Bad Games People Still Play: Monopoly

“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.

How games of Monopoly end.

How games of Monopoly end.

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.

Just thinking about counting out all those fake single-dollar-bills is giving me a stomach ache.

Just thinking about counting out all those fake single-dollar-bills is giving me a stomach ache.

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.

"If people want to pay good money for boring crap like Monopoly, let 'em. We'll be here playing croquet, which is actually fun."

“If people want to pay good money for boring crap like Monopoly, let ’em. We’ll be here playing croquet, which is actually fun.”

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.

After all, the space is called "Free Parking", not "Randomly Reintroduce Inordinate Sums of Cash into the Game Economy Parking".

After all, the space is called “Free Parking”, not “Randomly Reintroduce Inordinate Sums of Cash into the Game Economy Parking”.

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?

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9 thoughts on “Bad Games People Still Play: Monopoly

  1. wolfkin

    I’ve always known those rules weren’t in the book. I never considered that they made the game even longer. I was a kid at that point. The math just never occurred to me.. how interseting.

    Reply
    1. zanderwarren Post author

      Hey, me neither. I didn’t notice how Monopoly was flawed at all when I was kid. In fact, I didn’t really consider that a game could be bad or good – just that it existed, that it was something to do.
      Another thing I never knew about Monopoly until I was older was how Boardwalk and Park Place weren’t actually that great. I had always thought since they were the most expensive they were the best. But since so many cards send you to jail, and so much of the game is spent going to and from jail, the properties directly after jail are the most visited, and so, the most valuable.
      Of course this information comes to me far too late, as I will likely never have to play Monopoly again (fingers crossed).

      Reply
  2. Scott Albrecht

    I think that a lot of Monopoly games are sold, maybe given as gifts, but rarely actually played.

    Reply
    1. zanderwarren Post author

      Definitely. Most households seem to have a long-forgotten copy, lurking at the bottom of their board game shelf. So on the plus side Monopoly dice, tokens, and money are usually available to be pillaged and used for a Pen-and-Paper RPG or something.

      And thanks for reading!

      Reply
  3. Ollie O'Shea

    I think you’re wrong. In fact, I know you’re wrong.

    Monopoly doesn’t need to take a long time. (no more than 90 minutes, somewhere between a filler game (a round of Dominion or The Resistance) and a game of Catan. Much quicker than a good Battlestar Galactica session. It certainly doesn’t take any time once there’s only 2 players left. Usually once the third last player is eliminated, no more trading will happen. So the game plays out super fast. And the person with the better assets (usually) wins quickly (5-10 minutes.) Occasionally the person in the worse positions wins creating a memorable “come from behind” experience: “I dodged his 3 hotelled sets on 4 laps of the board and got him on my 1 set every time!”

    People don’t know what monopoly is about. People think it’s a roll and move game (Snakes & Ladders.) But it’s a trading game. Compare to Settlers of Catan (lets say just he base game.) Each turn, dice are rolled, and game actions happen (Sheep and Wood pay out/rent is paid) But beyond that is the real game. In Catan, you’re planning what to build; In monopoly you’re planning which sets to go after.

    Monopoly is actually a fine game, reasonably quick (for what it is. I tend to prefer longer games) and it’s easy to have fun playing it. Maybe try it out.

    Reply
    1. zanderwarren Post author

      I actually have tried Monopoly (hence the above post), but thanks for your input.

      Whether you find something fun is subjective, so I suppose we’ll have to disagree on this one.
      But as I said in my article, Monopoly doesn’t take so long if you play it properly, so at least we can agree on that.

      Reply
    2. Ben Serwa

      The difference between the trading in Catan and the trading in Monopoly is massive.

      In Monopoly, there’s only one thing you want really bad out of any trade, to get a monopoly.
      In Catan, different people can approach the game’s objective, to get enough victory points to win, in different ways, so the different players at the table want different things.

      Therefore, you have to figure out what people are trying to do in Catan, and how much you’re helping them by trading with them. You can try to make trades that help you more than you’re helping them. Because the cards are secret and there’s different possible approaches to victory, you don’t have access to all the information necessary to make that decision perfectly, so you have to do a little detective work, suss out the strategies of the other players. It makes the game into an interesting puzzle.

      In Monopoly, all the information is laid out face up on the table, everyone has the same objective, and there’s only one correct approach to achieving that objective. Players who know what they’re doing in Monopoly know exactly whether they’re making the right move or not, which means trades either become too balanced, where there’s no way to get leverage over anyone, and therefore pull off a satisfying trade where you’re getting more than the other guy, or completely shut down, which negates trading altogether.

      Reply

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