Games I Will Never Play Again: Monopoly

The plan: never again pass Go, never again collect $200.

If all goes according to plan, I will never ever play Monopoly again.

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate Monopoly. In the first ten years of my life, the board game I played more than any other was Monopoly. I understand the frisson of rolling the exact number you needed to avoid the plague of hotels and potential bankruptcy, or the frustration (or relief!) of rolling a third double and landing in jail. I love the top hat and the racing car and think the addition of a cat is a travesty upon the game. I've traumatised friends with frenetic negotiations and futures trading (under our liberal house rules interpretation).

Monopoly is not the worst game in the world. (I once had to play a privately published board game that took the worst aspects of Monopoly, Backgammon, Twister, and Trouble, and wrapped it up in a pirate theme...but the most piratey thing about it was the cosplayer they hired to spruik it at the Toy and Games Expo. But I disgress.) Anyhow, if I had to multiply suffering per units sold, Monopoly wins hands down.

That might seem a strange thing to say. After all, for most people, a board game means Monopoly. It means rolling dice, and moving in a circuit around a board. It means exchanging money, picking up cards, and playing cards. For better or worse, Charles Darrow's Monopoly, published in 1933, though neither the first, nor the best, has left a lasting imprint on the board game world.

But entirely like Kings Quest I-IV, ET, and Vince McMahon's XFL—and entirely unlike anything nominated for the Spiel des Jahres—Monopoly is an example of extraordinarily bad game design. Here's why.

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You've had this experience. You play Monopoly, and inevitably one person is eliminated after about 45 minutes. They sit around twiddling their thumbs for another half an hour, hoping for someone else to be eliminated so they can have a quick game of something on the side. Meanwhile, the last two players are still playing after 3 hours, exhibiting sheer bloody-mindedness, as one player slowly gains the upper hand, and one player sits around hoping to be a David against a monopolistic Goliath. The end of the game is a long, drawn out, unpleasant affair.

Player elimination is a pox upon any modern, enlightened board game—I'm looking at you, too, Risk—and if a game doesn't keep you in all the way to the end, letting you make meaningful decisions (even if it's only king-making), then it's an unpleasant way to be spending an afternoon for all but the winner.

If you think about it, the moral of Monopoly is that as aggressive property developers buy up more and more property, the rich get richer by crushing the little people underfoot, until they can no longer afford to pay rent. Now perhaps that's an accurate reflection of the Sydney property market, but me, I play games precisely because they aren't real life. There's a finite amount of variables, and decisions. There's a happy ending which doesn't have to be a sad ending for everyone else.

Don't be this guy. For the love of God, don't be this guy.

Also, Monopoly is effectively a zero-sum game. Everyone starts with $1500; all but one person ends with $0. Only one person gets to build an empire; everyone else's is slowly dismantled, or destroyed before they can even get started. Hands up if you've played a game of Monopoly where you haven't been able to complete a single set, and you futilely proclaim the virtues of utilities and stations whilst secretly wishing you could only get your hands on Old Kent Road, because owning the purples is better than nothing at all.

Compare that to Sid Sackson's 1964 classic, Acquire (still in print). Everyone starts with $6000, and will end the game with $20,000-60,000 in value. Everyone wins, everyone grows their portfolio and net wealth, and the winner is the one who grows their companies faster and best. Or Settlers of Catan (1995), where everyone ends with an empire of towns and cities and roads. Or the 2008 Spiel Preis winner, Agricola, where the person with the best farm wins, but everyone develops their plot of lands from subsistence farming to a working farm with grain and vegetables and sheep and pigs. Or Ted Alspach's Simcity-esque Suburbia (2012), where everyone builds up their suburb into something living, breathing and unique. Or basically 99% of modern board games with good game design. You may not win, but you have accomplished something, and that in itself is satisfying. It's a far more pleasant experience than having your property portfolio slowly dismembered, piece by piece, until all you have is Water Works, and Free Parking.

Finally, there's the chance aspect. Those damn dice. Lots of good games have chance, to some degree or another. But in Monopoly, the structure of rolling dice to move, and movement deciding your available options means that you simply cannot plan. You can't decide on a "stations strategy" because you might land on King's Cross on turn one, and never land on a single station again, until they're all snaffled up. You take what the dice give you, whether it's Chance, Free Parking, or Park Lane. Compare this against the modern classic, Settlers of Catan. Even though the game is still reliant on dice, by placing my towns next to certain resources, I know what I can plan to build, once the dice decide it's time for me to receive what's mine.

Monopoly has been superseded a thousand times over. It wasn't even cutting-edge in 1933, due to Charles Darrow's plagarism from a little game called The Landlord's Game. In 2017, there are thousand better options, and a thousand games that are better designed, and when it comes down to it, more fun.

In fact, the internet's premiere boardgaming database, BoardGameGeek, lists 13,371 games that are more highly ranked than Monopoly. In fact, the only family board game ranked lower than Monopoly is The Game of Life.

When I play games, I want to play games that are fun. Acquire is more fun than Monopoly. Settlers of Catan is more fun than Monopoly. Suburbia is more fun than Monopoly. There are all better games than Monopoly, and more fun than Monopoly.

Next time someone suggests a friendly game of Monopoly, just say no.

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Comments

    If participation trophies aren't for you, play Monopoly, where you risk bombing out quick and watching everyone else play. But the reward is also greater than the risk.

      That would be fair enough if the game wasn't almost entirely based on luck...

      The point of this article is that the reward of playing Monopoly is that you're still playing a mediocre game. There are many better ones where you can properly execute on a strategy and there's lots of clever and interesting decisions to make.

    I'm with you. I hate Monopoly.

    But be warned, you're now going to get about 500 comments all stating: "You're playing it wrong. Are you using the right rules? Are you auctioning off properties people don't buy that they land on? Have you read the strategy about creating a housing shortage?" Yes, there is a correct way to play the game. No, it doesn't make it any more fun.

      This. As someone who grew up playing the game with the wrong rules (no auction) and hating it, then as a young adult bought my own copy and reading the rules to find out I've been playing it wrong and thinking the auction rule made the game good to the extent I went on to own four different versions of monopoly in different themes, I subsequently discovered modern board gaming and realised I was living a lie and monopoly actually sucks balls.

      I'm one of these people, but I don't see anything objectionable in this article. Monopoly, played correctly, still has the major problems the author describes, and honestly if you can get people playing a modern, far superior game, that's a better use of your time.

    We are pretty much living in a golden age of board games. Why anyone would play this horrendous trash anymore is beyond me. When I tell people I like to play board games and they go "What, like Monopoly?" I have to restrain myself from screaming "NO!". Instead I try to get them into a nice gateway game like Ticket to Ride or King of Tokyo (I just describe it as Yahtzee with monsters). Lately I've found Colt Express another good gateway game.

    Last edited 13/02/17 11:20 am

      Colt Express, just quietly, is the bomb. I need to do a write-up of it sometime.

        The Stagecoach and Horses expansion is good too. I hear there is another expansion on the way as well that let's one player play the marshall.

        Last edited 13/02/17 7:53 pm

    I find Cashflow is a great and much more fun alternative to Monopoly. especially since you can re-enter the game after going bankrupt. It's a bit like playing as Donald Trump! Companies went bust? eh that's ok, I'll come back and try (and fail) again!

      My dad actually made me read Rich Dad, Poor Dad when I was a teenager, which made me not want to play Cashflow on general principle.

        Hey man, I'll comment on the article separately, but just wanted to let you know it's 'Spiel des Jahres' (Game of the Year, non-plural).

          Ah yes. Thanks. I need to work on my German noun declensions :)

    Monopoly was the only game I would cheat at as a kid... not to win, but to lose as quickly as possible.

    I got the Star Wars edition some 20 years ago and it is still just as unenjoyable as ever!

    My girlfriend bought me the game recently. This version comes with a 3rd die to speed the game up, which is a good thing :)

    Monopoly is not a terrible game, but there are many others that I'd rather play.

    There is a very good reason that Monopoly is a horrible, unsatisfying, unjust game that seems to mimic real life: *it was designed to be that way*

    It was basically designed as a political statement to show the failings of unrestrained free market capitalism, and to promote a more egalitarian, socialist type tax system, with a focus on rewarding actual wealth (useful business) creation, as opposed to getting rich simply by hoarding a bunch of stuff.

    Its clear no body in Australia actually got that message though... Maybe the game should have included a massive property crash.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopoly_(game)

      We were too busy being sold Squatter as the ultimate Australian board gaming experience.

      I'd half-agree with you. I'd argue that the original game, The Landlord's Game (by Elizabeth Magie) was that, but by the time it was plagarised by Charles Darrow and published by Parker Brothers, any intent behind the game had become a cynical money grab, in more ways than one.

    No, its not the worst game in the world. But there are quite a few thousand better games out there. Cant say I'm really much of a fan of Catan either.

      Oh don't you worry. I'm coming for Settlers of Catan soon.

      Just because Catan > Monopoly doesn't mean Catan = Good.

    I love Monopoly but with a couple of caveats. If a player is bankrupted then generally play stops at that point and people total up their cash and property values to determine a winner. Usually by that point someone will be significantly in front. The second caveat is that wide-ranging deal-making be allowed. This means that deal-making is not restricted to 'I'll swap you' or 'I'll buy from you' but you can also trade rent-free periods and shared development costs, for example.

    Or why not try a game of Gates of Loyang instead? ;-)

    Do you know what is worse than a game where a player loses early and is forced to sit around to watch or just leave? A game where you are forced to keep playing even though is quite clear, very early on that you have already lost, but your interaction is necessary for the flow of the game until the very end. That was my first experience with Power Grid. By the round before the half point, I found myself locked into a tiny corner of the map by other players' development, with no option of growth either horizontally or vertically as my limited gains could not possibly match the cyclically increasing progress of the other players. There was simply no way for me to comeback nor even not being the biggest loser. And this was in a completely casual and friendly game (including another first-time player). The people who locked me in were as surprised as me, as they were simply focusing on their own businesses with no ill intent. I cannot imagine how it would be when you are playing with cutthroat competitive types. Never played it again.

      My deep condolences. I have played a lot of Power Grid, so I can definitely appreciate how this would happen. In fact, my first game of Puerto Rico was similar. Ish. But at the same time Power Grid is deeply lodged in my personal top ten list, and I'll probably write about it at some point, because it's a remarkable bit of game design. It's a Frankenstein game with three half-games sticky-taped together with this turn order mechanic meta-game. It shouldn't work. But it coalesces into this quite unique (and quite good!) game experience.

        Look forward to you trying to sell me on it :P One of my main measures for the "is a game good?" question is the likelihood of "feel bad moments" like tha tone.

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