Economic Development News & Insight


The Higher ED Blog: 4 Board Games an Economic Developer Will Love

Meg Ronson / July 17, 2017

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The Higher ED Blog: 4 Board Games an Economic Developer Will Love

Rainy summer days or weekend nights at the cottage call for some quality indoor time with friends and family. If you’re anything like me, that means only one thing: time for some board games! But instead of reaching for the old classics like Clue, Monopoly, or Scrabble, why not break out a new game that’s a little more up your professional alley? And just think – if you’re playing with your children, nieces or nephews, you very well could be grooming the next great EDO without their even knowing it…

Suburbia (2012)
Designed by Ted Alspach
Published by Bezier Games
1-4 players

Any economic developer who works closely with planners will immediately catch on to this surprisingly fun neighbourhood-building game. It’s categorized as a ‘tile-laying’ and ‘resource management’ game, which means players build their board as they go, while they collect and allocate resources towards accomplishing their goal. The goal is to attract more people to your town than all the other players. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The mechanics of the game are such that, although each player is building their own town, they can intervene in each other’s development by buying an available tile that they know the other player needs. The game awards population bonuses based on how well you combine and place your tiles, so it’s important to think through your town planning carefully. After each turn, a player gets a certain amount of income based on their board, and also a population increase based on their reputation. However, every time their population passes a certain threshold, their reputation will decrease. Growth management is real, even in board games!

Puerto Rico (2002)
Designed by Andreas Seyfarth
Published by Rio Grande Games
2-5 players

Puerto Rico is one of the most popular and highly rated board games ever, but it also happens to be an excellent economic development-themed game. Set in Puerto Rico, players are given the role of governor of new colonial settlements. The object of the game is to establish the most successful settlement by attracting colonists to your city, building developments in the city, and shipping produced goods from the city.

Gameplay is turn-based, with every round beginning with whomever holds the “governor” token, which is passed around clockwise at every turn. Players take turns selecting ‘role’ cards, like “trader” or “builder,” and taking the special action that their roles grant them.

In a lot of ways, its premise is similar to Suburbia but with a different, role-based structure, and instead of a single urban plan, you are managing resources for an entire region. The mercantile aspect of producing goods for trade is also a feature that mimics economic developers’ industrial interests.

Worker Placement (2014)
Designed by Mark C. MacKinnon
Published by Dyskami Publishing Company
2-5 players

In the game Worker Placement, each player represents a different worker placement agency within a city, and the goal is to amass as much money and get as good a reputation as possible. You do this by finding workers jobs in the city. Different jobs require different kinds of skills, which players amass for their workers by visiting different skill development locations in town.

The game involves lots of competition with other players for resources and advantages, and the workforce development angle is another one that economic developers are familiar with. It’s a relatively simple game to learn and to play, and you can also choose how long you want to play, so it’s a good game to play with younger children that will get them thinking about the trials and challenges of finding work for the people in a community.

Pandemic (2008)
Designed by Matt Leacock
Published by Z-Man Games
2-4 players

Pandemic is a hugely popular co-operative board game, meaning the players are working together to win the game rather than competing against one another. The premise of the game is that several terrible viruses have broken out around the world, and each player is part of a task-force to stop the spread of the diseases and find cures. So yes, the plot of the board game might not have anything to do with economic development, but the mechanics are an EDO’s bread and butter.

At the beginning of the game, each player is assigned a role with a unique skill that enhances the team’s ability to do their job. As the game progresses, “outbreaks” can occur that speed up the spread of a virus from city to city. Players move around the world, strategically treating infected sections of the map, building research stations, and amassing disease cards to find a cure. Working together and playing to each players’ strengths, executing continuous sequences of damage control, and dealing with place-based crises, this game in a lot of ways mimics an economic developer’s day-to-day, only instead of managing resources and economic activity, you’re managing horrible illnesses. Same kind of job, different stakes.


Board games for economic developers are indeed fun for the whole family! So consider stopping by your local board game café, shop or library and find out how transferrable your skills in economic development really are, board game style!


About the author

Meg Ronson is the editor of Higher ED, Outreach Manager for the Economic Development Program and Masters candidate of Economic Development and Innovation at University of Waterloo. Her research involves studying credit unions and co-operative businesses as potential tools for strengthening and diversifying local economies, and is currently engaged in a project investigating co-operative solutions to the small business succession issue in Ontario and Canada.

About the series

Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.

Established in 1987, the Master of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) is one of the only graduate programs in Canada focused exclusively on economic development. Students learn economic development theory and practice, and are exposed to leading edge knowledge, tools, and approaches to address contemporary challenges in cities and communities across Canada and internationally.

The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.

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