AP World History’s World Diplomacy game immerses students into a project based learning history project


Lauren Batterbee

The game boards for each hour has the continent on it with each countries’ military pieces.

Senior Ana Ahmed, former Supreme Leader of Costa Luna, went to all lengths to make sure people would not convict her for the title of saboteur during the World Diplomacy Game.

Despite her country’s suspicious goals and other acts of fraud not prompted by the goal sheet given to her, Ana was not the saboteur of her hour. However, by the end of the game, many people did not believe her cries of innocence.

“I was in the top [three] names [of suspected saboteurs],” Ana said, “so, I don’t know; I wasn’t that surprised that I was accused because I had Costa Luna, which was a very suspicious country. So I wasn’t that surprised because all of my tasks were kind of like only benefiting me and no one else.”

AP World History teacher Brad Anderson made the World Diplomacy Game as a project-based learning tool five years ago. He made the continent of Atlantis and crafted eight countries, two islands, and one rebel force. For each country, there is a leader who is usually partnered with an assistant. Other roles students may have in the gameplay are the world bank and arms dealers.

This year, there were a few complications with the start of the game, including quarantined students and teachers and the switch from fully in-person to virtual putting a pause on the game. Because of this, junior Elyse Walker, Vice President of War Dogs, believes—at least with the rounds they have already played—the game is harder this year than in the past.

“I feel like it’s a lot harder to fully visualize the game without a teacher being there and making sure we don’t go off track,” Elyse said.

Despite these complications, however, the main parts of the game are understood by the participants.

It was a lot of fun to be able to take control of another country and just sort of play with it and see how it went.

— Alex Shier

“I understand it pretty well,” Elyse said. “Our goals aren’t too hard to understand, but a lot of the crises are a little confusing with the [way they are] worded.”

Throughout the game, the students have to accomplish numerous goals—from becoming a developed country with universities, roads, industrial sectors, oil, and less than 10% poverty to completing a list of thirty conflicts.

Each country and arms dealers also have their own personal goals given to them which might be conflicting with another establishment’s goals.

Part of the reason Ana was forced to reach extreme lengths—such as emailing Anderson and trying to record him telling her she wasn’t the saboteur—was due to her country’s suspicious goals.

“We all thought we were doing what was best for our country,” Ana said, “but what was best for our country wasn’t good for other countries.”

The saboteur is a role many people wish to be and is an added struggle for the continent. The saboteurs—who are only known by Anderson—must “spread ambiguities, chaos, and intrigue” and sabotage the continent in any way they deem possible. Atlantis must find and convict these students before the game ends in order to win.

Senior Alex Shier, former President of Denai, was not one of his hour’s saboteurs, so this feeling of struggle was common for him as he played the game last year.

“[Finding the saboteur] was quite frustrating,” Alex said, “because it was very much like playing whack-a-mole. Someone would make an accusation, and then we would all gang up on that person, and then we just confused ourselves, and whoever we thought [it was] would get away and make us think it wasn’t them.”

The job of the saboteur is to cause confusion and chaos, and for Alex’s class, that is exactly what they did.

Despite the frustration that came, Alex was glad he got to participate in the World Diplomacy Game.

“It was a lot of fun to be able to take control of another country and just sort of play with it and see how it went,” Alex said. “Anderson took a very hands-off approach to the game and kind of let us do our own thing. It was really fun interacting with other people and trying to figure out their true motives, who was your friend and your enemy, and how could you accomplish your goals. He sort of sat back and let us figure it out ourselves, so that was a lot of fun.”

Junior Dominic Destefano, President of Bradavia, has only been playing it for four rounds, but he agrees with Alex in the fact that it is worth the experience.

“It’s a fun game,” Dominic said. “It’s a nice break from constantly trying to hit the textbooks, and [you get to] put what you’re learning into kind of a real-life situation.”

Not only is the game entertaining for the students but also teaches them in a way that they want to learn. They aren’t sitting and listening to lectures or looking at a slideshow; they are engaged and wanting to go to class for a break from the rest of their school day.

“For me, project-based learning is the best way to keep people’s attention and keep them engaged in a subject,” Dominic said. “Especially with ones like [Anderson’s] Age of Empires and world diplomacy, you start by thinking you aren’t gonna get much out of it and that it will be boring, and then, by the end, you get super into it, and when the teacher will say, ‘so you just had this attempt to protect yourself from the plague, so that’s what it was like with the Black Death,’ it helps change your thinking about some of the events in history.”

In general, project-based learning is a way for students to actively participate in their learning that is a better way for some to learn.

“Doing project-based learning captures the attention of all students,” Dominic said, “especially myself, more [than] them making a slideshow or something like that. It’s all about connecting things to the subject without truly thinking about it because you are doing something other than sitting through a lecture or reading a book.”