Friday, November 5, 2010

Monopoly Might Be The Worst Game Ever

I'd like to start of early in this blog by establishing some things that I generally hold true regarding gaming.  After reading another friends' blog post about gaming he likes, I decided to expound on the fact that Monopoly is, in fact, a very boring game.



If you've never played Monopoly before, it works something like this - you have a square gameboard with about 10 properties of varying color on each side, and then utilities and trains.  You roll dice to move around the board, and you can purchase any property you land on.  Of course, if you land on a property that someone else owns, you have to pay them rent, which increases as they build houses and eventually hotels on the properties.  There are also "chance" cards which can give you extra money, advance you to a certain property, or even send you to jail.  You win by driving every other player completely out of business.

This sounds like it could be an interesting, maybe even fun game, but in practice, it just lames itself to death.  This is in large part because once someone has a clear, strong upper hand which will certainly lead to victory, there is no swift or decisive way to claim that victory.

In almost every game of Monopoly, the ranking of each player is essentially determined within the first few laps around the board... but the game can last for hours after that.  This is almost inevitable because success requires owning a large number of properties that the other players keep landing on to fill your coffer.  And even more inevitably, one player gets great rolls and flies around the board picking property after property, while another continually lands on other players properties, being forced to pay out and not picking up any real estate for themselves to earn it back.

As a result, it doesn't take long for one player to build their resources quickly - which gives them the upper hand in any trading deals with other players.   And of course, as the poor players keep landing on a multitude of properties for which they must pay rent, they soon will start mortgaging their properties - and collecting no rent when opposing players land on them.

Okay, so many games are based on luck, and the roll of a die or the drawing of a card can royally turnip someone, or make them king in an instant.   Some of those games are fun.   But where Monopoly really flattens itself is, even once a player realizes they don't have nearly enough property or resources to win the game... the game doesn't end fairly quickly afterwards.  It drags on, because the player still has to keep landing on the enemy properties and pay out their cash with what they got.  They still get chance cards, handing them back cash, and they still pass go, collecting $200.  Worst of all, the player in top-dog position will often hand out great deals with cash and property to get the one location they need - and it's no real sacrifice to them.  Unfortunately, there is no real quick way to eliminate the other players, even when you have a clear upper hand.

So, instead of a quick playthrough and a decisive ending, the game drags on, and on, slowly siphoning the life out of other players.   In most games based on luck, your luck may go bad initially, but could change near the end of the game, allowing you to catchup and even win. 

Which leads to the next terrible thing that happens - one player gets eliminated.   Finally.  But now what do they do?  Sit around and watch the other players drag each other sloooowly towards defeat?  A game could last another several hours after a player is eliminated.  So much for hanging out with your buddies - or your family - to play a game.

And that brings me to my final criticism, related to all the rest - the game doesn't build up to an exciting point.  It doesn't really intensify at the end.  It's a matter of someone getting the upper hand and then scrubbing the other player clean.  It's like washing the bathtub - it takes forever and it's only exciting because it's finally over.  There's no climactic competition where one player finally makes that one last step that puts him in first place - that happens, but minus the climax, and it's really hard to tell when it happens, and then the game drags on while he slays the other players.


Now I feel the need to mention that there are versions of Monopoly that have some - but not much - redeeming value. I haven't played a lot of the  thematic monopolies, and there are a lot of them.  But I do own Lord of the Rings Monopoly (not my choice, it was a gift.)   It has one thing that changes the whole tone of the game - a specific endpoint.  In LOTR monopoly, there is a ring token that moves around the board each time a "1" on a certain one of the dice is rolled (it's shown as the Eye of Sauron).  When the ring makes it all the way around the board once, the game ends.  This lets the game last long enough for someone to pull ahead, but it also cuts off the game before it gets into the "dragging on" mode of normal monopoly.  If players are eliminated, it's likely it'll happen just near the end, so they can stay for a few minutes to see the end of the game and the final victor.    No one is tortured.  No one is forced to play knowing they are inevitably going to lose.  And no one is kicked out before the game is even halfway over.


But seriously folks.  There are way better games than monopoly out there that you can play with your family.  Settlers of Catan, there's a game where you can build and gain property and resources.  That isn't also a painful experience to play.

5 comments:

  1. My dad's version of Monopoly was even worse. He was an oldest child, and he used to make his two younger sisters play games that lasted a week. He would own all the property on the board except Baltic and Mediterranean, which he graciously allowed them to keep, even though they already owed more than they could pay. He kept a record of how much each sister owed him, and whenever he'd land on their property, instead of paying them any money, he'd just say, "I'll take it off your tab." In that game, running out of money wasn't the end. And my sisters learned from him. I used to think, "After the money runs out, then comes the borrowing." Ugh.

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  2. I don't think a strong climactic ending is a necessity for a decent game. Especially a dice based game. You're correct - so much of monopoly could be decided in the early stages of the game, but in the end it still comes down to who gets the good rolls.

    I think the game also could change pretty dramatically depending on the climate of the players involved. The players who deal out "super deals" to keep other players in the game are solely responsible for any unnecessary lengthening of play. If they truly wanted to keep the game alive they would make deals that actually give the player a fighting chance, but that would be missing the point of the game's goal, I feel.

    Demetri Martin once said in a stand-up routine, that almost all board games could be renamed to "which one of my friend's is a competitive asshole?" Monopoly is solid evidence here, but it's not always the games fault.

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  3. I was pretty ambivalent towards Monopoly until I saw this. It's a play through of the fastest possible endgame:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHJkTz6Ej3U

    The wild variation in how long the game can take, coupled with the fact that it's entirely luck based (after you learn a few rules about buying/selling) makes it just completely unfun.

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  4. Yoi're just biased

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    Replies
    1. Yeah you never plated so you don't know what it's like.

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