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March 18, 2014 / Jett

Is Monopoly A Bad Game?

With millions of copies sold and a countless number of variants and evolutions since the 1930s, Monopoly is a board game institution. Even in 2014, you can go to any board game section and find at least three different versions of the game available for sale. Heck, I don’t even remember the last time I played a physical version of Monopoly with people, yet I happen to have the Nintendo and Family Guy editions of it on my shelf.

No one will argue the game’s ubiquity, but can it stand on its gameplay alone? The further I delve into the hobbyist gaming community, the more I see people label it as a bad game. Do I agree with this notion?

One point in the “Monopoly sucks” camp is the fact that in the dozens of times I’ve tried to play this game in person, I’ve never actually played it to completion. Games have dragged on for hours until we get bored and pack everything up. For many years, I simply thought that this was how the game worked. But then I played it on the PC in the late 90s and a revelation hit me: everyone plays this game wrong.

When you play it on the PC, it runs on default rules. There’s no questions about whether Free Parking gets you money, or when you can or can’t buy houses, how auctions work, or whether trades are possible. You get the play the game as intended, which is something that I’ve never experienced in real life. Everyone I’ve played with (including yours truly) had played the game wrong, which explains why this game had previously gone nowhere. Even the makers of Monopoly recognize this, as the rules in the box and the rules in the video game have settings for house rules. Here, you can adjust the game to include many of the misinterpretations of rules or made-up rules that have become popular.

The theory that people just don’t get Monopoly as a means of defending it as a quality title only goes so far. Many play the game incorrectly because the rules that come with the game haven’t done an adequate job of teaching others how to play it as intended. I like how the video game iterations of Monopoly can force players down the right path, but that doesn’t help the masses who bought a physical copy. People have been playing this game wrong for so long that when I try and explain to them the concepts of auctions and trading, they look at me like I’m from outer space.

Another criticism I see thrown at the game is the fact that it’s a game of chance. Yes, much of what happens is dictated by the roll of the dice, but I think labeling it as an all-chance affair is selling the game short. You do have to make some game-changing decisions about which properties to buy, which ones to support with houses and which ones to trade. I think that in particular, trading is the most important and interesting part of the game. The likelihood of being able to complete a monopoly on your own is slim-to-none, so you have to cut some deals in order to get your empire off the ground. Coming out as the victor in a trade can oftentimes seal victory, while being the loser in a deal can mean a quick end. What makes it interesting is that you’ll never really know who won a deal until after the game is played out. Trading away Boardwalk for instance may seem like the worst move ever. However, if you get two lesser properties that complete two monopolies, then that may pay out much better in the long run. Whether you enjoy engaging with these mechanics is another thing, but to say that there’s nothing to it isn’t fair.

After playing hundreds of matches against the computer on my PC and iPhone, the biggest knock I have against the game is how it handles player elimination. For a game that can take hours, it sucks to be the person who got eliminated 15 minutes in. It also suffers from a big runaway leader problem. Oftentimes in a match of Monopoly, one player will start to get on a roll and they just can’t be stopped. At this point, everyone else on the board will suffer a slow and painful death if they choose to give up as soon as the shift in power happens. Miracles can happen, though the likelihood of being able to overthrow the first dominant player is extremely unlikely.

Monopoly‘s popularity cannot compensate for a number of inherent design flaws or poor rules. If you wanted to make a case for it being a bad game, there’s ample evidence to do so. However, it doesn’t invalidate the fun I’ve had playing hundreds of matches against the computer and others with official rules enforced. Held up against modern classics like Ticket to Ride, or newer hotness like Pandemic, Monopoly‘s mechanics fall well short of that standard. But if you ever get the chance to essentially play it in a vacuum with the right rules and right players, it can definitely be more enjoyable than a never-ending dice-rolling experience. It’s admittedly a lot to ask of players, but I don’t think most people have truly given this game a fair shake, either.

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