In choosing a business game or business simulation for learning purposes, whether in a corporate or academic environment, the first question should be “Computer-based or board-game?” There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Essentially, the computer-based simulation can be more detailed in its modeling, but lacks believability because its computations are hidden. If I type in 2 + 2, and the answer is 4, and I’m not happy with the answer, I may blame the computer program and not own the result.

The boardgame simulation will lack detail, but be believable. If I move 2 chips from here, and 2 chips from there, and I end up with 4, I know exactly where the result came from because I physically created it, and I know why I did so. I own the result completely, whether I like it or not.

What the board-game lacks in detail, it makes up for in clarity (if it’s a good simulation, and doesn’t look like a Mario Brothers pipe nightmare). It will be like a cartoon, having all the essential elements of business, and having them in their correct relationship to each other, but exaggerated for effect and shown in outline, not detail.

Computer-based simulations:

  • Drive learning through detailed modeling
  • Calculation of results is hidden in the computer program
  • Computer program may be ‘gamed’ by wily participants
  • May be team-based, or stand-alone
  • May not need a facilitator
  • May be cheaper

Boardgame simulations:

  • Drive learning through simplicity of modeling
  • Provide credibility of concepts (nothing hidden)
  • Events cannot be ‘gamed’
  • Need multiple participants in the same location
  • Need a facilitator
  • May be more expensive

Our recommendation is to use both types of simulation, as appropriate. Use a board-game simulation for creating clarity of the fundamental concepts (financial statements; the pressures of the market place; inventory control issues; the importance of innovation and improvement; the need to manage separately for profit and cash flow; etc). Notice that these cut across all departments: everyone in business is very familiar with one of these issues, but almost no one respects the importance and the difficulties of all of them. Finance managers actually have as much to learn as salespeople about business!

Then consider the more detailed modeling that can only be done on a computer, working to several decimal places rather than in simple numbers. But don’t go to the detailed complexity, until you are sure that your target audience has a clean, simple, big-picture overview of the conceptual structure of business itself.

Advancing business acumen requires a clear big-picture understanding first. This is the platform on which you can build the more detailed training and development.


Income/Outcome Business Simulations are board game simulations (though they have an increasing range of web-based support materials such as the contextuary). We have stayed with this format because it provides clear foundational thinking.