Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Board Game Review - Monopoly

I've got two reasons for writing a review of Monopoly tonight. It may seem a little silly, because if you play enough games that you're reading my site, you already know whether or not you like Monopoly. I don't think I've ever met anyone who hasn't played Monopoly, and most hardcore gamers hate it like the plague. But a review of Monopoly will give you a kind of baseline, to let you know what kind of games I like, what I look for in a game, and if I'm your kind of gamer.

The second reason is entirely practical - I have like a dozen games here, but I haven't played them, and so I can't write about them, and I don't want to skip an update just because we got new bedroom furniture and I've spent most of the week painting and cleaning the house. Basically, I'm writing about Monopoly because I'm completely unprepared.

To remove any suspense and totally ruin the surprise ending, I love Monopoly. It's an old-time favorite staple, and I'll play it nearly any time. Sure, there's lots of luck - but I still win most of the time. Yeah, it's a basic roll-then-move-then-do-something game, but there's still a lot of strategy, and I love making deals. Plus Monopoly gives me the chance to do something you just can't do in a lot of other games - be horribly underhanded and terrifically cruel. There are good plays in most games, but it's rare that there are plays so good that everyone else at the table looks at you like you keep kittens in the freezer for midnight snacks.

The first thing to understand about Monopoly is that it might seem like it's all luck, but it's not. Yes, you're completely at the mercy of the dice - but you can control your fate, at least a little. You can decide not to buy that last property that would make you mortgage Park Place (but I always will, because Park Place is best used as a short-term income stream, especially if someone else has Boardwalk). If you know what properties are really valuable, and you base a strategy around obtaining the properties that will help you stay solvent and build your real estate empire, you've got a huge edge.

For instance, if I ask which monopoly is the most valuable, most people will say dark blue. I piss on your dark blue. I insult it in public, then sleep with its mom and steal her drawers to hang from a power line outside your dark blue's front yard. The best monopoly in the game is orange. It's cheap, with awesome return on investment, and it contains the property that you're most likely to land on at some point in the game. Hotels on orange might not earn quite as much as hotels on red, but they cost half as much, and if you're coming up on my stretch of fully developed orange properties with a couple hundred bucks, the difference between $950 and $1100 is purely academic.

And I just plain love to get both dark purple properties, drop five notes, and put up hotels to take your Go money. It's petty, sure, but it keeps me solvent. And it makes the other players crazy, which is always a bonus. It's never a game-winner - you're not going to break someone with a $450 rent - but it's almost priceless for its ability to frustrate and irritate the other players, not to mention giving you enough to build a couple more houses somewhere.

It's also a total hoot to have one or two monopolies, and enough other properties to keep anyone else from getting one of their own. That's hard to arrange, but it's always a blast when it happens. The desperate deals people will make to get that last piece of a monopoly are the high point of the game for me - when someone is willing to give me an absolutely unfair number of properties just to get that last yellow property when they don't have two nickels to rub together and couldn't improve them if they wanted, that's hilariously awesome.

But then, as anyone who has ever played Monopoly knows, it's not that hard to get completely screwed. I've lost the game just because I went around the board twice before I ever got a single property, and by then everyone else was already putting up houses. Kind of hard to stay in the game when the most you can earn is $200 for getting around the board. And unfortunately, my family members know what a dick I am when I play, and they'll give each other properties in stupid trades, and then bend me over for a utility.

I know a lot of people hate Monopoly, and honestly, I can't blame them. You have to possess a certain mindset to enjoy Monopoly. It's not just whether you win every time - you have to love making deals, and planning ahead, and counting your money to make sure you don't spend too much too soon. The luck will make you crazy, especially when the other players seem to roll exactly what they need to avoid paying you on the properties you've just spent a fortune building up. There are ridiculously arbitrary rules, like three doubles sending you to jail or spots on the board that just take your money for no reason. There's a theme, but Monopoly does a horrible job of interpreting it, and I never have figured out what a dog, a shoe and a thimble have in common with a game about real estate (though I suppose I could probably find out if did a bunch of internet research, but I don't really care, and so if you do care, search for yourself).

Monopoly is so traditional that it's not really Ameritrash or Euro. It's too old to care about your game classifications, and doesn't even try to compare itself to Agricola. Monopoly knows what it is - it's like the biggest game ever (based on my simple observation of the number of Monopoly games on the shelf at Target, and with absolutely no supporting statistics of any kind). Monopoly is the grand-daddy of the modern board game, even if it is the old grampa who pinches your wife's ass, bitches about how his generation was tougher than you are, and farts at the dinner table. But it's still intensely popular - it's sold all over the planet, translated into more than 20 languages, and just came out with this great big version where you buy up whole cities all over the world. It's not going anywhere, sort of like that old grandfather who is too mean to die.

I love Monopoly, faults and all, and I don't apologize for it. There's nothing that says you have to like it, because compared to most of the games we play, it's really not that great a game. There are no clever mechanics or elegant rules, and the dice can screw you like a cheap hooker. But it's a hell of a lot of fun - at least, it's a hell of a lot of fun for me. If I make you mortgage your last income property to pay a stupid railroad fine, it might not be as fun for you.


Everyone knows how to play
Tons of history
Great deals to be made
A lot more strategy than haters will admit
Monopoly guy is awesome

More luck than the Blarney Stone
Theme has almost nothing to do with the rules
Arbitrary and nonsensical rules

If you need a link to find out where to get Monopoly, you don't need to be playing games. You need to be figuring out how you found this site in the first place.


TyBannerman said...

Interesting review.

Now, have you had a chance to look at this "Tic Tac Toe" that I've been hearing so much about?

Matt Drake said...

Hm, that's a new one on me, but I did review Hopscotch.

TyBannerman said...


Sharon said...

I agree with Orange being the best Monopoly. My dad or my brother ALWAYS won when they bought that buggerific little strip with New York Avenue in it. WHY my dice always made me land on New York Avenue, I have no idea. I think there was some sort of voodoo at work.

Sharon said...

also, I think that Power Grid is sort of similar to Monopoly in that you have to seriously budget your money else you're completely screwed

TyBannerman said...

For me, the concepts of "winning" or "losing" are entirely foreign when it comes to Monopoly. You have to finish a game to win it or lose it, and I haven't finished a Monopoly game since I was... ten? It's hard to keep up the excitement when you hit hour number 4 with no end in sight.