The Research Game

Will your scientific research succeed despite the obstacles and injustices of academic life?

Players: 3–6 players, preferably over 12 years old; plus a narrator/mediator
Duration: 15–45 minutes
Purpose: to explore in a fun way the dynamics of academic research, including the asymmetries and injustices that permeate the way knowledge is produced around the world.


Each player is assigned an institution to represent (e.g. the famous University College of Excellence, or second-tier University of Middle England), a research goal to pursue which they can choose to keep secret or not (e.g. develop and bring to market an efficient biofuel, or combat antibiotic resistance). Each institute comes with a given amount of resources and infrastructure (e.g., greenhouses, a supercomputer, a robotics team) and cash, as well as a token to keep track of their progress on the board.

At the start of the game, each player introduces their institution by listing its characteristics and resources.

On their turn, players roll a single die to determine how many squares to advance, where an event can impact them as well as the others: Sometimes you start a wonderful cooperation with another institution, other times your star professor leaves you… Institutions can also trade resources with other institutions in view of their research goal; form alliances or break them; or enter into competition with other institutions.

At the end of the game, participants reflect on the following questions: How well did you manage your institute? What have you pursued and obtained? How did it perform in assets and cash? Have you achieved the research objectives? The winner is the one who explains and convinces the others how they have succeeded best, given the initial resources and the social and scientific aims set.

The narrator’s role

The heart of the game lies in its unequal distribution of resources among the players, with rich and famous institutions competing in the same arena as marginal ones. The players must quickly come to terms with these differences in geography and social and political economy, and the opportunities open or closed to universities with very different characteristics.

The mediator notices and foments these dynamics during the game, making the players reflect when required on how realistic (or not) the negotiations between the players may be when compared to what happens in actual science. The narrator has a broad mandate to shape the game, to rein in or push on players (will you let a powerful institution take the first round, or not?), let them bring in considerations (what would it take for star Professor Wu to leave their comfortable and prestigious London lifestyle for rainy Dunromin — money, principles, or personal reasons?), and let them shape their reputations and outlook.