Monopoly, Problems with

You may be aware that I like board games. So it may surprise you to discover--especially if you're not into the euro-games--that I don't like Monopoly. I mean I really, really dislike this game. This post is about why it's just not a good game. Objectively.

If Monopoly is like your FAVORITESEST GAME EVAR, I apologize. To each his own, and all that. But I'm still going to tear it apart.

That's a lot of freaking Monopolys


The Lack of Meaningful Decisions. Much like in fiction, games are made interesting by meaningful decisions--choices the protagonist (in this case, you) makes that affect the outcome of the game. In Risk, for example, you must decide where and how to allocate your forces, while in Candy Land you just do what the card says.

Monopoly is closer to Candy Land, unfortunately. There are decisions to be made, but they are few. Do you buy the property you landed on or not? Do you buy houses/hotels? And of course, how do you get your brother to give you Boardwalk in exchange for Baltic and Waterworks? With the exception of property trading, these decisions are usually non-decisions.

Unbalanced Gameplay. Rents begin at $2-50 (in our version), which, with your starting cash of $2,000, is negligible. Rents only get interesting around 2 or 3 houses (which is why "Do I buy houses?" is a non-decision: if you have spare money, then yes). The problem is the rents of 4 houses or a hotel is HUGE on most properties, and it costs no more to get there than to get to 2 houses. All it takes is for some sap to land on your hoteled Indiana Ave once to cripple them. Which leads to the third problem...

The Long, Slow Crawl to the End. So he lands on your hotel and loses all his cash and most of his houses. That's okay, he can still come back if you land on his properties, right? Well, no. He had to sell his houses, so the rent he gets from you now is (as I said) negligible. Certainly not enough to afford your four-figure rent and--whoops!--he landed on it again.

Game over? Well, no. He still has houses to sell, properties to mortgage, math to do. He has to wait until ALL his resources are gone. Why? Because them's the rules.


Of course house rules can mitigate some of this, but Parker Brothers is so convinced of the goodness of their game (or maybe just the money they can make from it), that they haven't changed the rules in decades (or God-knows-how-many Intellectual Property-opoly versions they've made). In fact, they've made it worse recently by adding a computer that knows nothing about your "rules."

So what do you think? Is Monopoly a good game and I'm just missing the point? Enlighten me.

22 comments:

Tim said...

Adam,

While I still enjoy playing Monopoly, American board games have really fallen behind to the Germans. German board games are more balanced, keep all players engaged even when it's not their turn, and can be a far better model of real world businesses rather than Monopoly.

Take Settlers of Catan for example. You're still competing for a scarcity of resources, you still have the ability to trade with your opponents, but you also have the ability to catch up to the leader by slowing them down. Being "crippled" is a lot less likely in Settlers than it is in Monopoly which keeps players interested longer. Plus, there is a set victory point, rather than a bunch of defeat points like in Monopoly.

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

I love/hate that game.

I love to win, but I also play dirty. If I am in trouble, but I have a lot of potential in the game, I well give some imunity on my lot if he dose the same for me.

People hate playing with me. I usually win!

My husbnad hates it, we dont even own the game.

Jayme Stryker said...

I loathe Monopoly. Actually, I think that loathe isn't a strong enough word for my feelings, so I'll be inventing a new one later today. My husband is constantly lamenting that I won't play, but there is no fun to be had in my opinion. However, I come from a family that has bastardized Pictionary into a simple points system because we hate the board and it's no fun if it's not all player all the time! I may be biased.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think the set of people that really enjoy Monopoly and the set that play strategic games have a very tiny intersection.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

p.s. I know you're not so much into the awards, but I gave you one anyway. ;)

Matthew MacNish said...

I always enjoyed Monopoly as a kid, but I haven't played it in years.

jjdebenedictis said...

You're right that it's only the wheelin', dealin', schemin', and backstabbin' parts of the game that were fun.

It was an eye-opener the first time I played Settlers of Catan. I had never played a board game where you had fun even if you spent the whole game losing.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I never play Monopoly properly. I'm the safe ride-around the board kind of player. I like watching the view and little else ;)

Adam Heine said...

@Tim: Agreed on the German/Euro-games (though Days of Wonder is American, no? They've figured things out).

@Read my books: I think I might dislike playing with you too ;-) But don't feel bad. I dislike playing this game with anybody.

@Jayme: When you come up with the new word, let me know what it is so I can use it too.

Adam Heine said...

@Susan: That may be true. Though I don't think a game has to be "strategic" to be interesting.

And I may not mention awards much here, but I do appreciate them. Thank you!!

Adam Heine said...

@Matthew: Part of my problem with Monopoly may be due to the endless arguments I had with my brothers as a kid ;-)

@JJ: Agreed. Also a game where the board changed every time, and where you got to do stuff even when it wasn't your turn.

@Elaine: Heh, I do that when my kids want to play, but that's more because I'm not emotionally engaged (and/or don't want to slaughter them).

K. Marie Criddle said...

My parents broke off their engagement over a game of Monopoly. But a week later, apologies were made and they've been a happy couple ever since.

That said, Monopoly was never really played in our house, for obvious reasons. When I did get over to the neighbors to indulge, I realized I was just like my dad: a money hider, a loan shark and a cheater.

That further said, I think the joy of Monopoly lies in the journey thereof...and the necessity to play with someone who puts up with your evil, money-laundering tendencies.

Adam Heine said...

That may be, K. Marie. If so, I've never found such joy.

Daniel Smith said...

You make some good points about the meaninglessness of the decisions, and everyone generally hates the slow crawl of death at the end.

...Unless it's you and you somehow rebuild from the ashes to win.

So maybe the draw of monopoly is the fact that it *is* unbalanced - like real life - and can you beat the odds and win anyway?

It was crafted during the depression era in America and when nobody has anything, it's fun to imagine.

Some notes:
* Monopoly rent prices do follow a pattern. Going around the board from Mediterranean it's 2-4-6-6-8, 10-10-12-14-14-16, 18-18-20-22-22-24, 26-26-28-35-50. (OK, so Park Place and Boardwalk don't follow it.)
* All properties have the best investment-earnings ratio with exactly three houses.
* Because rolling involves two six-sided dice, you're statistically more likely to roll a seven than any other number. Starting from Go and moving 7 places each time, you will land on every space in 4 circuits. Then it repeats.

In other words, there is a mathematical method to the madness. It follows patterns and is rather well balanced except for the few places that's it's not and those are on purpose.

Daniel Smith said...

Maybe I should have said it's rather well "patterned" except for the few places that's it's not and those are "imbalanced" on purpose.

I don't know. It was fun as a kid. A friend had the game Hotels which is similar but without nearly as much of the death spiral.

I would *love* to play some of the European games but there is no one around here to do so with.

Margo Berendsen said...

Aha! This explains why Monopoly was one of my favorites as a kid, and I HATE it now. It's all about luck who gets the yellow, green and blue properties the fastest! I found you from Susan K. Quinn's blog - I love her blog so anyone she recommends I'm excited about! gonna check out some more of your posts!

Adam Heine said...

@Daniel: Those are some good notes, Daniel. I've also heard the orange properties are the most likely to be landed on (because of the 2d6 plus where the cards have a tendency to land you).

@Margo: Glad you're here, Margo! And it's true, for a kid games of pure (or near-pure) chance are more fun because they even the playing field. As an adult, they get boring fast.

Leslie Rose said...

I just liked being the scotty dog. I have to say Monopoly always ended up with fights and hard feelings in my house. Enjoying your blog, Adam.

Adam Heine said...

Glad you're enjoying it, Leslie. And you bring up a good point: Monopoly does have awesome playing pieces (I'm partial to the battleship, myself).

Tim said...

Adam, the Orange properties are definitely the most landed on properties and actually the most valuable from a ROI standpoint. This is for a couple of reasons. First, they're relatively cheap to buy and build on. Second, as you pointed out, they are very likely to be landed on. This is because they are right in the sweet spot for people getting out of jail.

Park Place/Boardwalk are actually the second most valuable properties because of the hit that your opponents take when they hit on a hotel there. It also only has 2 properties in the color group (easier to own and start to build), plus there's a chance card that sends people to Boardwalk. The only real downside to it is that it's after the Go to Jail space.

By the way, that's also what makes the Dark Greens the worst group to own. Right after jail, expensive to build, and you need 3 of them.

Deniz Bevan said...

Great post! This is why Monopoly is only gun with family, when you had weird rules and can loan money without complicated math, whiling away hours on a rainy day [g]

Adam Heine said...

@Tim: You're right. The jail space is (one of) the clincher(s).

@Deniz: That reminds me of how the Simpsons played it, where Bart loaned money to mom because he liked her, but he cut Homer off.