Review by Common Sense Editor, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2012

Counties Work

County managers solve limited problems in this simulation game

Subjects & skills
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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Pros: Kids learn how decisions can affect each other and impact communities.

Cons: Keeping track of all the data -- popularity index, tax rates, spending plan -- can be hard and takes away from the fun of the game.

Bottom Line: In Counties Work, kids become government leaders, making tough decisions and learning how complex civic problems can be.

In the classroom, this kind of browser-based game teaches kids about civic issues and empowers them to make difficult decisions. It complements curricula around civics, government, and public finances. Players must be quick on their feet and keep an eye on the tax rate, the overall budget, and their popularity rating. A player also can expand the county to add more neighborhoods, which brings pros (more people, larger tax base) and cons (more requests for services, more expenses). Overall, kids will need a lot of brainpower.

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Counties Work is an online Sims-style game about the decisions government officials make on a daily basis, balancing citizen requests with available funding and priorities. Add a scale that measures the popularity of those decisions, and you've got an interesting civics game that becomes increasingly complex.

A player begins by choosing the name of her community (or using the random name generator) and an avatar for her character of county manager. An overlay tutorial quickly walks the player through gameplay, and then the requests from "citizens" start coming in. They start slowly but soon pick up steam, and the player must respond to requests for services from an increase in recreational fields to social services to pothole fixes. Each request requires the player to accept or reject it and, if accepted, to find the right government agency to deal with it. There's an allotted time for each request, and if players don't meet the deadline, they get penalized. More and more citizens line up as the game progresses, and it moves players through a quickened calendar, too, as life in the county rolls along. Players must keep in mind that their reelection is coming up, and if their favorability rating drops below 50 percent, the game ends.


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Kids will learn how a decision in one part of government impacts others, and how the interconnected nature of a community creates the need to think ahead. The game also wisely adds a handful of oddball requests, such as taxing people's animals or painting all buildings yellow, to keep it from getting too serious. Toss in a few unanticipated emergencies, such as a fire or hazardous waste spill, and players will soon feel as taxed as their avatars running around the streets of the community.

The main weakness of the game is its limited scope. The gameplay doesn't ever change, although the pace of it does, so students will be engaged but perhaps only for a limited time. They may quickly start making bad decisions just to game the system and see what happens when irrational decision-making enters the realm of county government.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Repetitive gameplay may lead to disengagement by students used to more complex, Sims-style gaming platforms. Amusing, but not very deep.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids can learn about county offices, including how they work, and what they do. They can also learn about budgeting, taxes, and fiscal responsibility. Learning is by trial and error.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The game starts with a quick tutorial and there is a link with clues on how to play. 

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Chad S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Shelburne Middle School
Staunton, VA
Counties Work helps kids visualize government services

[Disclaimer: beginning and ending in 2011, I worked with iCivics as part of its Teacher Council.]

"Counties Work" is a Flash game developed by iCivics and Filiment Games.It is part of the iCivics website and curriculum. It's supported by in-game instructions, an online teacher's guide, and an online follow-up lesson. "Counties Work" features iCivics's distinct graphic style, isometric perspective, and point-and-click interface.

In "Counties Work," kids are put in charge of county services and taxes. As citizens appear in town, kids click on the citizens to find out what they need. Kids then decide how best to help confused citizens ("Where do I pay my taxes?") and whether or not fund citizens' requests ("We need a new park!"). A few citizens make bogus requests that kids should reject to keep others happy.

If kids can keep the county afloat while keeping citizens happy for four "years," they are re-elected and win the game. Kids who mismanage their finances or citizens lose.

By playing "Counties Work," kids with iCivics accounts can unlock achievements and avatar items and accumulate Impact points to support charitable civic-engagement projects through iCivics.

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