Monopoly: The Game That Board Gamers Love to Hate

Posted on Posted in Game Breakdown

Monopoly has been around since 1933 and it’s been grandfathered into every store and every closet. Most people I know have at least two copies of some kind of novelty Monopoly that they don’t remember receiving. When you tell someone that you’re into board games, they often ask, “oh, you mean like Monopoly” before you instinctively cringe. Currently rocking a sold 4.4 on BoardGameGeek, Monopoly is the kind of game that board gamers love to hate.

I can't make this stuff up, folks.
I can’t make this stuff up, folks.

At first glance, I scoff at the notion of picking on such an old game. After all, “the best game is the one that gets played” – at least to some extent. Games tend to hit their stride after everyone has played a few games and begun to develop strategies. Monopoly defies this tendency.

Every board game breakdown I’ve done so far: Patchwork, Pandemic, Twilight Struggle, and Carcassonne has been a labor of love. By emphasizing the effects of well-implemented mechanics in thoughtfully crafted games, I’ve helped game designers learn how to create games by using examples of success. It’s time to look at failure for a change. What better game to use as an example than one we’ve all played?

monopoly-park

 

Monopoly Has Issues with Runaway Leaders

Assets beget assets in Monopoly. People who are lucky enough to land on good property in the early stages of the game can snatch it up in a minute and lock others out of the market. It’s almost as if the game was invented to teach people about the potential evils of capitalism.

Potentially dangerous economic and political commentary aside, games with runaway leaders suck. Nothing takes people out of a game like the realization that they cannot win. Monopoly does not only reward asset holders proportinate to their holdings, but it rewards them exponentially, letting them get further and further ahead. Meanwhile, losers have four or five hundred dollars in their name and pray not to land on Boardwalk.

"I knew I should have gotten Free Parking!"
“I knew I should have gotten Free Parking!”

 

Monopoly Does Not Make Judicious Use of Luck

To some extent, Monopoly could make up for its exponential runaway leader issue through Chance and Community Chest cards. However, they’re about as likely to be good for a player as they are to be bad. Very few cards adjust for the current position of the player. There is no leveling impulse to the game. Chance and Community Chest cards can even cause a person to lose the game entirely.

Making a choice on which properties you can buy comes down to landing on them by means of random dice roll. Trading is a crapshoot with players who aren’t willing to come off their properties. Not only do players with early assets dominate the game, but asset acquisition feels entirely arbitrary.

 

Monopoly Has Pacing Issues

Despite letting leaders run away and providing inadequate catch-up mechanics, Monopoly is not a fast game. In fact, it tends to drag on for an hour or more before the obvious leader finally claims victory. You can drag a game on by being the losing player who keeps landing – by random dice roll – on properties not owned by your opponent. This is not at all hard to do, especially considering that you keep getting $200 just for rolling the dice five or six times!

Auggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!

table-flip

 

Okay, I’m done flipping the table on this game. For all its problems, Monopoly has done a lot of good. Many of us got into board gaming because of it and many of us have nostalgic memories of it. Let’s just agree to never make anything like it again 😛

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3 thoughts on “Monopoly: The Game That Board Gamers Love to Hate

  1. Interesting post.

    I think the two problems I have with Monopoly are that the dominant strategy is basically to bully the weakest player(s), and that the game goes on far too long after a winner is clear (yeah, the killer combo of a runaway leader and the end of the game nowhere in sight!). I think it wouldn’t take too much to make it a far better game. Maybe not a great one, but let’s try a couple of tweaks to start with:

    1) Victory goes to the first person to own (off the top of my head) $10k in total assets, or whoever is the richest player when either all the houses or hotels run out from stock, or the first player is eliminated.

    2) Get rid of the Chance and Community Chest cards. Possibly completely, but alternatively give them effects that either provide a rubberband effect to give trailing players a better chance, or push the game towards an endgame in some way (maybe after 4 of a specific event has been turned up, that’s an alternate end-of-game). Or perhaps providing some luck mitigation effects.

    I played Monopoly earlier this year, for the first time in ages, and came to the conclusion that, while it isn’t great, I don’t really have a problem with the no-control-roll-and-move thing, as it is effectively a random event generator, and later in the game it can be interesting as you can use probabilities to decide which properties to develop based on where the other players are.

    1. Thanks for the comment! To address what you’ve said:

      I agree that the no-control-roll-and-move dynamic isn’t the root of the issue. Random events can actually be a very good part of game design since they keep the game fresh and force players to think in probabilistic terms. You just have to be super careful how you implement random events, which Monopoly isn’t.

      I think a tighter victory condition would help with both pacing and runaway leaders. I’m not sure how that’d work with $10K in assets or your houses/hotels objectives, but I’m curious and would love seeing that in action.

      I think abandoning Chance/Community Chest cards miss a good opportunity. I think using them as leveling cards would make a better game.

      I feel like there should be a “Make Monopoly Playable” contest among gamers. Ways to modify the game to make it a better game.

      1. Yeah, I was just riffing off the top of my head there! 🙂 With some more time, thinking and playtesting, the game could easily be rehabilitated, and a contest might be fun except for two things (probably more, but these are the main ones for me): firstly, I have so many other ideas bouncing around that I should really be concentrating on, and secondly, I expect most potential players would be driven off either because “it’s still Monopoly” or “you’ve messed with Monopoly”. It’s much like the big pitfall in designing Chess variants. That said, like the Chess variants, “fixing” Monopoly would almost certainly be an excellent exercise.

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