I know, I know. It’s an easy target to hit. Sometimes it seems every boardgamer loves to hate on monopoly. And while (I think) there is good reason for this, there seems to be a tidal-wave of hatred for this game. And while there are some reasons why monopoly became so successful,I feel it has become a black mark on what the board gaming hobby can truly be.
So let’s go over what monopoly does right before we lay into it. Monopoly is a great example of polarising power. Want to feel powerful? If you’re on top in Monopoly, chances are you’re controlling the game. You can waltz into a property, flash some money, and soon players are forking out thousands just to stay there. If you’re on the other side, however, you are praying for a quick and early death to release you from a debt-ridden hell as you mortgage yet another property to pay the bills.
The other thing monopoly does well is marketing and variance. Well, not gameplay variance but thematic variance. The list found here shows you the mind-bogglingly large amount of monopoly themes you can buy. From Alice-in-Wonderland-opoly, to Zoo-opoly, there seems to be a different theme for every city, country and popular movie or TV show. It is insane. And as such, Monopoly can draw money from very particular demographics that otherwise wouldn’t be so inclined to fork out money. It’s a strategy that some (clickbaity) websites use- if they need clicks from a particular place, they’ll write an article like ‘Top 10 things you didn’t know about Perth!’. Monopoly is exactly the same. If they want money from Star Wars fans, they’ll make one (or six. Count ‘em) Star Wars monopoly sets.
Gameplay is where Monopoly starts to let the team down. Its mechanics are deeply flawed. It is a game of investment- a hundred dollars at the start of the game can multiply. If you roll badly on the first few turns you are down thousands by the end of the game. Very early on you can see pretty easily who the top dogs are, and who is going to drop out be bored for an hour or two. Another problem with Monopoly is its length. It can drag on for hours in a battle of attrition. If two or more players are lucky enough to roll OK and not be too far behind, it turns into a slug fest with one player landing on a hotel, only to have their opponent land on their hotel and so on and so forth. It’s like 2 armies that are held up in massive, fortified castles throwing rocks or pebbles at each other in an attempt to wear each other down. Eventually one may crack, but it may take a millenium. If monopoly was a quick, 10-minute ‘opener’, it might be a bit of a laugh with mates, but however it by dar overstays its welcome.
The problem with monopoly is that it was an educational game that got too popular for its own good. It was created to show the flaws in the ideas that an economist Henry George pioneered in the 1880’s- essentially it was created to show that monopolies suck. Once a person gets on top, they stay on top. It is a game designed to be flawed. However over time, it moved away from educational tone of ‘Hey folks, shouldn’t we stop the creation of monopolies’, to a family-centred board game. After the shift, monopoly started to get popular. And by the time I was growing up, it seemed every household had it lying around somewhere. It became the face of family boardgames.
So the reason I think monopoly has held back the hobby I love so much, is the fact that a lot of people’s experiences in boardgames start (and end) with monopoly. It is amazingly widespread, and is not representative of how a good boardgame can make you feel. There are no great moments in monopoly. No moments where you feel the outcome of the game depends your choices. If you win monopoly, it was because the dice made you win. It is fairly universally dismissed amongst the ‘core’ gamers. That so many people have one point sat down to play monopoly, and the fact that it genuinely sucks as an experience, it only damages the reputation of board gaming by showing it can be a long-winded and boring affair.
Think instead if a genuinely good board game, like Settlers of Catan, King of Tokyo, or Ticket to Ride was as widespread as Monopoly, we might no have needed to wait until the last few years to find the diverse and fun games that we find today.
If you feel a bit sadistic, and want to subject you and up to 7 of your (soon to be ex) friends to a game of monopoly, you can pick it up almost anywhere- boardgames stores, libraries, book stores. I swear I’ve seen some in petrol stations. Expect to pay around $40-50 for a standard version, and a bit more for specialised versions.