While I am a Political Junkie, I do actually have other interests outside of politics. Occasionally, I share my thoughts on subjects like Cynicism in Science Fiction, the marketing of John Carter or the viral nature of the Guy Fawkes mask. You can find all these articles under the heading “Time Wasters“.
Monopoly is the quintessential board game. When people talk about friends or family gathering around a table and putting pieces on a board, they usually picture Monopoly. This bothers me immensely because Monopoly is a terrible game.
History: Monopoly was originally conceived by Elizabeth Magie in 1903 as a way to demonstrate the evils of capitalism and the destructive ways that landowners can extort money from people. It was a mild success but it was not until 1935, when Parker Brothers bought out the patent and revamped the rules did it really take off.
With the Depression still dragging on, the game appealed because of the ability for average Americans to “own” such well-known landmarks as Marvin Gardens and Connecticut Avenue (spoiler: Connecticut Avenue is statistically the most profitable square on the board). So why is it so terrible?
It is poorly paced. Think about how it unfolds, four people sit down to play a game together. After an hour of playing, two players are knocked out of the game and the last two players are stuck for another three hours trying to bankrupt each other. It is frustrating for the people who have to sit out and it is aggravating for the two stuck in a final death spiral.
Compare it with another Parker Brother’s classic game: Life. When playing the game of Life, all the players finish the game roughly within fifteen minutes of each other. There are even squares on the board that allow slower players to take a second turn to “catch up.” That way everyone can conclude the game together and move on to the next activity as a group.
It is a zero sum game. For one person to gain money, they have to take it from another player. Sure there are a few methods for obtaining money from the bank (“Collect $200 as you pass ‘go'”) but almost every action you can take is intended to extract money from other players, rather than build your own resources. This function is not bad, on its own. One of my all-time favorite games, Risk, is a zero-sum game (you only gain power by seizing countries from nearby players) however, combined with the poor pacing, this can make Monopoly deeply frustrating.
This is one of the reasons that cooperative games have become quite popular, where the players work together against the board game itself and they all either win or lose. Scotland Yard, where the players work together to locate a criminal hiding in the London Underground, is a classic example of a cooperative game.
Finally, Monopoly is a sell-out. Now I’m no stranger to the corporate culture that has rapidly consumed the board game market, especially since Settlers of Catan brought adults back into the game buying world. Now the major board game companies pump out an expansion to popular games every year, however Monopoly has taken this one step further. They offer themed editions of games.
For example, you can purchase “Seattle-opoly,” except rather than showing popular well established local businesses, Monopoly auctions off squares on its own board to whichever local company is willing to pay a fee to appear on a square – making the board game more a function of buying power than actually reflecting the community it is supposedly featuring. This is in addition to the thousands of licensed other themes (Star Wars Monopoly, Pixar Monopoly, Pete Kremopoly, etc).
I guess there is a certain sort of dramatic irony in the fact that a game meant to illustrate the evils of capitalism has become the poster child for just that.
So next time you are considering a game to buy or play, consider one of these instead. It will save your game night from ending up just like these poor confused aliens: