From the October 2013 issue of Futures Magazine • Subscribe!

Game theory: 8 games for traders

Beyond Monopoly

Trading has a lot of similarities to playing games. Although at first blush this sentiment can seem outlandish, just stop and think about it for a moment. Both are constrained in ways that the real world isn’t; both have set rules that dictate what moves you are allowed to make; both (usually) have clearly defined winners and losers.

There are a number of other similarities as well, some of which will be discussed later. So, with so much in common between these two worlds, it should come as no surprise that traders can find value in taking a break to play a game. Fortunately, a gaming revolution has occurred over the last 20 or so years, with not only video games becoming more sophisticated and mainstream, but also a number of designer board games being released. While Monopoly may be the first one you think of, games have come a long way since it was released in 1935. So, whether you’re just looking for something to play with the family or something a bit meatier to really burn your brain, here are eight board, card and video games that traders are sure to love.

1. Poker – Card game

We’ll just take care of this one right off the bat. Regardless of your thoughts on poker, at least one New York judge ruled last year that it is more a game of skill than chance, and as such is not gambling. Thus poker, like many other card games in which money can be involved, is a quintessential example of Game Theory, which is based on systems where one party’s gain always is another’s loss — a zero-sum game. Sound familiar? Trading is built on the same premise — you only make money on a good trade if someone loses money on a bad trade. 

Additionally, few great poker players make consistently good decisions based on emotions or gut reactions. In the same way, trades made on feelings and not according to a prescribed trading plan rarely work out well on a consistent basis. In both poker and trading, having the discipline and perseverance to stick to a plan can put you on the path to success.

2. The Settlers of Catan — Board game

Arguably the Settlers of Catan board game sparked the board game revolution when it was released in the United States in 1995, and has since become a mainstay in many people’s collections right alongside Monopoly. It has become popular with multiple groups also, including Silicone Valley execs and venture capitalists. In this game, players represent groups that are establishing colonies on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities and roads. To do this, though, they must spend resources they collect throughout the course of the game. These resources are gathered either via random dice rolls at the start of each player’s turn, or through players negotiating trades among one another.

This aspect of trading is where the meat of this game lies. Because the game is played on a modular board that can change every game and the random dice rolls, some resources can be abundant in one game but rare in others — as such their value can vary dramatically. This is the aspect traders will love as they vie against their opponents to always be on the better side of a trade. Usually, the winner is the person who was able to make the best trades throughout the course of the game.

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