What you can learn from Monopoly

“Wha? Monopoly? Eww, gross.” You’re saying… but wait! It’s true.  First I will say that you can learn something about game design from every game you play.  Personally, I learn more from games that I did not enjoy more so than ones I did.

Monopoly is the target of much vitriol in the designer games community, but why?

I think the backlash stems from what I call “Indy Kid Syndrome” a bit of the, “No, no. I like games you’ve never even heard of” type sentiment.  Below are a few reasons that I believe should grant a reprieve from your ire.

Foremost, the game was designed to be BAD. No, seriously. It was and education tool created by Elizabeth J. Phillips to explain the single tax theory of Henry George and sought to demonstrate that monopolies damage the economy and fewer business constraints for companies at the turn of the last century would make it bad for everyone.

On to the game itself: roll, move, buy property or don’t – which triggers an auction, next player does the same, pay “rent” for landing on the properties of other real estate moguls.  Did you catch the auction part?  Yep. There are auction mechanics in the game, seldom used but they are there. No one plays the game correctly.  Ever. I know I never have. The game is moderately complex for what it is.

There actually IS strategy. Capture monopolies, buy properties 7ish spaces apart, etc. True, the pure luck cards add nothing to the game, however they do act a bit like random bonuses (the most purple things!) in more complex euros if you think of the cash like VP. (There is no pile of money on “Free Parking”, that is simply a free space to land on – so that negates the “luck” from a common-non-rule-revered-as-fact.)

The point of the game is to bankrupt the other players with your clever strategy. Aside from paying rent, there is little player interaction. Players can’t actually lend other players money… only the bank can via a mortgage. So the banker has more interaction with other players but otherwise the only interaction is a “gotcha” mechanic. Current game design theory is to let players play the game. Learn from this in your game. If you are not a fan of monopoly, make sure you don’t have the equivalent “Go directly to Jail” and “Free Parking” in YOUR game.

Takeaways: So you don’t like Monopoly? Make a BETTER GAME!

If you aren’t a fan of roll, then move, ad nauseam– use a different movement mechanic in your game.

Salvage things like great tokens and clear auction mechanics and make them your own. Build and grow the pieces you do like and learn from the pieces you don’t.

Unless you’re creating a war based game, maybe avoid the “destroy all other players” goal.

Keep your game from meandering for countless hours. Like those last %*@& troops holed up in Australia, when the game is a foregone conclusion have rules for it to END, preferably before.

The next time someone says “Oh, like Monopoly?” when you say you play board games respond with “You know, not for a long time.  But if you like Monopoly, let me show you [insert game here].”


Leave a Reply