Analog Gaming: Not Monopoly

When I tell people I read comics, the response I get is usually, “Like Batman?” And you know which (BAM! POW!) Batman they’re thinking of.

Likewise, when I tell people I play boardgames, I often get, “Like Monopoly?”

However, I’m not sure which Monopoly they’re thinking of. Are they thinking of Star Wars Monopoly? I am, after all, something of a Star Wars fan. Of course, I also like comics, too, so it could be the Justice League or Marvel Comics Monopoly. Maybe they’re thinking of Historical Boston Monopoly. Or Coca-Cola Monopoly. Or Hard Rock Cafe Monopoly. Or one of any of the 1794 (and counting) licensed and unlicensed versions of this dreadful game. Whichever one they mean, the answer is no. Not like Monopoly.

For many people, Monopoly is the boardgame. It holds a place of honor as America’s best-loved boardgame even though most Americans hate it with a passion. We play it (usually incorrectly) as kids, become bored and frustrated by it, and let it sit in a closet until we’re in college, at which point we “remember” the awesome times we had playing it as a kid. When we grow up and have kids of our own, we buy them a Monopoly game one Christmas and then hope they never ever ask us to play it (they won’t.)

Even people who claim to enjoy the game–someone is buying all those obnoxious licensed versions–seldom play it because they can’t find enough suckers to join in a game with them. For every person out there who has great memories of long, violent Monopoly games with the family there are six others who bear traumatic scars of long, violent Monopoly games with the family. (It’s also true that people who love the game and brag about how good they are at it are incapable of determining when someone is throwing the game to get it over with.)

The fans of the game have a single defense. Tell them you hate it and they will, without fail, tell you the Big Secret as to why you have formed such an unfair and unrealistic opinion of this classic, fantastic game: you weren’t playing it right.

They’re probably correct; most people don’t play it right. They ignore mortgage rules, auction rules, building rules, and, most importantly, they put money in the middle of the board for a player to get if he lands on “Free Parking”. That little house rule alone, which so many people think is an actual rule, turns the game into a four hour long snoozefest by injecting more money into the game’s economy. You should never play it with a rule like that. But the truth is, even if you play it by the book it’s still an awful game. Playing by the rules only chops it down to 90-120 minutes of drudgery.

There are three basic strategies to this game:

1) Buy everything you land on. That’s a no-brainer, as everything will be trade fodder later on.

2) Con people into thinking that crap is gold. Once everything is purchased is when, to purists, the game starts. Can you be a canny trader and convince your mark that this worthless piece of junk you’re offering balances the sweet property you’re trying to sucker him out of?

3) Make those stupid unbalanced trades anyway. Not allowing people to create monopolies also prolongs the game. But in addition to giving you Connecticut Avenue, make him do something else. For example, this guy is going to get Marvin Gardens from me if he sticks the dismount.

4) Do nothing. Yes, this is a game in which the optimum strategy for the second half is to stay in jail and not move! Any game in which the goal is to not do anything is suspect.

But ultimately, like Tic-Tac-Toe and Global Thermonuclear War, the best strategy for Monopoly is simply not to play it at all. In the next article I will give you six alternatives to Monopoly. These are games which you will actually enjoy playing and won’t have to beg others to play with you. You won’t be bored with them before the game is even half over. And they won’t require an advanced degree or a slide rule to understand.

There’s a wide world of boardgames out there, and playing Monopoly is like going to Paris and then looking for a TGIFriday’s for dinner. In future installments, this column will point you to the really good ones.

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