Every Wednesday at the GeekDad HQ, we go around and find out what we’re playing this week. I haven’t had a lot of entries lately, choosing instead to paint my game pieces instead of, y’know, playing with them. So I was thrilled to be able to chime in with Monopoly Gamer.
The semi-serious taunt came only seconds later from our tabletop aficionado. “You’re dead to me, Karcz.”
And I don’t blame him. After all, Monopoly can be a tedious slog that lasts hours on end, with lopsided player interaction, and little engagement beyond rolling dice and a few mean-spirited trades.
Hasbro’s latest partnership with Nintendo fixes all of that.
When Mario Met Uncle Pennybags
Monopoly Gamer populates the game board with locales familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the Mushroom Kingdom, like Bowser’s Castle instead of Boardwalk. Gone are the utilities and Chance cards. Here they’re replaced with warp pipes and Star blocks. Those Stars let you use your character’s special power.
Special power? Yes, because instead of player tokens, you’re using perfectly crafted figurines (either Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Princess Peach, or Mario) that have individual powers activated by landing on a star. They range anywhere from Mario’s being able to treat the bank like it’s his own personal endless coin block to Yoshi eating all the coins that have landed on the board. You can also purchase extra bagged “Power Pack” characters, classic Nintendo characters that each have their own special powers. We’ve got Diddy Kong and Tanooki Mario (neither of which were available for review, sadly), Wario (whose power lets him run the board as long as he has enough coins), Rosalina (who steals property), Toad (who can collect coins from the bank and move again), Boo (who sneaks right up on other players and steals their powers), Fire Mario (who makes players ahead of him drop coins), and the biggest villain of them all, Luigi. Why is Luigi so awful? Because he turns other player’s turns into no-fun fests where they can’t roll the Power-Up die!
Coins litter the board because, in addition to a standard six-sided die, you have a power-up die that lets you throw green or red shells, ink fellow players, or POW them – all of which results in them either dropping coins on the property they’re on, leaving them for the next player to pick up (or a hungry Yoshi to inhale), or giving them to another player. Rather than keep the bank fed, the economy of the game becomes player-focused very quickly. In fact the “game economy” is barely an economy at all. Other than collecting rent, coin acquisition in Monopoly Gamer feels more like the board game equivalent of Mario Kart. You lose coins, you pick up coins that other players dropped, you nick coins from other players. And rather than kick players out for losing all their money and property, the rule book tells you to “hang in there” and lets you keep rolling. Removing player elimination is a huge change that ultimately makes the game feel more fun and less cutthroat.
There are no property upgrades (a welcome subtraction from the game, since all they did was extend the play needlessly), instead you get bonus rent for owning a pair of color-matched properties. At the end of the day, though, owning land and collecting rent won’t win you the game. I mean, it doesn’t hurt, but in Monopoly Gamer, it’s boss fights that help level the playing field and gives players who don’t give a red shell about property a chance to come out on top.
Your Yorkie Dog is on Another Boardwalk!
Every time a player passes Go, they get two coins and the chance to fight the boss. There are eight boss cards in all, each with a different member of the Koopa Kids. Once you reach the Big Bad B himself and defeat him, it’s game over. Boss fights are a quick affair, you pay your coins, roll the die, collect the card (if you win), and do what it says. What’s nice is that, if you don’t win the boss fight, other players have the opportunity to play and win it out from under you. Early battles are fairly simple to win, costing only a coin or two and requiring low rolls to beat them. It gets more expensive and requires higher rolls as you progress through the game, with Bowser being the exception. He only costs 1 coin, the game really wants everyone to participate in this fight, but he requires rolling a six to beat.
The Boss Fights add a level of interaction that you just don’t see in other editions of Monopoly, because you’re going to want to go after every boss you can. Not only do they give you one-time rewards (from forcing property trades to getting coins), each boss comes with a point value. If you beat enough bosses, it won’t matter how much property or how many coins your fellow players have managed to hoard, you’re almost guaranteed a win.
Boss Fights also provide the game with a hard stop. Especially when you’re playing with younger players, it’s nice to be able to gauge just how much longer you have before things wrap up. And how long does a typical game take? I’ve played with three, four, and seven players and four seems to be the sweet spot for a quick game with a minimal amount of ganging up and haggling. It took about an hour.
But It’s Still ‘Monopoly?’
The best endorsement I can give for this game is that my wife, who is by far the most reluctant board gamer I know (she’ll only play them when trapped in a hotel room with nothing else to do) told me that it was the most fun she’d ever had playing Monopoly and that she’d be happy to play it again. Granted, her experience with the game includes that one night in ’99 where we stayed till 1 AM at our friends’ apartment as I tried to beat her at Star Wars Monopoly while they snoozed on the couch, each having each gone bankrupt an hour prior. Her bar for fun in Monopoly is very low.
Monopoly Gamer takes the bones of the classic game and turns into something that feels more like a racing video game than a battle between property barons. Thematically, the design is perfect, from the coins that you use instead of cash, to the properties named after various Mario levels, to the perfectly sculpted player figurines. If you’re a Nintendo fan, this is going to be a hard game to pass up (especially as more Gamer Power Pack characters become available, this is only Wave 1, after all). And at a price of $25, there’s really not a reason to let it sit on the shelf. So grab a copy and get ready to break it out the next time you have family over. It’s the perfect board game to bridge the gap between casual and serious tabletop players. Mostly because it’s so much fun (just don’t let anyone choose Luigi…that jerk). You can find Mario Gamer on Amazon or at Hasbro.com.
Thanks to Hasbro for providing a copy of the game and Power-Up packs for review. Opinions and stolen ‘Star Wars Monopoly’ wins are my own. You know I would have beat you, Noelle, it’s why you made us stop playing and go home!