Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Best Way To Play Monopoly...

...is to not play it at all.

There's been a lot of attention played to how we've all been playing Monopoly wrong. (The story of this article is actually somewhat interesting; it's a two-year-old blog post, so I'm not sure how it suddenly hit the social media (and, apparently, real media) rounds, and the poor guy got misrepresented a lot. Read that linked article on the Buzzfeed site, then read his update at the bottom about what's happened the last few days. It makes me excited that maybe some day someone will tweet one of my years-old blog posts and I'll get all rich and famous and on the front page of trendy internet sites and eventually be misquoted by traditional media outlets--the true sign of celebrity--but there's always a chance they'll ignore my honest treatise about The C2R Patented Two-Step Solution To Solve All Health Care Problems In America (tm) and instead run with my hard-hitting story about Slugger McMucus instead. But, anyway, I digress.)

It also spawned a legion of articles, much like this one, about the rules of Monopoly. As a self-proclaimed Board Game Evangelist, I thought it would be a pretty good idea to bring some additional insight to the entire realm of the board game hobby.

First off, Monopoly kind of sucks. Even with all of the above amazement about how we're playing it wrong, playing Monopoly wrong has been as much an American institution as playing Monopoly has. People throw money at Free Parking. People don't bother with interest or housing shortages or calculating the dreaded Income Tax. People make up their own rules because, to them, it makes the game more fun, not realizing that it also makes the game longer (and, eventually, not nearly as fun anymore.)

First off, you should read my previous post about why Monopoly sucks (modern games do everything better) and how you can make it better (first player to go bankrupt ends the game (richest player then wins), and auction all properties immediately when the first person lands on it).

But I think it's also important to point out that the board game hobby has been fantastically successful since the Great Eurogame Migration in the mid-1990s. That's when "German Games" hit the United States market and the industry was changed forever. German Games were called that because Germany was, by far, the biggest producer of such games--games with minimal luck, no player elimination, limited conflict, and a more abstract theme. (They are more commonly known as "Eurogames" now to reflect their wider base, although Wikipedia still lists them as "German-style Board Games.") These games were more social than the war- and conflict-driven games like Risk, Axis and Allies, or the old and dusty Avalon Hill thousand-cardboard-chit games you occasionally saw at your creepy grandfather's friend's house that dominated board gaming in the 1970's and 1980's.The flagship game in 1995 was The Settlers of Catan--it used dice, so people who played games like Monopoly were familiar with the concept, but its use of those dice (simulating a bell curve for resource-gathering rather than a roll-and-move mechanism) was incredibly innovative. It's also created whole new genres of games.

Most modern board games are considered "designer" board games (so called because these games usually have a specific designer credited on the box, much like an author). This is mainly to differentiate them from the classic casual games mostly created by faceless committees in large corporations, but it also injects a sufficient amount of snootiness to elitist hobbyists who don't want to get lumped in with the proles who play things like The Game of Life for fun.*

I won't go into the history of board games, but in the nearly 20 years or so since then companies have cranked out some high-quality board games. In fact, large big-box retailers (namely Staples) have started stocking some of the more popular games. I've recommended them before, but good, solid board games for beginners include Pandemic - 2nd Edition (a cooperative game where you try and cure diseases ravaging the world against an  ever-dwindling clock), Ticket To Ride (a game about building trains across the US with mechanics similar to rummy), or Small World (play as various creatures, such as elves or giants, trying to control the world).

Each of these options are significantly better than Monopoly, and very few of them will involve your little sister crying because you built a hotel on Park Place or your dad only half-paying attention because the baseball game is on or your snotty brother's friend flipping the board instead of mortgaging properties. Like I said: innovation.

*I am only being slightly facetious. Hobbyists in all fields can be pricks.


  1. I believe you're wrong. The best way to play Monopoly is to play the German version with only a basic understanding of German.