Trade Lesson 5 Trade Simulation Activity
Trade Lesson 5 Trade Simulation Activity

Time: 60 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objective 5
Related Resources: n/a

*Please note this activity requires advances planning and preparation and will take more than one class session.  This activity often works best when the students do one round the class before to get the hang of it.

Everyone is part of a group, numbered 1-9, that represents different regions of the world, and everyone is starting off with a tradable commodity, or two.  The goal is to be the individual with the most cards and/or most diversity of goods AND to be part of the group with the greatest diversity and/or goods.


1)      Your envelope says if you are a traveling or stationary (home) merchant.  Traveling merchants go out to other regions to trade.  Stationary merchants stay in their region and must wait for traveling merchants to come to them.

2)      Below is a table showing which groups traveling merchants may visit during the six rounds of this activity (A-F).  Find your group number on the far left below, and then follow the chart across horizontally to see where you can go in each round.  For instance, group 4 can only trade with other members of group 4 during round A, but can trade with any person in groups 3,4,5, or 7 during round B.  

3)      You can trade with up to 3 people (time allowing) during each round, but each person you trade with must belong to the same group.  So continuing with the previous example, during round B someone in group 4 could make up to three trades, but they must decide before hand which one group (3,4,5, or 7) that they want to trade with. 

4)      The “cost” of each commodity is negotiable.  So, if you have ivory, you can ask for 3 spice cards for 1 ivory card, but the buyer does not have to agree.

Rounds A B C D E F
1 1 1 1 1 1,3 1,3
2 2 2 2,3 2 2,3 2,3
3 3 3,4 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 3 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9
4 4 3,4,5,7 3,4,5,7 4 3,4,5,6,7 3,4,5,6,7
5 5 4,5,6 4,5,6 5 3,4,5,6 3,4,5,6
6 6 5,6,7 3,5,6,7 6 3,5,6,7 3,5,6,7
7 7 4,7, 8 3,4,6,7,8 7 3,4,7,8 3,4,7,8
8 8 4,7,8,9 3,4,7,8,9 8 3,7,8,9 3,7,8,9
9 9 8,9 3,8,9 9 8,9 3,8,9


1 = North America
2 = South America
3 = Europe
4 = Middle East and South West Asia
5 = North and West Africa
6 = South and East Africa
7 = Indian Subcontinent
8 = East Asian continental countries (China)
9 = Japan

Instructor’s Instructions


Pre-class :

1)      Make cards – different colored index cards, cut-up into smaller sizes work well.

  1. Put one category of good on each card.

                                                              i.      Make different quantities – so, for instance, someone can get 10 ivory cards while someone else only gets 3 clock cards.

  1. Mark some cards with colored dots.  The dots represent the often unintended effects or transmissions that the exchange of goods facilitated. 

                                                              i.      green= technology.  Regions learned or stole technology (or craftsmen) that let them replicate crafts or agriculture.  Put dots on some guns, chocolate, porcelain, coffee, cotton, etc – BUT NOT ON minerals –gold, ivory, silver, etc.

                                                            ii.      red =religion

                                                          iii.      blue = disorder (goods could destabilize) 

                                                          iv.      black = disease and death. 

2)      Divide cards up as shown in excel spread sheet and place in envelopes with group numbers on outside as well as S for stationary or T for travelling. Adjust for class size. 

3)      Be sure you have cards for most commodities left over  so you can add to people’s collections after round C.



1)      Distribute envelopes at random.  

2)      Have students try to guess what region of the world they are by their product(s).

3)      List out all products for each region (1-9), then have students guess what 1-9 represent.

4)      Ask who had wrong region, and discuss, stress artificial – so, for instance, gold could be many places.

5)      Pass out instructions, and charts for when everyone can trade and with whom.

6)      Explain rules and take questions.





1)      In classroom, mark off 10 areas: one for each region plus one for afterlife/eternal nothingness.


1)      Go over rules again, take questions.
2)      Allow to trade within group (round A).
3)      Take first count of who is happy with what they have. (OPTIONAL)
4)      Move on to Rounds B and C.  (OPTIONAL) Tally happiness after round B.
5)      After Round C, explain the dots and put into action.

  • green technology dots on guns, chocolate, or coffee means an extra card for the person who has that card (tech spread); guano = more of agricultural/animal commodity from their region
  • red only means something if in Japan, then Japan is closed to trade in round E. Persons in Japan with red are out for rest of activity and goods redistributed – sit in afterlife area.
  • blue – disorder.  Explain how goods could destabilize.  Tally how many people in each group have a blue dot.  Make sure that good was not one they started with.  Any group with half or more of group having blue dots is closed to trade in round E.
  • black: disease and death.  See who has black dots.  Make sure the commodity e in their group.  If yes, they are fine, but if they acquired it, that person dies and their goods (minus the tainted one) are spread amongst group members – sit in afterlife area.

6)      Announce that 1 person (and it is best to choose specific individuals) from North America and 1 from South America are now traveling merchants. These represent European / Creole merchants.
7)      Ask who has guano cards.  Guano is a potent fertilizer.  Give that person(s) 1-2 additional cards based on which region they are from.   Explain really helped with food production, which helped economy overall, but as we don’t have food…

1: tobacco

2: nothing

3: nothing

            4: coffee

            5: nothing

            6: nothing

            7: cotton

            8: tea

8)      Give additional silver, gold, sugar, and tobacco cards to Europe due to colonization of the New World.  Can spread amongst European merchants, or only to those merchants who visited New World merchants in rounds B and/or C.
9)      Conduct Round D for internal trade.
10)  Round E, reminding people to sit out.
11)  Final round, tally happiness. (OPTIONAL)
12)  Everyone regroup by region, sitting in their area.      
13)  Take survey to find out

a)      Which groups ended up with which goods and how much of them.

b)      Group with most goods / capita wins prize.

c)      Group with most diversity  with wins a prize.

d)      Individual with most diversity?

e)      Individual with most cards?

14)  Have group brainstorm what is different and artificial about this trading scenario.


                        -no customs, taxes, etc.

                        -no pirates, wars, etc.

                        -no differentiation between high-quality goods and low quality

                        -no food, which people had to trade for if only for ship journeys

                        -some products much more widely spread out – like indigo

Wrap up being sure points below are highlighted:

1)      it’s unfair in terms of starting points due to geography, natural resources, and world demand

2)       goods are always accompanied by intangible things (be they disease, ideas, religion, etc)

3)       value is relative  – different cultures will want different products and at different times

  1. Guano – became big in 19th century
  2. Coffee: banned at times in middle east, then big boom
  3. Tea: low quality that could stand long overland route made it expensive and unpopular in Europe, then huge boom
  4. Dyes: wall hangings with certain expensive colors, craftsmanship was a display of wealth that people coveted, and would give gold and silver for, etc.

4)      Consider connection between economics, culture, and politics

  1. For instance, how areas united by religion might band together against enemies, or religion lead to wars that slow trade and depress economic growth.

5)      If time, how 17th-18th century trade was and was not different from that today
   a) more government restrictions on trade than today
   b) but no international restrictions or bans
   c) continued inequality of resources and ability to acquire goods
   d) more geographic restrictions on trade
   e) value is slightly less relative today]
5) while it’s unfair, trade makes increased specialization possible and can increase both sides’ well being


1)      work in customs officials

                        These individuals would set a tax, and could forbid individuals from trading.

They could also tax those coming in to trade

Add in currency?? 

                        -their success would be measured by overall  group, but also individual wealth

2)      Either drop North America or allow to trade with S America after round B.

3)      Add in pirates and navies.  (But then need some way to decide battles, and rock, paper, scissors is too random.)

4)      Add in higher and lower quality goods.  So, for instance, Europe has low quality porcelain, Asia has high quality (but expensive).


Compare today’s activity to the reality of global trade flows in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as discussed in Armesto, chapter 20.  What historical constraints and/or opportunities were not represented in this activity?  In other words, what challenges or opportunities did merchants and states face that we did not model in this exercise?  Give three reasons (bullet points will suffice) and then choose one of those reasons and explain in a typed paragraph of at least 3 sentences how this exercise was misleading due to the absence of that constraint or opportunity.

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