Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Jonathan Chait over at New York magazine wrote an essay last week trying to defend Monopoly as an interesting, strategic game, claiming that "if you think the game is all luck and takes forever, you’re playing it wrong." According to Mr. Chait, we can speed up the game and show off our skill by making lots of trades and racing to make savvy investments with a high rate of return. The highlight of the article was a fancy chart showing exactly how long it takes for various investments to pay themselves off:

Of course, all of this information has long been available in somewhat less snazzy form in books like the Monopoly Companion,  in print since 1988.


Even if you use the charts, though, taking a 'strategic' approach to Monopoly doesn't save the game from being long and boring, because there's still only one good strategy: rush to get a light blue, orange, or magenta monopoly and put three houses on it. It's not hard to understand or apply this strategy, and whether you're able to pull it off has far more to do with the luck of the dice than with any decisions you make. 

As for 'creative' trading, I've tried it all, from free landings to joint ventures to option contracts, and mostly it just annoys my fellow gamers -- the time you spend trying to negotiate a complicated trade is time that other players want to spend rolling the dice and taking their turn. A well-designed game should be fun on its own terms; it shouldn't require massive creativity and effort from the players just to keep the game moderately interesting.

Also, hat tip to Forbeck for his list of other reasons why Monopoly violates all the principles of good modern game design.

Monopoly was an exciting game for the 1930s, and there's nothing wrong with appreciating it as a classic example of early board games, just like you might go to a museum to see a piece by Giotto or Donatello. Today, though (thank goodness!) we can do much better. If Monopoly had just been invented last year, though, and somebody tried to pass it off as a fun new state-of-the-art board game, it would be laughed off the shelves.

If you're looking for an exciting, strategic, mid-length game about auctions and collecting sets, try Modern Art, Ra, Acquire, or Cargo Noir -- they're all noticeably more fun than Monopoly and play in about half the time.

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