Monday, June 10, 2013

We've Been Playing Monopoly Wrong For a Long Time!

Have you ever played Monopoly?

Of course you have. Everyone's played it at some time in their life. It's shared culture, a common element that weaves together our modern world.
But when was the last time you played it?

You can't remember, can you? We've all played it sometime, when we were kids; but never recently, and why?

Because it's crap. It takes ages to play, suffering long action-free periods in which the players endlessly circle the board in search of the streets they need to complete a set, and lacks the interaction between players that we look for in a game. In short, it's boring and lacks skill.

Except that it isn't crap. Actually. You just have to play it the way it was designed to be played.

You just have to read the rules.

What Is Real Monopoly?

Real Monopoly is Monopoly played according to the actual rules. Now as you read this I can just imagine you shaking your head and saying, "Right... Because getting rid of free parking is so going to revolutionise the game!"

But I'm not talking about the rule changes that everyone knows are house-rules. I'm talking about the rules changes that everyone thinks are part of the original rules. I could waffle on, but it'll save a lot of your time and my typing if I just present you with the relevant section of the rules:

BUYING PROPERTY...Whenever you land on an unowned property you may buy that property from the Bank at its printed price. You receive the Title Deed card showing ownership; place it face up in front of you.

If you do not wish to buy the property, the Banker sells it at auction to the highest bidder. The buyer pays the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property. Any player, including the one who declined the option to buy it at the printed price, may bid. Bidding may start at any price.

Take your time. I imagine that 99% of you are at this point exclaiming something along the lines of, "The fuck? Since when was that how you're supposed to play Monopoly?"
Take a deep breath. I know I've just rearranged what seems like one of the fundamental pillars of the world, like the fact that you can't travel faster than light, or the fact that the Wright brothers were the first to achieve powered flight, or the fact that the Swedes do porn and the Dutch do drugs.

But you're just going to have to accept it.

Those are the actual rules of Monopoly. Go and look at the rules in your set if you don't believe me.

Why Is Real Monopoly Better?

Sending un-purchased properties to auction has a number of benefits.

Firstly, it speeds up the game, as it enables the quicker collection of a matched set of streets (and remember that it's only when players have collected sets, and can start building houses, that the game moves into its final phase).

Secondly, it makes the game much more interesting by massively increasing the interaction between players. Bluff appropriately and you could end up buying a property you really want for way below the market price - or trick another player into buying a property you don't want for way more than the market price.
Thirdly, it makes the game much more skilful, since it is now less dependent on luck, and more dependent on your ability to trick, bluff and manage the other players.

So Why Is It No-One Plays The Proper Rules?

Well this is really two questions.
The first question is why is everyone playing a variant of the actual rules without actually realising it. Well the answer here is that no-one ever actually reads the rules of Monopoly. Monopoly is something you learn through word-of-mouth in childhood, like riding a bike or tying your shoelaces. Your mother, who never read the rules but was instead taught them by her father, taught you, and one day you will teach your children, again without reading the rules first. She passed on broken rules to you and you'll pass them on to your kids.
So the set of rules we play by is the shared cultural set of rules passed down through the generations, and not the ones written on the booklet inside the box.
The second question, which is harder to answer, is how this come about. Why, when the game was first released in the 1930s, did people all over the world make an almost cooperative decision to drop the auction? (A decision that is especially puzzling given that it makes for a worse game).

Well I puzzled over this for a long time until my friend Becky - who along with her husband Darrell is something of a board games geek - supplied what I'm pretty sure is the answer. We, gamers as we are, might think a game featuring lots of inter-player shafting is superior to one without. But Monopoly is, and always was, played not by gamers, but by families; and inter-player shafting is liable to cause all sorts of upset.

Imagine you have a game being played by mum, dad, child one and child two. Child two needs Oxford Street (insert street name from your own regional edition) to complete a set. 

Child one lands on Oxford Street. Now under the "shared cultural rules" there are only two outcomes here:

1) Child one decides to buy Oxford Street, making child two slightly unhappy.
2) Child one decides to pass on Oxford Street, meaning that child two still has the opportunity to buy it, which makes him slightly happy.

Now clearly, option one will cause upset to child two. But it is an upset that is more easily rationalised by a child's mind; it isn't like child one stole his property, simply that the dice favoured child one.
But now imagine that we're playing by the proper rules, and child one again lands on Oxford Street, a property that child two is looking to buy. We now have three typical outcomes:
1) Child one decides to buy Oxford Street, making child two slightly unhappy.

2) Child one decides to pass on Oxford Street, it goes to auction, and child two manages to buy it, which makes him very happy.

3) Child one decides to pass on Oxford Street, it goes to auction, and a vicious bidding war then erupts between child two and dad, which ends up with dad winning, child two bursting into tears, mum giving dad a "someone's not having any fun tonight look", and the game grinding to a halt amid tears and recriminations.

I think you can all see the picture. Somewhere along the line someone said, "Let's just leave out that stupid auction rule; we'll have much more fun that way."

Now if parents want to play a crippled game of Monopoly because they're too scared to teach their children how to deal with interpersonal conflict then fine, that's their prerogative.

But we're gamers; we don't have to descend to their level.

What You Can Do About It

You can spread the word. Every time you hear, or read, someone slagging Monopoly off as boring you can call them on it. Point them at this article if necessary.

Because Monopoly deserves to be played as it was meant to be played. And if little Junior can't take that then tough!