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Subject: Why Hobby Gamers Don't Like Monopoly rss

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Drew Spencer
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This was written for the Gen-Y Mensa newsletter, and so its intended audience is not hobby gamers. The title should be taken literally; it is an explanation to people who might not know a lot of board games as to why most hobby gamers do not like to play Monopoly.

Monopoly is by far the best selling board game in America, if not the whole world. This alone might lead people to believe that it is a good board game. A lot of people also only had Monopoly, or maybe had Monopoly and a couple party games, when growing up. Monopoly is a strategy game and not a party game, and so for people who like strategy, it might have seemed pretty good when compared to games like Taboo or Pictionary. There are even people who play Monopoly in tournaments, and books have been published on Monopoly strategy and statistics.

In spite of all this, find a local hobby gaming group in your city, and Monopoly is not likely to be one of the games that hits the table very often. Maybe hobby gamers don't like Monopoly because it is old. Or because they are elitist snobs Monopoly is popular. Or maybe it's because it's American, whereas most of the games they seem to be playing come from Germany. Or maybe they just don't like games about making money off of hotels. These reasons seem to disappear though, when you consider the game Acquire. Hobby gamers will generally be happy to play a game of Acquire, which is another popular (though admittedly less-so than Monopoly) American game released in 1962 in which players compete to make money off of hotel chains.

Brief Game-play Overview

So why don't hobby gamers like Monopoly? Well let's look at Monopoly and see how it measures up to other board games:

In Monopoly players roll two dice and move that many spaces around a board. Some of the spaces on a Monopoly board will cost them money, some do nothing, and some tell them to draw a card and do what it says which could be either good or bad for them. Most of the spaces, however, are properties. Landing on a property owned by the bank (the default) means a player must buy it at the listed price or auction it off to everyone. Landing on a property owned by another player means they must pay rent (usually much less than the cost of the property) to the player who owns it. Properties come in blocs, and if a player manages to get an entire bloc (a monopoly), either by luck or by trading, then they can vastly increase the amount of rent charged on it by buying houses and hotels and placing them on that bloc. As players run out of money, primarily from paying rent to other players, they are eliminated from the game until there is only one remaining player who wins.

Just to get this out of the way, there are two variant rules that a lot of people play with: the first is that if you land on a property owned by the bank you can just do nothing rather than buy it or auction it, and the second is that all money payed in taxes (from various board spaces and cards) go into a pool which is won by any player landing on the "Free Parking" space. Both of these rules do almost nothing good for the game and can make it take a lot longer, so I am only addressing the rules as they were intended to be played: without those variants.

Problems with the Game

On to the problems: The first is that the distribution of properties is the most important determinate of who will win, and they are distributed randomly by rolling dice and moving onto them. A game in which the most important way to win is rolling the right number on a set of dice can never be terribly interesting. This can be mitigated somewhat by fair trading, but unfortunately there are incentives against fair trading; each player's first priority should be getting a monopoly while preventing others from doing the same, so if two players find a mutually beneficial trade with each other, usually it means they both are getting Monopolies or at least getting close to Monopolies, which will never save the guy who ended up with Baltic, one railroad, one utility, and two get out of jail free cards. By contrast, in Acquire, the pieces a player has are random, but everyone has equal opportunity to buy stock in any hotel chain, without having to land on by luck.

The second big problem is called the "Runaway Leader" problem. It simply means that at a certain point in the game it tends to become obvious who is going to win, or at best which of two players are going to win, and the rest just have to sit there and get slapped with rent payments until they lose. A game in which the winner is decided prior to the ending conditions being reached is a recipe for boredom. The "Free Parking" variant is intended to mitigate this, but without changing the distribution of properties, it really just delays the inevitable. Again, by contrast, Acquire players have stock in dynamically changing companies, and so it will be extremely difficult to determine who will win prior to the actual end of the game.

Those are the two big problems. There are others. For example, roll and move along a single path is almost always a boring mechanic, since it reduces the number of interesting decisions. Also, the properties' stated values rarely correspond exactly to their value to the players, which only increases the amount of random chance in the game.

Conclusion

Finally I want to say that although this may seem like a Monopoly bash-fest, actually Monopoly is not a bad game overall. If you like Monopoly, you're not wrong to like it, but chances are if you have played both Monopoly and Acquire, you will agree with me that Acquire is more fun. As it happens, so are Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Power Grid, Race for the Galaxy, and dozens of other board games I can list off the top of my head. Monopoly is a fine game, but give some others a try, and you may be surprised how many games are out there that are better than fine.
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Charles A. Davis
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A nice succinct description of the issues. As it is an elimination game, any variant that extends the length is bad.
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Justin S.
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Quote:
The second big problem is called the "Runaway Leader" problem. It simply means that at a certain point in the game it tends to become obvious who is going to win, or at best which of two players are going to win, and the rest just have to sit there and get slapped with rent payments until they lose. A game in which the winner is decided prior to the ending conditions being reached is a recipe for boredom.


There are many games like this. Take the popular Axis and Allies; if let's say Moscow has tons of infantry and fighters on it, and Germany / Japan attacked, and both lost a majority of their armies there, and US / Britain have tons of transports very capable of taking Germany on their turns, isn't that "Runaway Leader"?
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Drew Spencer
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mejustjustin wrote:
There are many games like this. Take the popular Axis and Allies; if let's say Moscow has tons of infantry and fighters on it, and Germany / Japan attacked, and both lost a majority of their armies there, and US / Britain have tons of transports very capable of taking Germany on their turns, isn't that "Runaway Leader"?


I have never played Axis and Allies, so I can't speak to the specific example. However, you're right that lots of games have the runaway leader problem to one degree or another. Some games might be good in spite of that problem, but it's never a good thing.
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Kenneth Bailey
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banyan wrote:
mejustjustin wrote:
There are many games like this. Take the popular Axis and Allies; if let's say Moscow has tons of infantry and fighters on it, and Germany / Japan attacked, and both lost a majority of their armies there, and US / Britain have tons of transports very capable of taking Germany on their turns, isn't that "Runaway Leader"?


I have never played Axis and Allies, so I can't speak to the specific example. However, you're right that lots of games have the runaway leader problem to one degree or another. Some games might be good in spite of that problem, but it's never a good thing.

Personally, I prefer games with the runaway leader "problem". At least you know you are screwed rather than those games where you can hang on for dear life and maybe have a shot but knowing full well you don't.
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James Fung
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The reason I don't recommend Monopoly is the play length: BGG lists play time at 3 hours, which I think is a bit conservative. There's so many other games with more interesting decisions you can play in that time. Heck, you can probably play 2 of them in the same time.
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Emile de Maat
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mejustjustin wrote:
There are many games like this. Take the popular Axis and Allies; if let's say Moscow has tons of infantry and fighters on it, and Germany / Japan attacked, and both lost a majority of their armies there, and US / Britain have tons of transports very capable of taking Germany on their turns, isn't that "Runaway Leader"?


I wouldn't say that is runaway leader. In my opinion, a game suffers from if a player who has the initial lead can not (or seldom) be stopped.

Axis & Allies doesn't really have this problem. Gaining an early lead early on in the game (i.e. having some more units survive a battle than should have been the case, on average) does give you an advantage (as it should be), but a couple of dice rolls later, you may no longer have that advantage.

Now, the situation you decide is not an "initial lead". If Germany and Japan have lost the majority of their armies against the USSR, while the allies still have big armies, then that is a turning point in the game. It should also be over quite soon from here.
 
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Justin S.
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Purple wrote:
mejustjustin wrote:
There are many games like this. Take the popular Axis and Allies; if let's say Moscow has tons of infantry and fighters on it, and Germany / Japan attacked, and both lost a majority of their armies there, and US / Britain have tons of transports very capable of taking Germany on their turns, isn't that "Runaway Leader"?


I wouldn't say that is runaway leader. In my opinion, a game suffers from if a player who has the initial lead can not (or seldom) be stopped.

Axis & Allies doesn't really have this problem. Gaining an early lead early on in the game (i.e. having some more units survive a battle than should have been the case, on average) does give you an advantage (as it should be), but a couple of dice rolls later, you may no longer have that advantage.

Now, the situation you decide is not an "initial lead". If Germany and Japan have lost the majority of their armies against the USSR, while the allies still have big armies, then that is a turning point in the game. It should also be over quite soon from here.


Yes, which is the runaway leader. To be honest, in the runaway leader situation in Monopoly, I'd say that the "probable loser" has a higher chance of winning than the probably loser in Axis and allies.

The reason is, there are certain things of luck in Monopoly that never change (eg: The cards). If the very powerful person drew a card that said "Pay $50 per house, $115 per hotel", he'd be kind of screwed, and that'd bring him down a considerable amount. In A&A, it is hard to get lucky with many dice, because luck with the dice is not a consistent factor. And if the person outnumbers you badly militarily, chances are he outnumbers you economically. If he has more troops and is getting more troops quicker than you, you're just about guranteed dead. And there are chance that YOU might even get bad luck even though you are outnumbered. I hope my explanation makes sense.

I don't mean to cause controversy, just trying to make the point that there are A LOT / MANY board games that are "Runaway Leader" like. So, that is an invalid point to poke at Monopoly for.
 
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Anthony Simons
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mejustjustin wrote:
Quote:
The second big problem is called the "Runaway Leader" problem. It simply means that at a certain point in the game it tends to become obvious who is going to win, or at best which of two players are going to win, and the rest just have to sit there and get slapped with rent payments until they lose. A game in which the winner is decided prior to the ending conditions being reached is a recipe for boredom.


There are many games like this. Take the popular Axis and Allies; if let's say Moscow has tons of infantry and fighters on it, and Germany / Japan attacked, and both lost a majority of their armies there, and US / Britain have tons of transports very capable of taking Germany on their turns, isn't that "Runaway Leader"?


A "runaway leader" problem occurs when a player gaining a lead early in a game is difficult/impossible to dethrone between that point and game end.

While the problem described for Monopoly exists, it is hardly a case of a "runaway leader" and is more fitting of some other description - I don't have one, but I'm sure games that play long beyond their logical end point are not in possession of "runaway leader" problems.

I don't think the A&A example fits, because in that example the Axis player clearly has a fighting chance before and after the event. In Monopoly, a rich player who holds all but a few properties is insurmountable and the players are just marking time before the inevitable end.

Great article, by the way.
 
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Bill Gallagher
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Good article. I hope that this will convince some teenagers and young adults hooked on World of Warcraft MMO and/or console gaming that board games can be fun!
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Philip Thomas
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What makes the 'runaway' leader problem so infamous in Monopoly is the potential length of time playing after the leader has become clear. Since Monopoly is often played as a family game, conceding is not usual, players preferring to carry on to the bitter end.

The problem is also generally worse in multiplayer games than in two-player games, partly because conceding is less acceptable in multiplayer as you might affect someone else's position and partly simply because it is more people dying slowly.
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Chris Farrell
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I think the question of why we don't like Monopoly is complicated, and not really that strongly tied to runaway leaders or other high-level gameplay elements (although Monopoly does have a few tuning issues, more on this later). Hobby gamers love Age of Steam, which is of similar length to Monopoly and has a runaway leader problem that is at least as severe. Player elimination is certainly an issue, but hobbyists also like games where players are "virtually eliminated", again like Age of Steam or Brass or Civilization (or even Settlers of Catan), or eliminated outright, like Titan. The "unfair resource distribution" is a feature of many games "we" like, and Monopoly arguably mitigates it by being a deal-making game.

I think there are a couple more pressing things:

- Monopoly is a trading/deal-making game. This sort of game tends to be much less popular amongst hobbyists, who apparently prefer much more tactical games (I think this makes the Acquire-Monopoly comparison unfair; Monopoly is a deal-making game, Acquire a strictly tactical one. To me, it's apples and oranges). There is not one single deal-making game anywhere in the BGG top 50, despite having a bunch of great modern ones available to choose from (Chinatown, Traders of Genoa, Bohnanza, and Quo Vadis, for starters). Only Settlers of Catan, which is not quite the same thing.

- Most people of our age have never played Monopoly correctly, and so may have bad experiences with it. The 3+ hour playing times reported by players are most likely linked to two things. Firstly, the very popular Free Parking optional rule which drags the game out substantially. Secondly, players frequently allow very wide-ranging deals (rent immunities are a huge culprit here) which are not technically allowed by the rules, which only allow players to trade cash and properties. Allowing these sorts of deal is very problematic and can dramatically lengthen the game.

Monopoly tends to be marketed to a much younger demographic than seems reasonable, and those younger kids are more likely to play Monopoly as an experience rather than a game, thus the popularity of this style of play. But as an adult these features turn into problems.

- Monopoly's biggest structural problem, in my opinion, is that it simply doesn't scale well. Monopoly plays perfectly well with 4 players. But with 5 or more, you have a lot more cash in the game (because everyone starts with the same amount regardless of the player count) and so it's going to take longer to end and have a long period with players eliminated and the ultimate winner obvious. Also, with the same number of properties available, more than 4 players leads to a dramatically higher likelihood of getting in an unplayable position (not enough property) due to the roll of the dice, especially for players later in the turn order who have a pretty high chance of getting hosed (you really, really don't want to be player #5 in a 5-player game). Monopoly desperately needs a house rule to reduce the amount of cash in the game with more than 4 players and to give later players a better chance with 5+ players in the game. A better practical answer seems to be just to play with 4, the number for which it seems to have been designed.
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Chris Farrell
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As a quick follow-up, I would suggest that anyone who wants to try to bridge the gap between Monopoly players and players of "our" games should actually play Monopoly, correctly, with 4 players, a few times. The salient features players often miss are:

- Auction properties players opt not to buy;
- Interpret the deal-making rules strictly, i.e., allow trading of cash, properties, and get-out-of-jail-free cards, but disallow "futures" deals like rent immunities, purchase options, etc.
- Avoid the Free Parking optional rule like the plague
- Don't use the Speed Die included in the most recent edition of the game

Additionally, I recommend the following:

- Play with exactly 4.
- Play to two bankruptcies (then counting assets) instead of to the last person standing (this is a minor variant of the included "short" game).

I did this recently and found that Monopoly was a surprisingly entertaining game. It's not on the level with modern games, but realizing that Monopoly and modern games are really just not that far apart makes it a lot easier to talk to someone when you mention that you're a boardgame fan, and they say "like Monopoly?". Because you can basically just say "yes" and talk about what's good about Monopoly that modern games have improved, instead of going on a harangue about all Monopoly's problems.
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Josh Adelson
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I'm always amazed at the numbers of people who claim to have never played Monopoly with the printed rules. The longstanding short rules for Monopoly make the game--amazingly enough--much shorter than the standard game, which, by itself, is really not that long if people don't drag the game out incessantly with ridiculously involved trading sessions. People who really know how to play Monopoly know instantly whether or not a deal will benefit them and play accordingly. Since hobby gamers apparently includes such a tiny subset of the people from the previous sentence, that has some bearing on the former's overall enjoyment of the game.

I have been a hobby gamer for as long as I've been playing Monopoly, and Monopoly is a critical part, for me, of the hobby. I suppose if I were a professional gamer I might hold some different view....
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Paul Turfrey
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cfarrell wrote:

I did this recently and found that Monopoly was a surprisingly entertaining game. It's not on the level with modern games, but realizing that Monopoly and modern games are really just not that far apart makes it a lot easier to talk to someone when you mention that you're a boardgame fan, and they say "like Monopoly?". Because you can basically just say "yes" and talk about what's good about Monopoly that modern games have improved, instead of going on a harangue about all Monopoly's problems.


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A great and very valid point: if you want to persuade people to try the more modern games you have to start from a patch of common ground.
So many of the views on here start with "Whaddya mean?! Monopoly is a crap game played by children who should grow up to know better". Dismiss peoples experience and they are very, very likely to dismiss you as casually as you have them.

I will happily lay a bet with every single person on BGG that they can lay their hands on a copy of the game either by going to their own collection or at worst calling their parents (or other close family).

Sure tell 'em what is bad about monopoly. They will all remember the interminable games where they either sat on the sidelines saying: "Can we play something else yet?", or knew for an hour that they had no chance of winning barring some outrageous luck which would never come.

But tell them what is good as well. Negotiation, trading and return investment (ok the last one is completely random but you do know which sets are the best, right?). Start off on the right footing and it will help enourmously
 
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Philip Thomas
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One problem with Monopoly as compared to modern games is that the number of meaningful decisions per unit time is much lower for Monopoly.

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John Clark
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I was going to reply but Chris Farrell has so exactly said what I was going to say that I only need to point back to his comments.

Monopoly IS a deal-making and trading game and if you don't like these kinds of games then you won't like Monopoly. It has nothing at all to do with 'roll-and-move' or 'runaway leader'.

My preference is to take money out of the game in all situations, not just 5+ players. Every time you get money from the bank halve the amount.
 
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Phil Petrie
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I definitely agree with the runaway leader problem. And it's less about that than how long it takes, even using the rules as written, for the game to finally end. You end up with three people losing, and one person winning, for a full hour of play. With settlers or the like, you can usually deliver a fairly merciful death in a couple blows once it's clear you're the leader. But with Monopoly, ugg. You've got to sit there and lose for an hour.

That it's popular and marketed as a family game doesn't help. That means you've got people of different ages playing the game, and the shrewd economics it simulates are hard to understand for younger people.

Also, I think the board is too small. For a trading/economy game, the simulated market it presents, there's not a lot of options. There's only one path to victory: have lots of property and develop it well. If you miss enough of those opportunities, then that's it for you. The chance/community chest cards are worthless in the end game compared to the income you'll get from rent. In Setters (an example people will understand), you might be stuck in the middle, or on a 9 that's not producing, but you can flank your opponents with development cards, largest army, etc. Where other games can be fairly dynamic, I feel railroaded with monopoly.
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Chris Farrell
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philpetrieaudio wrote:

Also, I think the board is too small. For a trading/economy game, the simulated market it presents, there's not a lot of options. There's only one path to victory: have lots of property and develop it well.


I think this is a little bit of an oversimplification; it's like saying there is only one route to victory, make the most money. True, but not necessarily helpful. The route to victory generally involves making shrewd deals, managing your cash well, and, in fairness, being lucky. These are reasonably nuanced decisions, except for the luck thing.

When you play with the 4 players/play to 2 bankruptcies rule, it seriously cuts down on the game end problem. Standard game with 5 players does have an excruciating endgame. But 4 played to two bankruptcies the amount of time spent going from an obvious winner to an actual winner is much smaller, maybe 20-30 minutes, not as good as but not vastly worse than Settlers.

Again, I'm not arguing Monopoly is a great game. Just that it's not a terrible game and not as far away from euros as is generally thought around here.
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Steve Norton
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banyan wrote:
Also, the properties' stated values rarely correspond exactly to their value to the players, which only increases the amount of random chance in the game.


I've often thought that I could write an essay on the failings of monopoly, but this is better than I could have managed.

This quote in particular made me think. As an intriguing variant, wouldn't it be better to auction ALL properties the first time that ANYBODY lands on them? The price on the card could possibly serve as a minimum (a la Power Grid), or maybe just as a guide? But this would mean that the price paid would be more akin to what the card is worth. Sure, some sets remain more desirable than others, but that will be reflected in the competition for that property and the final price. Would you compete for Mayfair/ParkLane and inevitably end up flirting with bankruptcy? Or would you try to snap up Euston Road when nobody else seemed bothered? It would introduce some strategy to a game in which strategy is conspicously lacking. Of course, if you were the first person to land on a property (and initiate the auction) then your go is effectively wasted - but so what? Thats just bad luck (and monopoly players should be used to that). Bid for it if you want it! The game will be back to normal after a couple of laps of the board, and players won't be able to blame the dice if their cards are weak.

Anybody ever tried this?

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Sven Teuber
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Since obtaining property is always useful (either use it yourself, or trade it to a player desperate for it and gain your own advantage in the deal), why would I want to throw away the opportunity to get a property at it's list price when I step on it?

In my casual gamer's sessions with Monopoly (a rather long time ago), the only situation in which a player would not buy a property he stepped on was if they hadn't the cash, rendering the auction rule pretty useless.
 
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Chris Farrell
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Almost all the properties in the game are mis-priced, some more than others (like, Green and Orange). This does make playing Monopoly harder than it should be.

The thing is, though, that the list prices are not the key thing, not in Monopoly and not in any deal-making game. You have to get pretty lucky to get a color monopoly just by landing on the properties yourself. So you have to deal. And it's the deals that make or break you, not the purchases. Evaluating how much a property that completes a monopoly is worth to an opponent when you aren't getting a monopoly in return - or even when you are - is tricky, and involves far more cash than the original purchases, and is where the game is won and lost (to the extent that you can apply skill, anyway).

While it's true that the vast majority of the time you just buy whatever you land on, and auctions are pretty rare, they still do reliably happen a few times a game as players become cash-poor or have less interest in outlying properties as they develop their monopolies.

I've often wondered whether it might not be worth it to auction Green or Blue properties if you land on them quite early (first couple times around the board). Those properties are very expensive and probably not worth their printed price until you see how things develop. You could kick it into an auction, and either get the property cheaper than you would have otherwise, or get another player to pay a good chunk of cash for a marginal-odds property, both of which seem like better outcomes than just buying it at the inflated list. While it's true that having property is better than having cash, I think a player who is in a good cash position in the midgame can be in a position to pick up properties relatively cheaply as other players get crunched or want to raise money to build developments.
 
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Steve Norton
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Figilano wrote:
why would I want to throw away the opportunity to get a property at it's list price when I step on it?


Sorry, I obviously didn't make myself clear enough. I was suggesting that when a player lands on an unclaimed property, an auction is initiated AUTOMATICALLY - i.e. the player who landed on it has no prior claim at all.

If you try re-reading my original post, my suggestion might become rather more clear.
 
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Sven Teuber
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I got that, my comment wasn't directly refering to your post. It was meant to be a general comment on Monopoly and it's game mechanics, and how they are percieved by casual gamers.

What I meant to say is: Monopoly may offer interesting rules and some strategic options, but when played by casual gamers, it's basically a "buy everything you can afford, and pray that your dice roll will land you on an unoccupied or cheap property"-game. I played it in different groups, and they all played it like this. In fact, not a single property was ever auctioned off.

It may have been wrong or ineffective, but casual players played it that way nonetheless. Thank good we played other boardgames, too, that really got me into boardgaming - I think Pachisi, Scotland Yard and Journey Through Europe need to be mentioned here.
 
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Chris Farrell
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ideogram wrote:
...
I think it a mistake to say we play "boardgames", because the first thing outsiders ask is, "oh, like Monopoly?" and you have to explain that no, we don't play stupid children's games. I prefer to say we play "strategy games", "which you'd like if you like chess" which is not quite accurate either, but closer to the truth.


See, this is the problem. Many people play and enjoy Monopoly. Many people who played it when they were younger played it correctly. Many people have fond memories of playing Monopoly or Risk in college. When someone asks you that question, you'll get a lot further with a "yes, but ..." than with a "no, Monopoly is stupid, our games are so much better because ...". Games like Modern Art or Agricola or whatever are far closer in heritage to Monopoly than they are to Chess, and lots of people who have been turned off by Chess' intensity are going to like modern games, and plenty of chess players are going to find euros silly.

I don't disagree fundamentally that Monopoly is marketed to people who are too young. But I've been trying to figure out how to answer that question - "oh, like Monopoly?" - for a while, and I think an answer along the lines of "yes" is a far better starting place. Depending on what you like, maybe you nudge them towards Risk, Clue, or Scrabble instead; but the basic point still holds. These are far better places to start than Chess, unless you're talking about GIPF or something.
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