It had to happen at some point. We needed to review one of the best-selling board games of all time and the one which has probably got the most scorn and derision from hobby board gamers. Monopoly. There is a high probability that it is the first board game you’ve ever played. It is also a high probability that it’s the first game that caused a massive argument with siblings/friends/cousins etc. It’s a game so contentious, we couldn’t even agree on who was best to write the review. And that’s probably a good thing.
Because Monopoly is such an institution of a game at this point in our lives, regardless of it being the butt of a joke or an indignant response of “No, not like Monopoly,” we’ve taken two of our bloggers from different generations and both have given their review of the classic roll and move game.
For the uninitiated, Monopoly is a roll and move game about property development. You take your pair of dice, roll them and move your pawn (a seemingly unnecessary pewter object or animal that everyone had a favourite of) that number of spaces and see what happens. You’ll generally land on a property, which you can either buy or (more likely as the game goes on) pay rent to an opponent. There are some other spaces, such as Go (Collect £200), Chance, Community Chest and Go to Jail, which are all pretty self-explanatory.
As players develop the property portfolio and buy complete streets, they can then spend money to upgrade their buildings, thereby increasing the rent they can collect. There is also the little-known auction mechanic, in which a property automatically goes up for auction when a player decides not to buy it. Starting at a single pound. Even back in the 30’s, buying something in London for a pound was ridiculous. Players are effectively playing until everyone else at the table is bankrupt and the last player standing wins. Those are the facts, let’s get into opinions.
Monopoly was the first game I ever owned. Still at primary school I saved up my pennies and sixpences and threepenny bits (Google them!) in an old tobacco tin until I had the then princely sum of 25 shillings to proudly take possession at my local newsagents.
I played with my friends, my friends family, everyone at Christmas. We played for hours not realising it takes a long time to finish. We played on ignoring the plaintiff cries of those who knew hours before they had no chance of winning or even getting to the end. We didn’t always fall out and have rows about it and we very rarely threw the board up and stomped out of the room!
Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game in 1935 from Charles Darrow who had “invented” it in the 30’s. Darrow had in fact developed it from playing “The Landlord’s Game” created by Elizabeth Magie in 1903. Parker Brothers weren’t originally keen citing three basic errors in design, but they went ahead anyway. As Monopoly is now played in 114 countries, translated into 47 languages with countless variations and has sold in excess of 275 million copies, they’re fairly glad they did. Rank this performance against a modern successful Kickstarter campaign!
Monopoly is the one family board game that everyone knows about. Its phrases have entered the popular vernacular: – “Go To Jail”, “Do Not Pass Go”, “Monopoly Money”; a colleague of mine once kept his “Get out of Jail Free” card in his wallet in case of a brush with the law (NB this is not a valid legal defence) and its layout and trivia about it are valid quiz questions. By the way if you’re asked, the monocled, top-hatted gent in the logo is Rich Uncle Moneybags and is based on moustachioed financier J.P.Morgan. You’re welcome.
So why do so many people dislike it? Even the Royal Family have banned playing it because it causes too many arguments.
Monopoly is not a Marmite game – where you either love it or hate it – it’s more like a teen romance. You fall heavily for its charms only to slowly realise as time passes that you’ve grown out of it. I know, readers, for that was me. Why did I fall in love and why did I have to move on?
I first got Monopoly in the late 50’s/early 60’s and it was exciting. The iconic graphics were colourful, in an era where a £1 note in your birthday card was a big deal you were handling loadsamoney. £500 notes! You were building streets of houses and chains of hotels. Owning railway stations and public utilities and taking big lumps of money off your family and friends. This was a step-up form Snakes and Ladders and Ludo (not a bad game actually) and then the grind set in.
It takes so loooong! I notice on my 2002 edition it says from 2-8 players – neither end of that scale is acceptable – and from 8 yrs up but doesn’t give a time length. If you play a timed version with properties dealt out at start you probably still need 2-3 hours. And crucially well before that time some or most of the players know they realistically haven’t got a chance of winning. Not only that but one will have everything and everyone else will have nothing.
I only play games like that these days against AI on the computer. The delight when I discovered games that everybody would end up better off but someone would be slightly better off than you but so what, I’ve done alright. Poleconomy is a good example where everyone made millions (again released in the 1900s).
I think everyone should own a copy of Monopoly. Let’s face it, nearly everybody does.. It’s easy to understand; the grand-daddy of gateway games and then you can start your journey. Develop your own house rules to improve it. There’s so many of these now that there are even “official” sets of house rules.
Then gently move on to Careers, Carcassone, Catan, Camel Up (and that’s just the C’s!). When I had a games shop, designers would bring their games ideas to me and they would nearly always be 2 player abstract strategy games. I’d say they’ve already got Chess and Draughts, what they want is a new Monopoly where you shake the dice, move round the board and make a not too taxing decision. Their games don’t exist any more – Monopoly goes on.
Final disclaimer: I haven’t actually played Monopoly this century but I still remember!
Luke Pickles: Modern Monopoly Sensibilities
I have played Monopoly this century. This year, in fact, as part of my self-imposed challenge to play through my collection. Specifically, I played my 20-year-old copy of The Simpsons Monopoly, and let me tell you, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. It has been maybe 15 years since I last played it and I had forgotten I was missing some cards but that was ok. 14-year-old me had put little paper slips in to act as deeds so well done me.
The modern gamer that I’ve become now recognises the depth that Monopoly has because it’s not just roll and move. There is set collection, bidding, negotiation, player elimination, resource management but the big blocker is luck. If I were to redesign Monopoly now, I’d probably want to include something that mitigates the dice luck. Spending money to add or reduce pips on the dice or something similar.
As Pete says, Monopoly is a game every family seems to have in some iteration or other. I’ve had two different versions in my childhood and my parents have a copy of the Hong Kong variant.
Do I Think Monopoly Is A Good Game
No, not really. HOWEVER! For all the years I’ve spent saying “Monopoly is rubbish,” I had fun. I’ve definitely had worse gaming experiences.
Because we had low expectations and it was a game we felt we HAD to play, we decided to actually read the rules properly first and then just go nuts. We also chucked in a mercy rule after my partner landed on my upgraded Burns Manor (Park Lane in regular game terms) twice in quick succession. We enjoyed ourselves, but not enough to keep it in our collection. Even with us playing quickly, it took us over an hour and a half to reach our conclusion, and in a game when there is not much you can do to strategize, you kinda just have to hope.
With player elimination being a big bugbear of mine, I wouldn’t ever play with more than two. I couldn’t eliminate a friend from playing and then have them watch for the next hour. Especially if they’ve had the last 45 minutes knowing they’re going to lose. You would think that adding more players would mean that someone gets eliminated faster, but that’s simply not true. The money just moves around more frequently.
There is something to be said for having a big stack of cash, which is always fun, but it’s usually at the detriment of everyone else. I also do like the various pewter playing pieces.
There is so much variety these days with every version seemingly having a different set. I remember watching a show where the host explained how Monopoly pieces evolved over time, with a series of public votes, and it’s nice that the game can feel a little more personal in that way.
Monopoly isn’t as bad as everyone seems to remember it being. But that doesn’t make it any better to spend an afternoon playing. Monopoly seems to weirdly tread the line between an Amerithrash and a Euro game. The dice luck is very prevalent, but the other mechanisms are something you’d expect in a Euro. There is something endearing about Monopoly’s staying power that has made it a gaming institution. It isn’t a difficult game in the slightest, you just have to get past the playtime and inevitable pouting that will come with it.