorporate into financial literacy games which can be used to attract people usually not interested in financial education and create a stronger immersion and storyline. For example, Debtzilla, a super hero theme is combined with the concept of debt management while Cryptocurrency explores the theme of Cyberpunk where technology and humans have became much more integrated.

The Education effectiveness of the board games can also be improved with the introduction of technology. A short education guide can be introduced in each game to help people understand what they are playing and how they are related to the real world at a reasonable price so that they are affordable to the masses. Image recognition technology and Augmented Reality (AR) technology can be implemented to pull out relevant digital content, videos and interactive media to help understand how the game relates to the real world and improve the depth of content which games are unable to provide.

New themes and topics in financial literacy can be explored as recent economic developments can create many inspirations for designers. The trade war theme, inspired by the looming trade talks between US and China, is an interesting topic that can be introduced into a game that helps people understand about international trade. The recent fines imposed on global banks due to their facilitation of money laundering is also another fascinating topic which can be transformed into a money laundering game to teach people the process of money laundering and how to detect them.

As the awareness of the importance of financial literacy becomes more prominent around the world, modern financial literacy board game will play a big part in pushing the movement forward. It is one of the few platforms that allows unconventional learning and facilitate discussion outside of the classroom environment. It is also a great tool, to engage teenagers on the topic of money in a fun and casual manner. Asking your teenage son to pick up a book on money management? They ain't got time for that! However about a superhero game where you battle a giant Kaiju or a game that teaches you about cryptocurrency which is the hot topic among the new generation?

Yes please!


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