There are several boardgames that draw their fair share of ire. For me and my family it was Outdoor Survival. The game was dry and dull, there were scenarios that could always be won by one side without a dice being rolled, there were scenarios that were unwinnable by all players in the absence of a huge supply of luck. As things went badly you lost the ability to act, until turn after turn became "I move a tiny distance towards some water that I know I cannot reach." All I can say for it is that after an hour or two it really captured the feeling of starving to death.
We're not here to talk about Outdoor Survival though, while it was a bugbear for me growing up its relative obscurity keeps it from being too widely reviled. It did give me a chuckle seeing it at a small wargames convention "For free or best offer", a price that turned out to be too high for the people visiting that day. Today I'm going to talk about what I'm pretty certain is the single most hated boardgame in creation.
Monopoly draws a huge amount of bile from gamers everywhere. On a previous post I've written the phrase "gotten rid of the trash" and couldn't resist linking the word trash to the BGG article on monopoly. In person I've attacked this game plenty of times. I know I'm not the only one, on BGG there is a ranking "Extremely annoying game, won't play this ever again." which is has received 1,266 times, 486 people gave it an even lower rating than that. It's rated 8799/8813 (The lowest rated game is tic-tac-toe, outdoor survival reaches the dizzying height of 8774). I've seen dozens of entries from gamers of all stripes and colours bashing the game. Monopoly is a deeply hated game.
The most common strike against it is actually its popularity. Estimates for the number of copies sold since its conception vary between 200 and 300 million copies. Alone this is not a bad thing, the number of chess sets ever made must dwarf this number, but the game does not receive so much ire. The problem is that the Monopoly is seen as a bad game, which makes people who play it never want to try another. It's the popularity coupled with the quality that makes it draw so much wrath, people who've got into the world of games and found all of the wonderful things that it have to offer lament "If only people hadn't played Monopoly, they might have enjoyed all of this." Selfishly, many wish that when they talked about a love for games people didn't respond "What, like Monopoly?"
It comes down to Monopoly as a tedious, soul destroying existence. From a game design perspective there are plenty of things not to like. Top of my list is that you can be forced to play the game for long after the outcome has become apparent. In chess if you're definitely going to lose it's fine to resign, playing to the bitter end is even looked down upon, as it shows a lack of respect for an opponent to not assume that they can checkmate you with a queen and a rook without accidentally stalemating the game. In Monopoly you can hit into a losing situation and play for an hour or two, doing nothing but rolling dice and moving pieces in a game that you no longer have any reason to be invested in. You can't quit because it's important which opponent gets your remaining assets, it's a game that had boredom hard coded into it. This wouldn't be so bad if it felt like it was in any way your fault, but the game has such a huge random component that it feels like it can drag you into a dull and uninteresting scenario regardless of your decisions.
Recently, I've been questioning to what extent these assertions are actually true. I've heard that house rules make things much worse, but looking at the list of house rules the only one that we actually played with is that landing directly on "Go" netted £400. We did auctions, we didn't do free parking, we didn't use more houses than were in the box (though I don't remember adjusting the available supply for the number of players, which is presumably required for the limit to be meaningful) and so on. My experience was pretty much the game itself and while I remember hating it, I suspect that I enjoyed my early games. The most recent memories stick out and I believe that we played it enough as children that it can't have always been so despised.
So it's not an issue of "playing it wrong" and there are plenty of people who enjoy it. The game must have something beyond excellent marketing going for it to do so well. I've also read an interview not so long ago that I think is interesting. Ken Koury, a Monopoly expert, talks about several aspects of the game. I think that his response to a question about whether it is a game of luck is interesting:
"If that were true you would not see the same people dominating tournaments year after year. In the last 25 years I have played in hundreds of tournaments with anywhere from 50 to 300 players. I could probably count on one hand the number of tournaments where I did not place. Tom, I’m sure you remember meeting former World Monopoly Champion Lee Bayrd at Origins. He has the same kind of record. If I do not win a tournament, it is usually because Lee was there, and he won it. Another top player is Dr. Gary Heller. He has probably played in more National Championships than any other player. While he was growing up and going to college and later working as an adult he lived in a number of different states. He has been the State Champion in every state he has ever lived in.
For some it is 100% luck. If all you do is travel around the board waiting to see what properties you are lucky enough to land on then the dice will control your fate entirely. For the rest of us the game is full of opportunities to exercise our skills with new ones appearing almost every time the dice are rolled. Basically every time a decision needs to be made in the game you have an opportunity to exercise your Monopoly skills."
Besides being reminded of the Mystery Men, what I like about it is that the point is evidenced. A lot of the discussion about whether something is luck based or not boils down to cries of "Is too!" and "Is not!" If the same players are consistently winning then that's fairly compelling evidence that the result is not driven by chance. The distinction between the influence of luck and the feeling that there is an influence of luck is one of my favoriate topics. Now it's still a problem with the game's design and there are a lot of things very wrong with the game, but reading this interview I can't help but wonder if some of the criticisms levelled at the game are down to the players rather than the game itself.
I may even dust off a copy and give it another chance.