Whenever I tell someone that I’m a board game enthusiast I often see that glint in the other person’s eye as they imagine me sitting down to my nth game of Monopoly clutching my money in one hand and blowing on my other as I shake the dice for a lucky double roll. If the conversation goes that far, I’ll correct that person of this mistake and mention some very popular games that have been around for over twenty years (such as Carcassonne and Catan) knowing full-well that they’ll have never heard of them. They then go through that peculiar shift of attitude from that bemused “You actually play Monopoly at every opportunity?” to “What’s wrong with Monopoly – the only game I’ve ever even heard of?”
So, what is wrong with Monopoly and why do I feel the need to correct people from thinking that I play it?
Firstly, a disclaimer. I grew up playing Monopoly. I have a limited edition Star Wars Monopoly that I’m quite please with. I will most likely play Monopoly again. Also, if you enjoy Monopoly, then this is not an attack on you or your interest. Of course you’re allowed to like Monopoly. Instead, see this as an opportunity to learn about games that should be played instead.
First up, Monopoly is a Roll-and-Move game.
Roll-and-move games have been in existence since before Snakes and Ladders and are, for the most part, not much more than that. You roll one to many dice, move your pawn the given number of spaces and perform whatever action is printed on that space. The boards may be different shapes, the actions may be anything from moving your pawn somewhere else (landing on a ladder or snake) to doing something in the real world (answering a Trivial Pursuit question). Roll-and-move games are usually printed in bright colours with big fonts because they are games designed for children to learn how to count and how to take turns. Of course there are more strategic roll and moves such as Ludo and Backgammon which are more engaging in that a player at least gets some choice as to which pieces to move but are still mired by lucky rolls of the dice.
For all its apparent complication. Monopoly is not much more than this. Roll the dice, pay the fine, read the card or buy the property. Occasionally, you may have to decide on buying houses or mortgaging a property, but these decisions usually follow either a logical inevitability or a slight push-your-luck element (I can afford to buy a couple of houses as long as I roll more than a 5 this turn.) One could also argue that there is a little bit of bartering with the swapping of properties to complete sets, but then no sensible person would ever allow another player to complete any of the sets beyond Free Parking. It’s admittedly a little more than a child’s first game but the outcome of the game has very little to do with the players’ input and more to do with the random roll of two plastic cubes with spots on.
Next up is House Rules. (See my other article on House Rules here)
Essentially, nobody plays this game the way it was designed and every deviation makes the game longer and less fun. Wherever two or more people with non-compatible house rules try and play, there’s always an argument.
It’s a Long Game
This in of itself isn’t a bad thing, Twilight Imperium, for example typically plays 6-8 hours a time (can be longer if you play an older edition), but it’s a game that keeps players engaged throughout its staggering runtime. Monopoly is a game that can start dragging very quickly and far exceed its welcome. There’s not much variety to the game play with the only interest being when you approach a side or corner stuffed with hotels and you’re just anxious now. When it’s not your turn there’s nothing to do except watch your properties like a hawk ready to claim rent before the next player rolls and you miss it. And refusing to swap your Dark Blue property for anything.
It’s a Player Elimination game
Player elimination games are usually short or played in quick rounds. That way, the eliminated player is back in after a brief wait while watching some pretty exciting action. If you go bankrupt early in Monopoly you might as well go and do something else because sitting there for another two hours is not going to be fun, even if you end up being the banker.
It’s only fun when you’re winning
This can be true for many games, but most games do address this by either concealing the points won until the end so nobody knows who’s winning or the game can be won or lost right up to the end. With Monopoly, it’s generally whoever buys three properties on their first three rolls, it just takes hours to then play out the already inevitable result. They’re sitting smug with piles of 500 notes and can’t quite fit all their properties on their bit of table calling out rent at every roll. Nobody else is happy.
This can be a reflection of who you are playing with anyway, regardless of the catalyst, but due to the nature of the game’s longevity and ruthlessness, the temptation of “let granny off this one time” or “I’ll pay you after my roll” to creep into the game to keep everyone playing and ‘happy’ can cause some interesting emotional explosions with lasting repercussions.
The question really is why are you playing Monopoly in the first place? Generally, you’re on holiday, there is no WIFI, there’s nothing on TV or the next meal is still hours away. You’re stuck together as a family and you need something to do together. Through some unwritten law, every house has to have a copy of Monopoly somewhere, and this inevitably gets dragged out with “Why don’t we play a game?”
The answer is simple, get a better game.
For the same price as a game of Monopoly (about £20) you can buy a much more engaging game that doesn’t have all the baggage I’ve just mentioned.
Here are some examples, all for £20 or less (as at the time of writing).
Ticket to Ride: New York or Ticket to Ride: London (Days Of Wonder)
These play in less than an hour and is one of the easiest games to learn to play for the uninitiated. It can be stressful and frustrating, but so very satisfying as players try to link locations together in the city while blocking everyone else.
Forbidden Island (Gamewright)
Get your family working together in this cooperative game where you play as a team to beat the game. Tough and unforgiving this can keep the family occupied until the dinner bell rings.
Just One (Repos Production)
For four or more players, this guess-the-word party game takes an interesting new spin on the theme. One player shows the word they have to guess to the other players who all write down a clue on that word. Before revealing their words, they are compared with each other and any duplicate words are removed. Only what’s left is shown to the guessing player.
Of course, if you’re willing to spend a little more, there are so many great games out there to try.
I still have two copies of Monopoly in the board game stack – a red box and a Pokemon version we bought the children as a Christmas Eve present about 5 years ago (long play time was an advantage that day!). The only thing Monopoly has going for it is its availability.
I can’t fault it for its availability! So many iterations of it now and sold just about anywhere where a board game is sold. The only game that has surpassed it in that regard is the phenomenally successful Dobble, which has the advantage of taking up less shelf space – though I doubt its staying power.
For what it’s worth, Monopoly is definitely a means with which to pass the time.