ASTK15347U COURSE: Introduction to Game Theory

Volume 2015/2016

Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS
Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS

Elective in the Specialisation "International Relations, Diplomacy and Conflict Studies"


Game theory is a mathematically formalized theory of strategic interactions. In most political instances, no single decision-maker (player) can determine the outcome single-handedly; the outcome usually depends on several or all participants' actions. Players act on the information at hand, as well as on expectations of the actions of others. Those actions depend, in their turn, on their information and expectations about all other players' actions, so all actions, information and expectations are intertwined in a complex and fascinating pattern. The analysis of strategic interactions, with due regard to these inter-dependencies, is precisely what game theory is all about. In this course, the key concepts and working methodology of game theory are presented using examples drawn mainly from international politics, such as the outbreak of war, the failure of environmental negotiations and the (ir-)rationality of terrorism.

Competency description:

This course is useful for students interested in working in any way with bargaining, whether as a representative of a public or private organization or in an observing role, for example as a political analyst or journalist. Students will acquire transferable skills that can be applied to any area of political science.

Learning Outcome

The course objective is to enable students to:

  • Set up a basic game, including payoffs
  • Illustrate the order of decisions in mathematical and graphical form
  • Calculate the Nash bargaining solution
  • Critically analyze the effect of repeated games, limited information and uncertainty
  • Apply game theory to new instances of strategic interaction
  • Reflect on the limitations, strengths and applicability of game theory in political science

Some additional readings containing mostly examples or alternative explanations will be available at the seminar start date, while the main course literature will consist of (924 pages):


Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff (2008): The Art of Strategy. WW Norton. (512 pages)

William Spaniel (2011): Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook. Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (275 pages)

Robert Axelrod (1984): "The live-and-let-live system in trench warfare in World War 1" in The Evolution of cooperation. Basic Books, pp. 73-87 (chapter 4). (14 pages)

Robert Powell (1991): "Absolute and relative gains in international relations theory" in American Political Science Review. Vol. 85, No. 4, pp. 1303-1320. (17 pages)

Kenneth W. Abbott (1999): "International Relations Theory, International Law, and the Regime Governing Atrocities in Internal Conflicts" in The American Journal of International Law. Vol. 93, No. 2, pp. 361-379. (18 pages)

Steven J. Brams (2000): "Game Theory: Pitfalls and Opportunities in Applying it to International Relations" in  International Studies Perspectives. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 221-232 (11 pages)

John Gale, Kenneth G. Binmore and Larry Samuelson (1995): "Learning to be Imperfect: The Ultimatum Game" in Games and Economic Behaviour. Vol. 8, pp 56-90. (34 pages)

George Johnson (1997): "To Test a Powerful Computer, Play an Ancient Game" in The New York Times, July 29, 1997. (2 pages)

Stephen J. DeCanio and Anders Fremstad (2013): "Game Theory and Climate Diplomacy" in Ecological Economics. Vol. 85, pp. 177-187. (10 pages)

Gerardo L. Munck (2001): "Game Theory and Comparative Politics: New Perspectives and Old Concerns" in World Politics. Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 173-204. (31 pages)

This course requires students to be comfortable with mathematical description of concepts and algebraic calculations.
This course will consist of a combination of lectures, written assignments, student presentations and discussions. We will also play a variety of games in class.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner