In Defense of Monopoly
Post by: Grant Rodiek
Monopoly is every "real" gamer's favorite game to hate. It's random, it takes too long, there are better games to play, people only play it because they don't know better...these are all some of my favorite critiques.
The thing is, as much as you, dear reader, may hate Monopoly, millions of people love it. Millions rush out to buy the variant when it has their favorite property assigned to it (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and soon, Hunger Games I'm sure). Families play Monopoly at gatherings. Families like mine. And guess what? We have fun, despite our "poor" choice of entertainment.
What's amusing to me is that Settlers of Catan, a game far more respected by us nerds, is just as random and frustrating as Monopoly. I'd argue it's more frustrating as it's also more complicated.
I think snobbery and condescension are bad for the growth of our industry. Furthermore, I think by outright discrediting Monopoly, we're ignoring the reasons it is so appealing and therefore, potentially ignoring a way to make our own games more successful.
Why Monopoly is Great
Strong player interaction and social gameplay. Negotiation is fun. Auctioning is fun. Social interaction is meaningful and you would do well to incorporate it into your design. Your players will create rich gameplay for themselves if you give them the tools to do so.
People love rolling dice. Rolling dice is fun and in Monopoly, the act of it is filled with thrilling anticipation. "Please don't land on Pennsylvania!" You know what that sound is? It's laughter because somebody just landed on a hotel and they're in deep, uh...illegal derivatives swaps. It's people having fun.
Monopoly is full of tactile sensation. Picking your unique pawn is fun. Players get to identify themselves with something more than a color. Board games provide a tactile, tangible sensation that other game mediums fail to provide. Monopoly has dice, metal pawns, little houses, and therefore it's a very satisfying game to touch, feel, and play.
Buying property and being a tycoon is fun. It's a fantasy many ponder, few get to experience. Especially in our current economy, Monopoly is more relevant than being a space ranger.
Monopoly is many peoples' first experience with design. Think about it; have you ever played Monopoly the same way at two families' homes? I haven't. Money is paid out for rolling a certain pair of doubles. Landing on Free Parking provides a benefit. You can get out of Jail early if you do thus and such. People create house rules ALL the time for this game that span generations. That's awesome!
The game should play more quickly than you think. For one, every property should be auctioned off if the player who lands on it doesn't buy it outright. I've never read the rules for Monopoly, so when I saw that I realized we've been missing out! That long, random stretch at the start where people grab properties should play out entirely differently.
Furthermore, as a negative component of everyone adding in their own design spin on Monopoly, one of the first things people do is inflate the economy.
- Get $400 for landing on Go.
- Get $500 for landing on Free Parking OR all the penalties put in.
- Get $500 for rolling snake eyes.
All this does is needlessly inflate the economy and lengthen the game. But, then again, it's fun...
Why Monopoly is frustrating
The game is random. It is very frustrating when the dice do nothing to help you throughout the course of the game. Though successful bidding and negotiation can address that on the build-up front, it cannot help when you're trying to survive one last go around the board.
Fiddly fiddly fiddly. The game's plethora of property cards and paper money makes for a tedious game to setup and play. There's the electronic banking version, but this is still a cumbersome experience.
Long. The game can take a very long time to play. Too long, I'd argue, for the amount of depth it offers. However, this is a great way to consume the evening. When I visit my family at Christmas, we play Scrabble, Dominoes for hours, poker, or Monopoly. It's not so much we're looking to play 8 games, it's that we're spending time with each other while drinking a beverage at the end of the day.
Player Elimination. Unless a game lasts only 15 minutes (and even then), I'm very strongly against play elimination. Monopoly has this and I think it's a very weak spot in its design. (Thanks to readers for reminding me of this omission!)
Why all of this matters
The best thing going for Monopoly that makes it such a powerful brand and experience for consumers is that Monopoly is comfortable and familiar. It's an old friend that's always ready to play. You know the rules (at least you think you know them), nobody needs explanation on how to play, and nobody is intimidated by the experience.
New board games mean rules booklets and explanations. My brother has zero interest in learning new games. He'd rather play the classics (Risk, Scrabble, Monopoly, poker, Dominoes) or just watch TV. My parents are more willing, but it took so long to get the gist of Modern Art across that I probably won't be explaining more games to them any time soon.
The growth of our hobby suffers because we fail to recognize the importance of being comfortable and familiar. We make games that are too complex, take too long to play, or have rule books that are too lengthy. We get so frustrated by all those "bad games" on the shelves at Target that we completely gloss over the reasons they are successful.
I don't play Monopoly often. To be quite honest, I don't really want to do so. But, it's a disservice to our hobby to look down upon those that do. It's not that we know better. It's not that their choices are poor. It's that we haven't given them something yet to replace it.