I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Monopoly is a terrible game. First of all, it takes twelve hours to play. Second, it’s boring. Very little skill, or even decision-making, is involved. Early in the game, you have the option to buy or not buy properties, but it’s not really an option: having more land is always good, so you pretty much buy everything you land on, barring perhaps Baltic and Mediterranean if you’re unlucky enough to land on them right out the gate. (Speaking of which: are the low-rent street names supposed to be vaguely racist, in an old school Daniel-Day-Lewis-in-a-top-hat kind of way?) Later on, you can decide whether or not to build houses, but again, this isn’t really an interesting or complicated choice. If you can afford it you do, otherwise not. Mostly, you sit back and roll the dice, yawn, and roll your eyes as your friend Jeff offers yet AGAIN to trade you St. James Place for Marvin Gardens, which, like, get over it Jeff, it’s so not even happening.
Finally, it’s a horrible way to teach kids about economics. Everything runs on cash, no credit allowed? (You can mortgage your properties, of course, but that word does not mean what the game thinks it means.) You’re only allowed to purchase real estate that you happen to randomly walk past? Hotels are always more lucrative than row houses? All of it is nonsense. And it’s even worse when it comes to business ethics! Remember, real estate developers who wind up in jail never did anything wrong. They just rolled the dice like anyone else, and ended up landing on the wrong square: running your business 100% legally is not even possible, so why try? Also remember: income tax is something you only pay if you’re an unlucky chump. The tax rules in Monopoly only make sense if you assume that every player in the game routinely fails to pay their taxes at all, and landing on the square means you got audited.
One thing I do like about Monopoly, though, is the Free Parking square. Most board games have lots of squares that have no effect, and a handful of squares that do something interesting. Not Monopoly, though. The Monopoly board is ridiculously dense. It only has that one square in which nothing at all happens, and as a result they have to make a big deal of it. Just look at that jaunty little car! When I played the game as a kid, we apparently found the Free Parking square boring, because we always ended up turning it into some kind of jackpot: either landing on it got you $500, or all the income tax money was piled up in the center and whoever landed on Free Parking got it all, or when you landed on it you had to do a Jäger shot. (We mostly played that one in college.) But these days, I like the fact that, in its purest essence, the Free Parking square lets you do nothing – lets you escape, for one too-brief moment, from Monopoly’s nightmarish cycle of buying and selling, paying rent and extracting rent, grasping and desiring. (You say capitalism, I say saṃsāra.)
So the next time someone ropes you into playing Monopoly, I encourage to pretend to play Monopoly while in fact playing a different, secret game that I am about to teach you, called Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective. The rules are simple. First, play Monopoly as you normally would until you manage to land on Free Parking. This accomplished, AVOID TAKING YOUR NEXT TURN AT ALL COSTS. After all, as long as you don’t roll the dice, you don’t have to move off of Free Parking, which means you can stay outside of the capitalist system, which is the real goal of Anarcho-Syndicalist Collectives in games as in life.
There are no rules to this portion of the game, and creativity is encouraged, but there are a number of recognized strategies. The most common, and the only one generally considered to be sporting, is to try to convince your fellow players that Monopoly is a terrible game and that you’d all be better off doing something else with your time. Less orthodox techniques include taking an absurdly protracted bathroom break (the “Stall in a Stall” gambit), throwing the board out the window (the “Direct Action” technique), or simply refusing to pick up the dice, without saying anything in your defense other than “I would prefer not to” (known as “taking a Bartleby”). Truly advanced players may wish to simply stand up from the table, turn around, and walk out of the room, and then out of the house, walking, walking, not stopping, until they reach a plot of unclaimed land from which a meager life can be eked out, growing hemp. And of course, if all else fails, you can just explain to your friends that you have in fact been playing Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective, and that you aren’t going to move anymore because you’ve already won your game. This lacks a certain creativity, and will probably convince your friends that you’re an arrogant snot. But on the bright side, they will almost certainly never ask you to play Monopoly again, which is what I call a win-win.
Note: Of course, Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective doesn’t model a sound economic policy any more than Monopoly does. But it’s more fun. And the fact that it is more fun to attempt to get out of playing Monopoly than it is to actually play Monopoly has got to be pretty damning, by most lights.
Also note: There’s probably a specific form of non-participation in capitalism that resembles the game I’ve designed far more closely than Anarcho-Syndicalism, which I guess is mostly about labor unions? Anarcho-Syndicalism has the funniest name, though.
Furthermore note: Economically conservative readers may prefer to play “Going Galt,” which is exactly the same as Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective save for the following additional rules:
1) The new “goal” square is not Free Parking but Income Tax, and rather than attempting to avoid moving off of the square, your goal is to avoid paying the fee. (Logically, Luxury Tax and any number of the Chance and Community Chest cards would also qualify — but I see no reason why the right-wingers should have an easier game.)
2) During the “actually playing Monopoly” phase of the game, you must acquire at least one complete Monopoly. Bonus points if it’s the railroads, or if you fully leverage it out with hotels. If you land on Income Tax before acquiring the necessary properties, grit your teeth, pay it, and play on.
3) Finally, when you eventually walk away from the table, you must tear your property cards in half. Flinging the pieces in your opponents faces, while shouting “I am leaving it as I found it!” is entirely optional, depending on your style of play.
The next time you want to play Monopoly, instead try this equivalent game:
Tear up slips of paper equal to the number of players times two. On one of them, write the word “YOU” and on another one write “WIN”. On the rest of them, write “YOU LOSE”. Have every player randomly draw two slips of paper. If one player has drawn both YOU and WIN, he wins. If two different people draw those two slips, everyone else loses, and each of the losing players must flip a coin. If there are more heads, the YOU player wins. If there are more tails, the WIN player wins. If they are equal, the two tied players must negotiate for four hours to decide which player is a bigger asshole, and that player wins.
I love this idea.
You may also wish to consider playing “Prison-Industrial Complex” wherein every time another player Goes to Jail, you collect $200.
Now that I think of it, the penal system in Monopoly isn’t realistic either. In a more realistic board game, players would be allowed to post bail – imagine paying your $50 immediately, and winning it back if you roll doubles in the first three tries. And if they’re really trying to be realistic, then the game should be biased such that the less money you have in the bank, the more likely you are to be sent to jail. Finally, I’m troubled that players are sent to jail but never put on trial. That was unthinkable in 20th century America (if not 21st).
You might find this interesting: a new version of Monopoly (Monopoly Live) that involves no cash, no dice, and a computer that keeps track of your money and turns, among other changes. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/business/16monopoly.html?pagewanted=all
Also, taking a Bartleby made me smile.
Great work as always!
I actually did the Direct Action option when I was eight. My sister has refused to play with me ever since, probably because it hit her in the head instead of going out the window.
This is brilliant. To me, the fun of Monopoly has always been modding the game to make it interesting, which is always dependent on the group you’re playing with (once we had set up an SEC-type panel to approve all property exchanges because one gross couple kept trading yellows for “snuggles.” Bluh.) But even still, that’s only a little bit of fun borne out of misery. And there’s always someone taking it too seriously, or not seriously enough, or stealing or cheating or being a dick about snacks. It’s like a fun little inkblot test to find out what kind of assholes your friends and family are.
It’s not very clever of me to say but…
99% of American board games are terrible. You have to go Euro if you want an interesting game experience.
Off-topic, but it had to be said.
Speaking of European board games, we ought to do some Overthinking of Ticket to Ride. Love that game.
Ah! I love that game! And a number of others by Days of Wonder.
It is so nice to hear that I’m not the only one that hates Monopoly. If I’m ever so unfortunate to be dragged into a game of it again, I know have a strategy for coping. Thanks, OTI!
Also remember: income tax is something you only pay if you’re an unlucky chump.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Vodaphone: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/14/vodafone-tax-evasion-revenue-customs
My favourite board game is Canadian – it’s called Therapy, and you score points by a) answering questions about psychological research (the question cards include citations) b) correctly identifying the most popular image seen in Rorschach tests or c) knowing things about your co-players’ psyches, from where they’d most like to go on holiday to a 1-10 rating of their libido.
The streets are named after streets in Atlantic City.
the reason it takes so long to play is because nobody reads the rules.
you see, when you land on a piece of property, you have the option to buy. But the rules state that if you don’t buy, the property immediately goes up for auction.
That’s right. All that time you spent looping around the board, trying to get enough cash to buy Park Place, should have been spent on dollar-ante bids for property. Every piece of property should have been purchased within two laps of the board, and then gotten down to the nitty gritty of the game….
It should also be noted that monopoly is intentionally bad. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Landlord%27s_Game which evolved into monopoly
“… that when played by children the game would provoke their natural suspicion of unfairness, and that they might carry this awareness into adulthood”