You Are a Ministry of Food

The Open University's Chris A. Williams (who should be confused with the Chris Williams who comments here frequently, since they are the same person) has done a good thing by developing a nifty online simulation called Beat the Ministry, to accompany a joint OU/BBC television series -- on which Chris is lead academic consultant -- Wartime Farm (see also here and here). Beat the Ministry puts you in charge of planning British agriculture during the Second World War. You get to decide how much land to devote to farming, how many horses to use in ploughing as opposed to tractors, and how much land to allocate to the different types of livestock and crops. There are three rounds corresponding to the early, middle and late war periods. To maximise your score you need to take into account the way these choices interact with each other; for example, barley is good fodder so you probably don't want to skimp on that if you've decided to increase the number of horses used in order to reduce fuel and machine imports... and so on. There are also various crises which you'll need to respond to, such as labour shortages and the Battle of the Atlantic. Beat the Ministry is nicely done (especially the mock newsreel introductions), fun to play and should prove useful for exposing students to the kinds of decisions and factors that the real Ministry of Food had to weigh. Give it a go!

I haven't managed to actually beat the Ministry yet. But one thing I have learned: don't rely on the Australians.

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12 thoughts on “You Are a Ministry of Food

  1. Chris: this is absolutely ace (and not only because – through following Edgertonian advice – I managed to beat the man from the Ministry…)

  2. Cool. I never knew sugar beet could be interesting…

    Can I have a point for spotting anachronistic use of ‘keep calm and carry on’? I’ve been waiting for it, for a while now…

  3. Ian Evans

    But do you get any of the rather nice orange juice concentrate they used to issue?
    And I used to enjoy the spoonfulls of cod-liver oil and malt.

  4. Neil Datson

    I’m far too busy farming at present, now we’ve finally got some dry weather. But as soon as I’ve got time I’ll check out whether I’m actually any good at producing food!

  5. I have somewhere draft notes and a rough prototype for a ‘beat the DTD’s AD(Engines)’ board game/simulation that I was thinking about running as a public engagement exercise; once the ever-loving thesis is done, I should really see about doing some playtesting…

  6. Fun!

    Many years ago I ran across Stalin’s Dilemma, which was a somewhat bleaker variant on the same theme – can you allocate resources to industry, transport, the military, etc, in order to boost your military and industrial potential to a certain level by 1941… without killing too many of your own citizens in the process.

  7. Chris Williams

    Cheers Brett (nods modestly). I’m actually one of two OU academics working on the show – the other is Becky Taylor who has the advantage of being a farmer as well as a historian of the British countryside.

    I queried the use of ‘keep calm’ in the simulation – I think that in context it’s not _quite_ anachronistic. I made sure it didn’t get into the series, though.

    In an ideal world there would be an open-source simulation construction kit which vaguely techno-savvy historians could use for teaching. Alas, we contracted this one out, so it didn’t get done by some of the OU’s many open-source fans.

  8. Chris, It’s a cheap shot I took, and I think in this context should get the lo-lo-lo status is deserves. (No reason you can’t use ‘keep calm’ and it actually helps wartime context to the modern reader, though the term would be alien to 95% of the people in Britain in 1939.)

    On the other hand, I think the ‘game’ is a neat idea, and a thoroughly interesting one too. One thing that might seem obvious, but I think is a great lesson, is the linked sliders making 110% impossible; as a concept getting people to grip that interlink is often harder to get over, but is presented as baseline here. Great.

  9. Post author

    Chris:

    In an ideal world there would be an open-source simulation construction kit which vaguely techno-savvy historians could use for teaching. Alas, we contracted this one out, so it didn’t get done by some of the OU’s many open-source fans.

    I wonder how feasible something like that would be. Making it both generic enough to fit a wide variety of scenarios and straightforward enough for a non-developer to plan and program said scenarios could be tricky.

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