Reacting Games Taught at Pace

Game descriptions are taken from the main website for Reacting to the Past, found at

The Second Crusade: the War Council of Acre, 1148

This simulation brings to life a dramatic moment in the history of the crusades. Students become the great gathering of monarchs, barons, religious authorities, and others that met as a war council in Acre on the eve of the Second Crusade, and “react” as participants in the discussions and debates that might have been held there. As William of Tyre, the most important historian of the twelfth-century crusader states explains, after the armies led by the French and German monarchs had arrived in the holy land in response to the Pope’s call for crusade, “a general court was proclaimed at the city of Acre to consider the results of this great pilgrimage, the completion of such great labors, and also the enlargement of the realm.

On the appointed day they assembled in Acre, as had been arranged. Then, together with the nobles of the realm who possessed an accurate knowledge of affairs and places, they entered into a careful consideration as to what plan was most expedient.” The war council must discuss and debate the idea of “crusading,” the justifications for holy war, and the reasons why a second crusade should be launched at this time. They must decide who from among the council’s participants should lead the crusade, and further if the authority for the crusade should lie in secular or religious hands. And finally, they must consider what city or area should be attacked and how. The debates are informed by Christian and Muslim teachings about peace and holy war found in the New Testament and the Qur’an. They are also informed by St. Augustine’s City of God, documents from the Investiture Controversy, and selections from various other historical sources about the Second Crusade and the crusader states, including William of Tyre, Odo of Deuill, Otto of Freising, Usamah ibn Munqidth, and Ibn al-Qalanisi. The Second Crusade game reverberates with issues that are as important today as they were in the twelfth century.

Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament

Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament transforms students into lords and commoners and members of the English parliament during the tumultuous years of 1529-1536. Cardinal Wolsey has just been dismissed as lord chancellor for failing to obtain from the pope the divorce king Henry is seeking from Catherine of Aragon, his wife of twenty years. Thomas More is named as Wolsey’s replacement. More presides over a newly summoned parliament, which the king hopes will somehow find the legal means to annul his marriage to Catherine, thus allowing him to proceed with his plans to marry Anne Boleyn and have by her a male heir.

But will parliament find the means, and will it be satisfied with solving the king’s marital and dynastic problems? There are some in parliament who wish to use the royal divorce, as well as the rising anticlericalism in the land, to effect a split from Rome and a conversion of England from Catholicism to Protestantism. Other members oppose the divorce, oppose making the king head of the English church, and, most of all, oppose this new, heretical creed filtering in from the continent. More is their leader, for as long as he can survive. Thomas Cromwell leads the king’s party. One problem is that the king is ambivalent about the reform effort unleashed by his so called “great matter,” and so the conservatives are free to prosecute reformers as heretics, while the reformers are free to prosecute conservatives as traitors. Conservatives are liable to this charge because their frustration at home tempts them to consider petitioning the king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor to invade England on behalf of Catholic Europe. The game reaches its dramatic climax around the trial of Anne Boleyn, staged as a grand contest between opposing parties, which parties actually are multiple and fluid. All roles are individualized and most are historically based. At issue is the clash of four contending ideas: medieval Catholicism, Lutheranism, Renaissance humanism, and Machiavellian statecraft. Students read works representative of all traditions.

The Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Liberty, Law, and Intolerance in Puritan New England

The Trial of Anne Hutchinson recreates one of the most tumultuous and significant episodes in early American history: the struggle between the followers and allies of John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and those of Anne Hutchinson, a strong-willed and brilliant religious dissenter. The controversy pushed Massachusetts to the brink of collapse and spurred a significant exodus. The puritans who founded Massachusetts were poised between the Middle Ages and the modern world, and in many ways, they helped to bring the modern world into being. The Trial of Anne Hutchinson plunges participants into a religious world that will be unfamiliar to many of them. Yet the puritans’ passionate struggles over how far they could tolerate a diversity of religious opinions in a colony committed to religious unity were part of a larger historical process that led to religious freedom and the modern concept of separation of church and state. Their vehement commitment to their liberties and fears about the many threats these faced were passed down to the American Revolution and beyond.

Rousseau, Burke, and the Revolution in France, 1791

Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791 plunges students into the intellectual, political, and ideological currents that surged through revolutionary Paris in the summer of 1791. Students are leaders of major factions within the National Assembly (and in the streets outside) as it struggles to create a constitution amidst internal chaos and threats of foreign invasion. Will the king retain power? Will the priests of the Catholic Church obey the “general will” of the National Assembly or the dictates of the pope in Rome? Do traditional institutions and values constitute restraints on freedom and individual dignity or are they its essential bulwarks? Are slaves, women, and Jews entitled to the “rights of man”? Is violence a legitimate means of changing society or of purging it of dangerous enemies? In wrestling with these issues, students consult Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, among other texts.

Threshold of Democracy - Athens

The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C. recreates the intellectual dynamics of one of the most formative periods in the human experience. After nearly three decades of war, Sparta crushed democratic Athens, destroyed its great walls and warships, occupied the city, and installed a brutal regime, “the Thirty Tyrants.” The excesses of the tyrants resulted in civil war and, as the game begins, they have been expelled and the democracy restored. But doubts about democracy remain, expressed most ingeniously by Socrates and his young supporters. Will Athens retain a political system where all decisions are made by an Assembly of 6,000 or so citizens? Will leaders continue to be chosen by random lottery? Will citizenship be broadened to include slaves who fought for the democracy and foreign-born metics who paid taxes in its support? Will Athens rebuild its long walls and warships and again extract tribute from city-states throughout the eastern Mediterranean? These and other issues are sorted out by a polity fractured into radical and moderate democrats, oligarchs, and Socratics, among others.

The debates are informed by Plato’s Republic, as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Xenophon, and other contemporary sources. By examining democracy at its threshold, the game provides the perspective to consider its subsequent evolution.

Beware the Ides of March - Rome

Beware the Ides of March: Rome in 44 BCE recreates the struggle for power and control of Rome following the assassination of Julius Caesar. The assassins, who believed they were liberating Rome from a tyrant, had no plan for setting the Roman state in order again. For them, Caesar’s removal was the remedy Rome needed, and the future would take of itself. The game begins the day after the assassination, and most of the action takes place in the Senate. Students are assigned roles as members of two principal factions, “Republicans” and “Caesarians” (the larger faction in the game, since Caesar had “packed” the Senate), or as non-partisan, or at least uncommitted, members of the Senate. Probable debates in the Senate fall under four general headings: public order, Caesar’s powers, foreign policy, and government. Some specific issues are whether Caesar should be honored with a public funeral or his body cast into the Tiber; whether to accept the legitimacy of Caesar’s acta; whether to regard the assassins as liberators or murderers; whether new elections should be held; and whether the Parthian campaign should go forward and under whose leadership. Students base their game personalities and their arguments in the Senate on excerpts from Cicero’s letters, orations and political writings, in particular de re publica, as well as other ancient sources. By grappling with the complex issues of Roman power politics at a moment of crisis, students gain perspective on the dynamics of late Republican Roman history and can evaluate Rome’s subsequent evolution.

Patriots, Loyalists, and Revolution in New York City, 1775-76

Patriots, Loyalists, and Revolution in New York City, 1775-76 draws students into the political and social chaos of a revolutionary New York City, where patriot and loyalist forces argued and fought for advantage among a divided populace. Can students realize the liminal world of chaos, disruption, loss of privacy, and fear of victimization that comes with any revolution accompanied by violence? How do both the overall outcome and the intermediate “surprises” that reflect the shift of events in 1775-76 demonstrate the role of contingency in history? Could the Brits still win? What were the complexities, strengths, and weaknesses of the arguments on both sides? How were these affected by the social circumstances in which the Revolution occurred?

Students engage with the ideological foundations of revolution and government through close readings of Locke, Paine, and other contemporary arguments. Each student’s ultimate victory goal is to have his/her side in control of New York City at the end of 1776 (not as of the end of the Revolution, when all know who won), as well as to achieve certain individual goals (e.g., slaves can attain freedom, propertied women can be granted voting rights, laborers can make deals for land). Winning requires the ability to master the high political arguments for and against revolution as well as the low political skills of logrolling, bribery, and threatened force. Military force often determines the winner, much to the surprise of the students who concentrated merely on internal game politics.