You’ve played Monopoly before. You know exactly what I mean when I say, “Go To Jail; Do Not Pass Go; Do Not Collect £200.” You’re not sure where Old Kent Road is in actual London, but you sure as heck can point it out on the game board.
Monopoly is all about investing in properties, and forcing your opponents into bankruptcy. The winner is the last person standing, having total control over the market. It features a roll-and-move mechanism to move around. In the early- and mid-game stages there’s bidding and negotiating-galore, as players jostle for set collection. Towards the end, it becomes an economic battle with player elimination.
Released back in 1933, Monopoly is still printed and sold today (now by Hasbro). It’s based on an older title, The Landlord’s Game, which first came out in 1904. That’s a long time ago! Board games have changed a lot since then. In fact, many of them are almost unrecognisable in comparison. However, many of the aforementioned board game mechanisms are still at large, today. There’s lots of games that share the theme of city-building or a property ladder, too.
I’ve picked seven tip-top modern board games that share things in common with Monopoly. None of them include player elimination, because that’s a trend that’s fazed out of modern gaming (and it’s for the best). I’ve listed them in order of complexity, easiest first. Some of these games offer a bucket-load of depth, with oodles of fascinating strategy. Do you like Monopoly? Then you’re going to love these!
For Sale is a quick card game about buying and selling properties. It’s only about 20 minutes long – that’s much shorter than Monopoly! 3-6 players compete to try and make the most money. Like Monopoly, there’s auctions and bidding, with teeth-gritting raising of the ante. But that’s only 50% of For Sale…
You see, the game has two halves. To begin, every player has a pile of money. Property cards – as many as there are players – get revealed. These range 1-30, with 30 being a swish space station, and 1 being a cardboard box in a filthy alleyway! Players bid to claim the highest card among those present. If a player drops out of the bidding, they take the lowest-value card, and receive half of their current bid back. Only the highest bidder pays their entire offer. Then another x number of property cards enter the fray, and bidding begins again.
Rounds continue until players have bought all the building cards. Now the game flips on its head. In this second phase, the property cards you’ve bought now become your hand. As many cash value cards get revealed as there are players. These range from $0 to $15. Simultaneous, each player has to pick a card from their hand. The highest property card receives the highest cash value card. It’s very much a trick-taking style. The property cards have a one-time use, so players need to pick when to use them, wisely. Essentially, you’re ‘selling’ them, for one of the cash values shown. Hand management is now the name of the game!
Players total the sum of their purchased cash value cards, plus their remaining money. The richest player wins!
Machi Koro is a city-building game from Japanese designer Masao Suganuma. Each player is a ‘mayor’ of their own city and builds a tableau of cards. The winner is the first player to buy their four landmarks.
Everyone begins by having two city cards in their tableau: a wheat field and a bakery. There are numbers on every card. You roll a die on your turn; if you roll a number that matches that on one of your cards, you trigger that card’s ability. Usually, the abilities are ways to generate income.
Some cards pay out on the active player’s turn, only. Others trigger on anyone’s turn. Red cards have a take-that vibe, like paying rent in Monopoly. (The active player has to pay money to the red card’s owner). After every die roll, some people cheer as they check their cards: they’re earning $6! Others groan: they have to pay $2 to their neighbour.
Everyone takes or exchanges their income. Then the active player opts to buy one of the face-up building cards in a public display. Their tableau grows as a result, and die rolls are more likely to impact them. The aim is, of course, to earn as much money as possible. Because every player’s target is to afford their four landmark cards – these range in cost from $4 to $22. Holding out for that $22 is a dangerous gamble though, because doing so paints a big target on your forehead! Like Monopoly, it’s easier to spend money in Machi Koro, than it is to earn it…
In some ways, Dice City is a step up from Machi Koro. Theme-wise, players each control a city, which takes the form of a 6x5 grid of basic actions. It features engine-building, dice placement, and with it, dice manipulation. There’s also a dose of ‘take that’. Monopoly features the latter often: “You owe me… £28!” This aspect of Dice City will appeal to Monopoly fans.
Players have five dice, each a different colour. They roll them all, and place them in the corresponding coloured row and number column in their city grid. These indicate what actions they’ll trigger on their turn.
Some provide resources, which you can spend to buy locations with better actions. Once bought, you decide where to overlay this new card within your grid. Thus, your ‘engine’ receives constant improvement. Or, you can decide to trade specific quantities of goods off on ships for victory points. Other spaces provide military actions. You can fend off marauding bandits for points. Or you can sabotage other players’ location cards, or steal their resources! This forces players to sacrifice dice to repair said spots, to activate them later on. There’s multiple paths to victory, so you can win with or without bullying your opponents.
Dice City has a lot of dice rolling in it (I’d feel cheated if it didn’t, with a title like that)! As a result, it shares a thing or two with Monopoly. Yes, you pay for ‘properties’, but it also provides that yearning for certain numbers to show up. “Oh, I really need a yellow five right now…” And when it does, you get that fist-pump feeling. It’s like rolling one space more than landing on Mayfair with its big, scary red hotel.
Catan (or The Settlers of Catan) came out in 1995. Still a spring chicken in comparison to Monopoly, but it’s stood the test of time. Catan won the ’95 Spiele des Jahres (Family Game of the Year), and rightly so. It’s a modern classic. Klaus Teuber’s masterpiece was the game that lured many people into the hobby (myself, included).
3-4 players begin on the modular island of Catan, which consists of 19 hexes. There are five different terrains, and a you’ll place a number (between 2-12) on each hex. Players begin by having a settlement on the point where three hexes meet. Each turn, a player rolls two regular D6 dice. (The sum’s going to be between 2-12.) If you’ve got a settlement next to a numbered hex that matches the die roll, that terrain pays out! You’ll receive that hex’s corresponding resource.
Players spend specific resources on their turn to buy things. You need roads to link up your next settlement. Upgrading your settlement to a city doubles its efficiency. Settlements are worth one point each. Cities are two points. Having the longest road is two points, and so on. The winner is the first to 10 points, by spreading and settling across the island.
The thing about Catan that reminds me of Monopoly, though, is the negotiating. On the active player’s turn, they can barter and trade resources with anyone else. This is the heart of the game. Can you get the best deal, give your opponents something they want, but still come out on top?
To learn more about how to play and teach Catan, check out Zatu’s ‘How To Play Catan’ guide!
Many consider Lords of Vegas to be Monopoly-plus. Set in Nevada’s famous city, players aim to turn parking lots into mega casinos. Lords of Vegas features trading, dice rolling, and it’s economic, too (a casino business has to be, right?). It’s also the only game on this list to include paper cash!
Players turn over the top card to reveal a parking lot grid location. They mark this as theirs-inherent. Each lot has a cash value. On your turn you can turn parking lots you’ve claimed into (one of five different) casinos. This is like a tile-placement and area majority/influence mechanism. Each lot has a die face on it. When you buy a casino, you place one of your colour dice on your tile, with that matching die face. The highest die face in a contiguous same-type casino is that casino’s ‘boss’. Picking where to build, and what casino type, is a big decision.
The card’s also one of five casino colours. This casino pays out this turn, so everyone who has built part of that casino earns cash. Also, bosses of said casinos earn points when their card type comes up. Earning points like this is how you win Lords of Vegas.
There’s lots of ways you can interact and ‘bully’ other players, like in Monopoly. You can also gamble in other players’ casinos, to try and win money off them! You can expand your casino and encroach on other player’s turf. You can even take over other players’ casinos and force them to reroll their die faces! Please, no table-flipping here. Let’s try and keep things civil…
Suburbia feels akin to Sim City, the city-building simulation game for PC. Players take turns to buy hexagonal tiles, placing them into their growing suburbs. Each tile has direct impacts on its adjacent tiles. These could be financial benefits, or popularity peaks or troughs. (Some tiles, like the Slaughterhouse, deter residents and they flee town!) Sometimes the tiles you place give your opponents benefits too, so Suburbia offers interactivity in spades.
No dice rolling occurs in Suburbia, and neither is there negotiating, nor bidding. From a mechanisms point of view, Ted Alspach’s game doesn’t share much in common with Monopoly at all. Subrubia has an economic factor, though. Tiles have a cost, so you have to balance the books, somehow. There are certainly ways of making money off your buildings, too. Depending on where you place them within your neighbourhood, they can become mega-lucrative.
There’s set collection, too. Each player’s dealt a secret scoring method, so will be aiming to collect, say, green tiles. If the other player gets a whiff of what you’re collecting, they’ll buy it to stop you! (Sound familiar?)
The main reason I’ve listed Suburbia here is the theme. Do you like the feeling of building properties and watching your empire grow? Do you enjoy city-building to the point where your real estate becomes self-sufficient? Then you’ll love what’s going in Suburbia.
Le Havre is a medium-to-heavyweight Euro-style economic game by Uwe Rosenberg. It’s the deepest and most strategic game on this list. Le Havre can play up to five players, but I’d recommend you play is as a two- or three-player game. It’s based in the French port town of Le Havre (shock!), where players compete to become the richest shipping magnate.
Here, the main mechanism is worker placement. On a player’s turn, two resources get added to – and accumulate – in various docks. The active player can either take all the resources sitting in a resource dock. Or, they can move their worker to visit a different building and perform the action there. To begin with, players visit buildings to construct other buildings. Once bought, that building card joins their own shipping empire. Buildings cost specific resources.
Once a player owns a building, other players can visit it. But, visitors usually have to pay a cost (like rent) to the building’s owner to perform that action. Some allow conversion of goods for cash, or means of upgrading resources. Others are essential for providing goods to buy more buildings.
Paying this ‘rent’ to visit buildings is a familiar trait at play that runs parallel to those in Monopoly. You don’t want to visit your neighbours because you’re paying them (in either food or money). You can’t help it at times though, if those buildings are super-appealing! Buildings are not only ways of generating income, but they also provide points at the end. They’re assets after all, and the winner of Le Havre is the richest player…