Monopoly Sucks and This Will Make It Worse

Monopoly_pack_logoI have a rule against tearing down other people’s creations in public. I appreciate the hard work that any creator puts into their work, and I prefer to encourage that rather than crush their dreams in front of others. Even bestselling authors are people—I count several as friends—and just because someone’s successful doesn’t mean insults don’t hurt them.

I make an exception for Monopoly. This is arguably the world’s bestselling game, stacking up numbers beyond even those of Grand Theft Auto, Magic: The Gathering, or World of Warcraft. But the creators behind it are all long gone, so I can’t hurt their feelings.

And it’s absolutely awful.

Monopoly was created back in 1902 by Elizabeth Magie. She called it The Landlord Game, and she designed it to teach people about certain economic theories. Legendary attorney Charles Darrow (a heater salesman, not the famed attorney Clarence Darrow*) turned it into Monopolyand sold it to Parker Brothers in 1935. (Parker Brothers later purchased the rights from Magie as well, something Darrow never did, claiming the game was his own invention.) Eventually Hasbro bought Parker Brothers, and it’s been publishing Monopoly ever since.

It’s a classic game that gets by on sharp marketing and the fact that it’s become a staple in most households in America. Friends of mine at Hasbro, though, have told me that their research shows that most of their mass-market games are purchased by middle-aged and older women between Thanksgiving and the end of the year as holiday gifts for children. They are played—get this—an average of less than once.

After playing Monopoly, perhaps you can see why. It’s a game that has what game designers call a snowball effect. This happens when being in the lead gives you bonuses beyond simply being the leader. That means that those who are in the lead tend to build up larger and larger leads, snowballing their advantages until they win.

This is why in most games of Monopoly you know who’s going to win within the first fifteen minutes. And then you have to spend the next four hours watching them pound their opponents into paste.

In this sense, it models the way the US economy works pretty well. Magie hit her design aims out of the park.

This is not, however, fun for anyone at the table. Even most winners get bored after a while.

Many modern games have what game designers call a catchup feature. This gives players who are behind an advantage over the leaders, and it helps ensure that everyone has a stake in the game’s results right up until the end. Sure, a skilled player will likely have an advantage over the others, but it’s not insurmountable. Everyone gets to feel involved and engaged.

They get to have fun. And most of them never go back to Monopoly again.

Friends at Hasbro have confessed to me that they don’t care for Monopoly much either, but it’s a bestselling icon they can’t let languish. Good people work on the game still, and they love games too. They put out new versions of it every year, and some of them are far better than the original.

They often argue that the game isn’t nearly as bad if you play it by the actual rules, the ones that used to be printed on the inside of the box’s lid. It doesn’t make it a better game, necessarily, but it’s faster at least. The house rules most people use, though—like grabbing all the money in the center of the board if you land on Free Parking—make it worse.

Players tossed these rules in to see if they could improve the game—we’re all amateur designers in this sense—but they do little if anything to solve the snowball effect. They strive to give players more chances to take the lead, but all they really accomplish is to make a bad game longer. What should be a two-hour ordeal turns into a four-hour death march with the exact same results.

Monopoly-house-rules_iconLast month, Hasbro launched a debate on Facebook that allowed fans of the game to argue about the best house rules. About a week ago, they declared five of them the winners and promised to publish a version of the game that contains these rules. The Free Parking rule made the cut, of course, but none of them—not one—does anything to improve the game.

I’m sure Hasbro knows this. The purpose of the debate wasn’t to improve the game but to put it in headlines around the nation. It did a great job at that.

Just do yourself and the kids you know a favor. Don’t buy it.

There are so many better board games out there. Hasbro makes some of them—including Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons—and you can find much more at your friendly local games store, ranging from Settlers of Catan to Takenoko to Munchkin and beyond. You can find them on TableTopWil Wheaton’s fantastic web show, which is raising funds for a third season right now—or at a games convention like Gen Con too. 

Sit down with your friends. Roll some dice. Draw some cards. Try them out. Find games you can love rather than endure.

Put a stop to that snowball. You’ll have a ball doing it.

* Hat tip to Allen Varney for pointing out I’d conflated Clarence and Charles Darrow.

This post originally appeared at Forbeck.com

About Matt Forbeck

Award winning author and game designer and father of five, including a set of quadruplets. For more about him and his work, visit Forbeck.com.

About Matt Forbeck

Award winning author and game designer and father of five, including a set of quadruplets. For more about him and his work, visit Forbeck.com.

19 thoughts on “Monopoly Sucks and This Will Make It Worse

  1. Agreed.
    But I’ve got to credit to Parker Brothers for doing the right thing way back when, by purchasing the rights from the REAL creator, after buying it from the guy who SAID he created it.
    It is also important to note a place for Monopoly in the evolution of the Board Game, because there may be other games like it (from similar bygone days), Rat Race and Careers to name a couple, but Monopoly really showed generations of game designers that there had to be a better game out there. They thought to themselves, “There must be a better game. There WILL be a better game. And *I* will make it!”

  2. I hate Monopoly as well but my son really enjoyed the wii version of the game so he talked me into getting it. We ended up picking up Monopoly Empire which is much better than the original Monopoly. It is fast paced with the game ending usually after only a few passes around the board. I definitely recommend it.

  3. I disagree. I grew up playing Monopoly and have probably played it a hundred times (rough guestimate). I love the game and find it very enjoyable. with a few skilled players it can take along time before you know who the winner is. (Or maybe we were just all very unskilled, but I doubt that.)

    There is also the educational value of the game. You alluded to how well it mimics the economy (I’ve heard arguments to the contrary), but it also helps young children practice some basic math skills, like adding in their heads rapidly. As a parent I can tell you kids learn the most when they don’t realize they are learning.

    • I second this. I’ve loved playing Monopoly, and many varients thereof, for years. What other board games from that era are still sold and played?

      The house rule in my house has always been “no house rules”. The printed rules are just fine, thanks.

      After reading your column I’m tempted to apply a filter to future game purchases: if the rules can’t fit on the box lid, then the game is too complicated.

      Or the box is too small.

  4. Thank you! I have been trying for months to explain this to my son who -so weird- loves to play monopoly, the only boardgame I sincerely loathe. I even use Monopoly to explain why capitalism doesn’t work. I showed him this article to try to convince him. Helas, he doesn’t want to hear it. A cupboard full of class A games, and he still says Monopoly is his favorite. Of course, bringing in the Star Wars version wasn’t the best of my ideas. Maybe I can hack it?

  5. My oldest son loves Monopoly and I love playing it with him, just because he enjoys it so much. We almost always play with just the two of us. Which actually makes for an interesting game because you quickly get into a cash poor position trying to buy everything you land on. Which opens the door to mortgaging properties and not buying things and have them go to auction. All sorts of good dynamics. And off course, it doesn’t matter what monopoly you get if you don’t have the cash to develop it with houses. We play with only one house rule – The income tax is based on cash on hand, not all of your property value plus cash (which is almost always above $1500 unless you are very close to losing. So we have the fun in quickly adding your money up, calculating 10% and paying that.

    I also appreciate that the board has ten square on each side (totaling 40 squares around). So when you roll a 10, and if you are 3 squares around a corner, the space you’ll land on it 3 spaces around the next corner. And if your roll a nine, you would be 2 squares around the next corner.

    And the probability aspect of the game adds a lot to.

    Overall it is an excellent opportunity to develop math skills and having fun doing it. And if you think the game is light on strategy, read one of the many books published on the game.

    Now are there other Euro-games that I would prefer to play? Sure, and we play those as well. But we have a soft spot for Monopoly and that’s fine. We have fun and that’s what counts.

  6. Hey, speaking as someone who made the finals of the Scottish Monopoly championship, I’ve got to stick up for the old girl. To be honest, though, my best ever games where two player epics with my son, where we joined two boards at the “go” space to create an eightsided board that took a weekend to finish. Of course, he was brought up on the original “Talisman”.

  7. “Monopoly” was only half the game. After playing it and realizing that the system was inherently unfair, kids were supposed to then play a second game, “Prosperity,” using different rules that produced a more equitable outcome. That part of the game dropped off because people enjoy stomping opponents into the dirt and dancing on their defeated bodies, and nobody was interested in grasping the real-world implications of the two games.

  8. If you’re playing four hour games of Monopoly, you ARE using house rules. Play the game as written — where every space gets either bought immediately, or auctioned off — and there’s no Free Parking money intended to randomly make the game longer by giving someone losing a random stack of cash — and it lasts less than an hour.

    It’s not a great game, but as written, it’s by no means an awful game. The problem is that people all assume they know how to play it, when they really don’t.

  9. Even worse? Monopoly JR for kids! ARGH! It’s like War… most folks just get bored and quit. (But not kids.)

    I’m with you, Matt. I absolutely avoid the game if at all possible. Friends and family know I love boardgames, so at family gatherings I try to bring something or else someone inevitably pulls out a Monopoly box.

  10. Although I see the good intentions of it’s inventor, I see the game as taking all the worst parts of life and making you and your friends inflict them on each other. It is a horrible game.

    Thanks for the insightful article.

  11. Worst game? I would actually put ludo and snakes and ladders as the worse. At least in Monopoly, there is still an element of probability with the use of 2 dice, negotiation of properties in the actual game. Why do kids like monopoly is mainly because most of them grew up on being told what to do, as such, board spaces make them feel its familiar ground. And the fact that they know what the power of money can do, and the game empowers them to be like dad or mum, and earn 100s of dollars. Unless you talk about chess and chess like games, all games, including magic the gathering, involves some sense of luck (hence luck of the draw) but at the end of the day, all games strives to bring players out for an entertaining competition of fun!

  12. Clarification: Hasbro bought out Wizards of the Coast who was the first publisher of Magic: The Gathering and turned them into a subsidiary company. Wizards of the Coast previously bought the rights to publish D&D, originally published by TSR. Both of these games were made by pretty kick-ass people, and much like Monopoly, Hasbro acquired the rights. This is not exactly the same as saying that Hasbro “makes” these games, unless by “make” you mean “puts up the money so it’s subsidiary Wizards of the Coast can continue to develop them.” I know, pedantic, but still…

  13. It’s interesting that the first two games you mention as “board games” are not in fact board games in the traditional sense, nor are they even considered “tabletop games”. Magic: The Gathering is the archetypal Collectible Card Game, while Dungeons and Dragons is primarily a role playing game.

  14. I have a game that was a take of on monopoly called bids. It was similar, but had two levels and was more complicated. You had to pay to get to the second level, which was a big risk and could even the playing field if done at the wrong time or with the wrong allegiences. I’ve never seen it anywhere except the copy I have.

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