“Too technical, too complicated, took too long to play”
-Parker Brothers on Monopoly, 1934
Most people will admit that Monopoly is not fun. Everyone has been in that monopoly game that went too long, but no one wanted to back down. Property changed hands, prison terms were served, arguments erupted, and friendships were rapidly eroding. By hour 6 no one was smiling. The banker was accused of embezzlement and people were coming up with new combinations of curse words to describe the dice.
Eventually only two players remained, the rest of the party having exited the room to escape the bad mojo. No fun was being had, but still these two grizzled tycoons played on. With bags under eyes and stubble on chin, they orbited their thimble and iron about the board meaninglessly. While fortunes peaked and dipped, their faces remained impassive, drained of emotion. Then something in one of them snaps, and the market crashes. By market I mean the game board, and by crashes I mean is flipped. This is what happens when you play Monopoly. And yet, the game remains popular.
If you look at Monopoly as a simulation rather than a game, it becomes more worthwhile. It tells us that the only way to become rich through business is first, by being lucky, but also by disregarding any thoughts of fun or friendship and soldiering through boredom and hell. People who value friendship and like having fun usually tap out before going the distance in Monopoly.
You can tell a lot by a person by their opinion of Monopoly. People who like it are a highly competitive bunch. They prefer winning to having fun. Or rather, they have fun by winning. People who claim to excel at it are also of interest, being that the only way to get a significant edge is by out-enduring other players. ‘Monopoly pros’ are just people with iron stomachs for boredom and strife.
Monopoly as a simulation also teaches a bit about economics. In fact, Monopoly was originally invented as a way to teach people about the evils of leasing homes. It was called ‘the Landlord’s Game’, and was not meant to be fun at all. Instead, it would demonstrate that in our capitalist system, with people collecting income, owning property and paying rent, the land owners have an unfair advantage.
Worse still, under this system all money and property naturally comes to be owned by a single person. Humorously, the inevitable conclusion of a monopoly was seen then as pure evil, but is now eagerly sought after. The moral of the cautionary tale has become the win condition.
Another layer of irony is added when you consider how the game became a smash hit. People found this demonstration of evil to be fun, and played it for its own sake. A man named Charles Darrow picked up on its popularity and brought it to the Parker Brothers in 1934. They rejected it for much the same reasons I have. Then they themselves noticed its burgeoning popularity and reconsidered in 1935. They now had a monopoly on Monopoly.
The game became their biggest seller, and helped put the Parker Brothers on the map. People’s greed for fake multicoloured money in a Monopolist microcosm appeased two brothers greed for real monochrome money in a monopolist macrocosm. And you have to wonder if the original inventors would have discarded their anti-capitalist ethos if they knew what a gold mine they had on their hands.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that much of the problem with Monopoly stems from two very common house rules. So common, that many people think they are part of the game. If you have a copy, dig out that rulebook you ‘never needed’ to read, you might be surprised.
First off, when you land on a property which is not yet owned, you can’t choose to just “not buy it”. You either buy it, or it is instantly auctioned off to the highest bidder. If an unowned property is landed on in a turn, it must be owned by that turns end, even if property must be mortgaged to afford it. By forcing properties to be sold this way, the game is sped along. Both because money is being spent more haphazardly, and because players can pull into early leads by picking up cheap auction bargains.
Secondly, there is no cash reward for landing on ‘free parking’. No pot of money accrues throughout the game for this purpose. People added pots of money to be won here because it seemed strange to have a space that didn’t do anything. But it really is intended to be a blank space where nothing happens. And sure a random cash prize seems fun, but by adding another source of income for players the already unnecessarily long game of Monopoly is lengthened.
Might sound strange without the house rules, but its how the game was intended to be played. And it does shorten the game dramatically. Maybe some elements of chance and strategy are lost but at least games don’t end 10 hours later with broken friendships and the room covered in little red and green bits of plastic.
Lose any friends over Monopoly? Know any good variants or house rules?