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Fish Banks Game

The Fish Banks Ltd. Game

Developed by Dennis Meadows

Fish Banks is a role-playing, board game where teams of players manage and operate their own fishing companies. Players step into the role of captains and crew members and compete against other fishing companies. Each fishing company begins each game with equal cash, fishing boats, and technology. Together the team players strategize about buying and selling ships, where to fish, how best to manage fleets without depleting fish stocks all while in competition with neighboring teams. The game, which incorporates variables such as deep-sea and coastal fishing, informs people about the careful and efficient use of natural resources.

Learning Objective: The primary goal of Fish Banks is to provide participants with an experiential learning experience. Participants are charged with managing a fleet of fishing boats and making decisions about where to fish, i.e. the deep sea or in coastal waters, along with decisions about buying and selling boats. The goal is to maintain your fishing fleets’ profitability so that your fishing enterprise may continue into the future.

This all takes place in an environment with multi-players attempting to achieve the same goal in an uncertain environment where weather, fish catch, and the decision of competitors may vary from year-to-year.  The learning goals are multifaceted. The game materials provided a link to the game to historical data on the fisheries from around the world. The debriefing slides also contain a causal loop diagram that captures the main interactions contained in the game and is represented by the real-world system on which the game is based. The game and debrief lead into a natural discussion of sustainability and  Garrett Hardin’s (1968) Tragedy of the Commons.

Who Should Play? The game is suitable and provides insights for all age levels. The game has been used in K-12 education, for undergraduates, graduate students, and for managers in a variety of fields. The game can be taught in any university-level course in which the dynamics of cooperation, competition, resource management, and negotiation are relevant.

Please note that the Society is selling Dennis Meadows’ original board game version and it’s a great teaching and learning tool. There is a current online version available through Forio that has a very nice user interface for a System Dynamics model.



Fish Banks brings an experiential aspect to learning about complex systems, it has more impact than simply listening to a lecture or engaging in a case study discussion.

Deep, actionable knowledge and decision-making skills develop when people have the chance to apply classroom theory in the real world with its messy complexity, time pressure, and irreversible consequences.

But project-based action learning in the field is not possible in settings where the stakes are high or the consequences of decisions unfold over years or decades. For many of the critical issues we face, simulation becomes the main way we can discover for ourselves how complex systems work and develop the management and leadership skills we need to succeed.

John Sterman

Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management, Professor of System Dynamics and Engineering Systems, Director, MIT System Dynamics Group

An enormous thank you is in order to you [Dennis Meadows] for developing this game! It has been a wonderful teaching tool to help students understand fisheries…et al… Last time I used Fish Banks was out in internal exile at Kansas State University where there was scarcely an ocean in sight… but the students rose to the occasion and it was a wildly successful experience.

Professor Bryan Snyder

Department of Economics, Bentley University, Waltham, Massachusetts

The Fish Banks Ltd. game was developed by Professor Dennis Meadows, co-author of “Limits to Growth.” The board game kits include the game software, PowerPoint slide sets for introducing and debriefing the game, instructions for playing the game, the role description, game board, and pieces. The game is written in Java and runs using a web browser. The computer need not be linked to the web at any time.

The game’s computer program can be executed on most computers and most operating systems. It works on both Macintosh and Windows platforms.

You may not duplicate the game software or manual. However, once you have purchased the game kit you can use it indefinitely without paying royalties. You only need to make copies of the role description and the decision sheets as needed.

Ideally each session takes 2 hours. You may split this across two days or have the participants meet for an additional session. The game works well for groups from five to 30.

For technical questions and support, please see Appendix #3 of the User’s E-Manual. Often the questions are already answered here.

The kit includes:

  • the game board,
  • 85 little wooden boats of varying denominations,
  • electronic files that contain a 10-minute video of Dennis Meadows introducing the game. This video is presented in two formats, one for Mac and one for Windows. Use this video to start a game session to make the summary of roles, rules, and goals,
  • electronic files that contain:
    • the game software,
    • various data files,
    • two Powerpoint slide sets – one for introducing the game (an alternative to the above video) and one for debriefing the game,
    • 48 page e-manual for download. The e-manual contains extensive information on setting up, introducing, conducting, and debriefing the game plus detailed instructions for operating the computer program.

To place an ORDER, purchase here.

You may also be interested in MIT SLOAN SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT, Management Flight Simulations.