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.
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 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.
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!
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 😛