Monopoly …no, seriously
As someone with a few too many games, I know that I play a lot of weird stuff. I have games about battling goats, running a power company, and climbing mountains. But there’s a game in my collection that seems to surprise other gamers – Monopoly. Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect, but there’s a good chance the game you’d play today isn’t quite what you’d expect.
Monopoly is one of those games that everyone has and a lot of gamers like to poke fun at. The reactions are all the same, with quips about how many days it takes to play and how there are such better games out there.
And they’re right – Monopoly isn’t the greatest game ever, but it’s a staple in most American households. It’s a game that even if you haven’t played, you know it. It’s been referenced in comics, movies, books, TV shows, and is run annually as a contest through McDonald’s. Everyone knows the line, “Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” It’s a part of our culture.
But that’s not why I’m saying you should play Monopoly. I know, you’re thinking I’ve been sniffing model paint or something, but I’m being quite serious. Monopoly is not a terrible game, and if you’d give it a chance, maybe you’d learn something about gaming.
First thing’s first, almost no one I’ve asked actually knows the rules to Monopoly. They think that they do, but when you show them the rules, it gets all fuzzy as to where they learned it. There are two main culprits here, with one being an additional rule and one being a often overlooked rule.
Despite what you may think, and how you remember playing it, landing on Free Parking doesn’t get you anything. It’s Free Parking, that’s it. You don’t earn any money because nothing goes under that space. Treat it just like passing by Jail. You’re just visiting. The other rule is about auctions. Let’s say I land on Boardwalk, one of the most well-known properties, and the most expensive. Let’s also say that I’ve hit a run of bad luck and I’m down to $200. What happens after I grumble that I don’t have enough to buy it myself? It goes up for auction, with all players able to bid on it. This means it can go for as little as $1, though that’s unlikely. It also means it can go for far more than the $400 printed price.
These two rules, when played properly, significantly speed up the game. The goal of the game is to be the last one with money, so removing a source of free cash from Free Parking will help eliminate players faster. If someone lands on a property and doesn’t buy it, someone will end up getting it, meaning that most properties will be owned within a trip or two around the board, leading to more money exchanging hand, more rent being owed, and more trades happening.
Despite the chaos that most of us remember from our childhoods, there is strategy in Monopoly. I’m not saying it’s a deeply strategic game, but there are things you can do to optimize your chances at winning the game.
There are 22 properties in Monopoly, but they’re not all equal. The orange and red property blocks are the most frequently visited in the game. This means getting some or all of those properties may increase the amount of rent you get paid throughout the game, which is obviously a good thing. As nice as the dark blue properties are, Park Place gets hit the least often. Knowing this can lead to some interesting power moves through trades.
A standard game comes with 32 houses. If I were to own all the yellow and green properties, six in total, my personal goal would be to get four houses on each of those locations as quickly as possible, but not upgrade them to a hotel. The reason for this is if there aren’t any houses in the bank, they can’t be purchased, which means that controlling the supply means no one else can increase the rent on their properties, resulting in your opponents not earning nearly as much money as you can.
One of the big things about Monopoly is that there are many versions. There are 1,080 entries on BoardGameGeek for games with “Monopoly” in the title, which shows that the game has been branded in many ways. Enjoy watching cartoons with your kids? Try the Steven Universe version. Want to threaten to force choke your opponents? Check out one of the eight versions that are tied to Star Wars. For most interests, there exists a version of Monopoly, and it’s silly, but it can help people connect to the game and get a little more interested in it. It’s pasted on and doesn’t really impact the game in most cases, but maybe there’s a theme out there for you. If you want to try it but prefer something faster, maybe the recent Monopoly Gamer is for you, which feels like a mix of Monopoly and Mario Kart.
I’m not saying Monopoly is perfect, or that it’s for everyone, but it’s a game I feel you should sit down and give another shot, with all the actual rules and none of the house rules. It probably isn’t the game you remember, and it’s worth giving it a fair shot.
Ken, I agree with you … up to a point. The game is fine when played by the rules, with no house rules.* I played in a local Monopoly tournament, and although there was a 75-minute time limit imposed, most games finished in less time than that because players knew what they were doing.
I believe that the best part of the game is the middle, when the trading is happening and people are trying to form monopolies and figure out how much is too much to offer for that third orange. That deal-making is really, really fun. The first part of the game is just roll and move, when luck determines what your starting properties are. The last part of the game also devolves to roll and move, when everybody has established their monopolies and are just racing to bankrupt each other. But the middle part of the game is the interesting part, and that’s what I still love it for.
But the game still depends on the players. If players are afraid to make deals, or stonewall each other, and nobody creates a monopoly or invests in houses, the game really can go on forever, as the “Go” space perpetually adds cash to the system and rents are too low for anyone to go bankrupt. I think people who don’t realize that Monopoly is a real estate trading game and just treat it as a roll-and-move luck game end up with that bad experience of a game that never ends. So the game end condition depends very much on players being aggressive traders and investors to drive up those rents.
Thanks for the reminder that Monopoly can be a fun game.
* Actually, I’ve played with one house rule so that there is no player elimination: When the first player goes bankrupt, the player with the highest net worth wins the game. That rule shortens the game, and it ends for everybody at the same time.