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Econ Students Win Ginormous Boardgame Tourney

By Anna Mann on April 18, 2016 02:59 PM

Triumphant Reed students brandish gamepieces after taking first place in the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate Ginormous Blokus Tournament.

An undefeated Reed team took first place in the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate Ginormous Blokus Tournament on Saturday.

The tournament, now in its sixth year, is inspired by the boardgame Blokus, in which players systematically set down blocky geometric tiles on a square grid in an effort to claim territory and prevent their opponents from doing the same. But there’s a twist: the tournament is played on a gargantuan outdoor grid measuring some 400 square feet in area.

The Reed team was drawn from students taking Economics 315, Game Theory, with Prof. Jon Rork. “I like to use Blokus in my class to teach students how to think about strategy in a non-mathematical way,” says Prof. Rork. “When we get to the math, students find it more intuitive.”

Game theory is a fundamental part of economics. When Saudi Arabia ponders how much oil to produce, for example, it has to consider how much oil Kuwait might produce. A miscalculation (a poor move) might result in a glut of oil, sending prices plummeting. Energy traders in the early 2000s essentially cracked the Prisoner's Dilemma—a classic bit of game theory—to generate obscene profits and send the California electricity market spinning into chaos.

Back on the jumbo Blokus grid, Reed defeated Lewis & Clark, Pacific University, and defending champions Willamette University to claim the trophy.