Monopoly: Legendary for all the Wrong Reasons

I remember the first game of Monopoly I ever played. I loved it. The colourful board, the little car, dog, and old boot playing pieces. The fact that you had fake money and could buy stuff, that you could win second prize in a beauty contest. It was all so enticing and new.

I was young and didn’t really understand how the game worked. I hoarded my cash, before eventually, cautiously, buying Old Kent Road, the cheapest property. My mum pointed out to me that you get money if another player lands on a square that you own. Unfortunately, I had the attention span of a hyperactive spaniel. My sister landed on Old Kent Road. I didn’t notice, probably distracted by my own nose or something. After it was too late, my mum pointed out what had happened. I had a tantrum and refused to play.

Once I had calmed down, and reluctantly re-joined the game, I began to understand, and feel joy. The joy of ownership, of getting piles of loot, of buying, selling, negotiating. Of winning. And of course, watching others lose, watching them take in the smug grin on your face as they hand over the cash. That’s why Monopoly has endured for 80 odd years. There’s an element of it that’s actually fun. And that’s the worst part because Monopoly is crap.

If it had no redeeming features whatsoever it wouldn’t be so frustrating, because people would realise, and never play the damn thing again. The early stage – the trading bit, the accumulation, it’s sort of enjoyable. And so, occasionally, you forget that it’s crap and play it again. And then you remember.

I’m assuming you’ve played it before, because everyone has, so I won’t waste time going through too many of the details. You know that Monopoly is player elimination – you go bankrupt, you’re out of the game. What do you do when that happens? Sit around and wait for the others, getting bored to tears as they go around and around the board like a dull never ending conga line? Go and do something else by yourself? Sort of defeats the purpose of a board game, sitting on your own, doesn’t it? It wouldn’t be that bad if players were eliminated in quick succession. But games of Monopoly can go on for hours. There’s no fixed end point. In theory, a game of Monopoly can go on forever, a Groundhog Day style purgatory. You can play with a time limit, or a fixed number of turns, but that feels like an unsatisfying anti-climax.

It’s fine having a game with no end point if everyone’s still having fun, but at a certain point, it becomes clear that one person is going to win, and everyone else is just waiting to lose. You could give up, but stubborn players, of which there are a few, will cling on just out of spite, or others just want to see how it all ends up. resulting in endless, grinding, repetitive tedium.

The whole point of the game is to mess with the other players. It’s hard going playing with children, or people with thin skin, with bad winners, or bad losers, and if there aren’t any of those at the beginning of the game, it generates both. Want an argument, resentment, bad feelings, or maybe even a board flip? Play Monotony – the perfect game for miserable family occasions.

There’s a lot of luck involved, but only one basic strategy. Get a set, and build houses as quickly as possible. That’s it. You don’t really make many decisions, and, mostly, the game plays itself, leaving most players, most of the time, as onlookers, just waiting for the thing to end.
Oh, there are some things that are handy to know, like 7 is the most likely number to come up, and therefore there’s more chance of people landing on certain squares than others. That it’s worth trading in expensive properties for cheaper ones, as you can develop them quicker. That you should horde houses, as there is a limited stock.

And yes, you should probably do all those things, if your intention is to try and win. But if your intention is to play a game where everyone is having fun, you’d be better off throwing the game in a skip. Monopoly has its origins in ‘The Landlord’s Game’, it’s purpose to illustrate that letting someone own a lot of property is bad and that rent makes landlords rich at the expense of their tenants. It was intended to be unfair, to teach children that this sort of thing is wrong. A game often regarded as a celebration of capitalism was intended as precisely the opposite. It’s broken, by design. The idea was, stolen, ripped off, and bastardised, with a man taking the credit for a woman’s work, all in the pursuit of profit.

When playing a ‘nostalgia’ edition a few years ago with some friends, to make the game more interesting, I traded in the shiny metal car for a miniature from another game. Thus Orcs-a-million Moneypants, Lord of the Slums, was born. He strutted around the board buying and developing all the cheapest properties, a rogue landlord with the body of a green monster clutching a meat cleaver, in an imagined monocle and top hat, his arrogant swagger somewhat symbolic of the game itself.

The frustrating thing is that Monopoly could be so much better. The money and trading aspect is pretty good, but it can’t excuse the gaping problems that litter the game like swiss cheese. It gives board games a bad name. Rolling to move. Those stupid house rules like putting money under ‘free parking’ or not auctioning properties, which only prolong the game even further. Going to jail for no good reason. There are other, better, games out there. Play them instead. Please.

 

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