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Subject: Why Monopoly Blows Flaming Donkey Chunks rss

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Chris Tannhauser
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Monopoly doesn't suck because it sucks, it sucks for the same reason Grandpa doesn't do a slo-jam version of the 'Not A Baby-Daddy' dance to T-Pain Featuring Yung Joc's Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin')--BECAUSE HE'S OLD.

Themed games, especially those tied to a specific zeitgeist, do not age well. In fact, it could be said that as soon as everyone who groks the zeitgeist is dead, the game is dead, too. That would make Monopoly a wheezing undead thing, brought to wretched and unnatural animation purely through the ritual application of marketing dollars.

Monopoly only works if you grok the Great Depression.

Imagine that you're:

- Poor

- Hungry

- There's no such thing as any kind of electronic entertainment or communication media beyond radio

- You're so poor you can't afford a radio

- All you do have is massive amounts of time.

So in the final analysis it's like being a college student, but without the videogames.

What could be a popular pastime for people whose everyday reality involves being poor, hungry and bored?

How about if we play a game where we get to pretend we're wheelin'-dealin' real estate barons with fistfuls of cash--buying, selling, building houses and hotels, and did I mention handling fat wads of paper money?

It should make you drool, thinking of all the paper bags-ful of ribbon candy you could buy if only that money was real... (oh, and maybe some milk for the baby).

(On a side note, perhaps that is why Monopoly appeals to children--getting to fondle all that cash.)

This leads me to ask, what's the oldest themed game that still works? When I think of old games that are good, they are all either themeless card games or outright abstracts. Go and Backgammon, for instance. And while it can be argued that Chess has a theme--Medieval/Renaissance monarchal power-hijinx--we've been programmed to look upon it with nostalgia; the very idea is terribly romantic.

In the end, it's not Monopoly's fault. The flaw lies within us--we no longer contain any of the psychic receptor sites that allow us to interface with the game on a gut level. We lack the yawning emptiness, the hunger, that Monopoly was specifically designed to fill and sate.*

Unfortunately for Monopoly, it is no more relevant to our daily reality than Where's the Beef?

Chris

*Not by Magie, but by Darrow and Parker Brothers.

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Darrell Hanning
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If your logic follows, then Monopoly should then not suck, once one makes the spaces and theme again relevant to contemporary economics and society. At that point, it should once again be "chunk-free", right?

FWIW, I think it's still going to suck, regardless of how up-to-date it's theme is.

What makes it such a tired, trite game is the mechanics, not the thematic content.
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Philip Thomas
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If the games we play now had been available in the Great Depression they'd have been more popular than Monopoly then, too.

Of course, we may yet get to test your theory, I've heard the economy moves in 70 year long cycles (called Kondriatev waves I think).
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Chris Tannhauser
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DarrellKH wrote:
If your logic follows, then Monopoly should then not suck, once one makes the spaces and theme again relevant to contemporary economics and society. At that point, it should once again be "chunk-free", right?

FWIW, I think it's still going to suck, regardless of how up-to-date it's theme is.

What makes it such a tired, trite game is the mechanics, not the thematic content.


Retheming helps the game not at all (QED)--so the problem is not as simple as changing the spaces and theme. In my mind the mechanics and theme of Monopoly are inextricably tied to one another.

The 'base engine' that drives the game is not terribly sophisticated and has been far out-stripped by newer, 'better' games.

The only thing that can make Monopoly relevant is to have lived my grandmother's life--being sent out as a child to wander the railroad tracks in the snow looking for a stray chunk of coal with which to heat the house.

So the problem is a holistic one; merely changing the theme is like clipping bling to grandpa's walker.
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There are many cycles in the economy, and the Kondratieff (or Kondratiev) cycle is just one of them. It's a technology driven system of 50 to 60 year waves characterized by specific technologies (that's the theory). Only if several of the economic cycles are at a low at the same time, you'll have a really big depression (of 30s level). When that happens and no one is able to play the electricity bill any more we'll all be playing real boardgames in the light of burning copies of monopoly.
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Matt
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An interesting perspective, and I can imagine that the fantasy of wealth was certainly more fun in a time when nobody had it. But it's got a major, timeless flaw in that it sucks to lose. It starts to suck as soon as you realize you're losing, and doesn't get more fun until it's over and you can move on to something else. And the only way to enjoy winning is to be happy that your opponents are in such a crappy situation.

(For those that harp on the mechanics of the game, I will point out that the mechanics themselves are almost the same as the mechanics of the life-giver of all boardgames, Die Siedler von Catan. Resource management, negotiation, bidding, area control, etc. The individual mechanics themselves really aren't bad, although they are combined poorly.)

The thing that really ruins Monopoly is that once things shake out and people have built their houses & hotels, it's a game where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, until the poor own nothing and the rich have everything.

Can a game such as this ever become more popular again among boardgame fans? I can't see it, regardless of the economic state of the times that the players are in. It's obsolete.
 
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Chris Tannhauser
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Just to clarify:

What I'm saying is that Monopoly is a historical artifact whose time is long gone. Comparing it to modern games in order to figure out if it's 'any good' is akin to comparing a modern car to a Medieval donkey cart.

Also:

I'm curious if themed games have any historical staying power--or are they, as artifacts of their period, destined to become 'bad' games?
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Philip Thomas
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Quote:
I'm curious if themed games have any historical staying power--or are they, as artifacts of their period, destined to become 'bad' games?


Interesting question, I'm not sure we can really answer it though, at the moment. How many themed games existed before WWII? Apart from Monopoly that is. Stratego and its cousins are pretty abstract.

I guess what tends to happen is the themed game becomes an abstract. Once upon a time Chess was a themed game, of sorts, and indeed the rules were different to reflect this. Now it no longer reflects society at all.

Of course, in a few more decades we may have a better idea of this aspect of game-playing. Will WWII games lose popularity as the last WWII veterans die out? Will Twilight Struggle seem a distorted and unrealistic take on the Cold War? And will that stop it being a great game?

Of course, some games are more tied to a period than others. I remember a Spitting Image game which had the politicians of the 80s. I was playing it at school in the 90s and the only character still in office was the Pope (John Paul II was shown on the model though since all his cards called him the Pope it might still work for his sucessor). The other characters we just about remembered from early childhood, except for this guy called Lord Owen. Nobody ever played Lord Owen, cos they didn't know who he was. Kids today might well not get Neil Kinnock either- and by the next decade Margaret Thatcher and Ronalad Reagan could well be forgotten too. The model for the Journalist was pretty timeless though, a fat and greedy pig..

In the course of the game you revealed scandals about the politicians. Each politician had 3 'lives'. Everytime a scandal was revealed and they didn't block it with a Lie or National Security No Comment they would lose a life. The scandals were pretty funny to a 90s audience but in say, a hundred years time they may just be bizarre.

Ok, long trip down memory lane over...
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Chris Tannhauser
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Philip Thomas wrote:
I guess what tends to happen is the themed game becomes an abstract.


Very interesting. And I suppose this would only really happen if the underlying mechanics of the game are solid to begin with... This answer is very satisfying to me. Thanks!

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Will WWII games lose popularity as the last WWII veterans die out? Will Twilight Struggle seem a distorted and unrealistic take on the Cold War? And will that stop it being a great game?


I'm not too worried about WWII games--just look at the American Civil War. Both have become 'fantasy' themes in their own right.

As for Twilight Struggle, I can see it running into trouble beyond my lifetime: it's awfully interesting to my father, who is an honest-to-god Cold Warrrior, and to me, because I lived under the shadow of nuclear annihilation pretty much every day of my childhood, all the way through into college; but my kids? I don't know. I can see them being interested from a historical perspective, and perhaps out of a desire to better understand my father and me... How about their children? I imagine they'll give it about as much time as I give Monopoly. For TS the theme and gameplay are a unified gestalt--if you change the theme, you really have a very different game. So I'd have to say it's too wedded to it's time to be anything more than The Very Best Thing You Can Do In History Class. Along the same lines as your Spitting Image game. Great for history geeks, impenetrable to everyone else.

 
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I don't think its just age of theme that makes it dated. For instance, Touring seems as contemporary as other card games released today.

I think we are just in a cycle (I'm talking in terms of decades not years) where long playing games with elements of chance aren't big right now. As we perfect our definition of what we enjoy we will get repetitive and refocus again. Of course with all the innovation in game theory in recent decades we'll never go back to loving something exactly like Monopoly.
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mmoberly wrote:
For those that harp on the mechanics of the game, I will point out that the mechanics themselves are almost the same as the mechanics of the life-giver of all boardgames, Die Siedler von Catan. Resource management, negotiation, bidding, area control, etc. The individual mechanics themselves really aren't bad, although they are combined poorly.


The mechanics of Monopoly are totally different from the mechanics of Settlers of Catan. Monopoly is entirely about trading properties between players. The movement on the board is a way of randomly assigning the properties to the players, and generating random payouts to and between them. The actual game is about what the players do with those properties: namely, how they trade with one another. So it's much more like Civilization, or Bohnanza, than like Settlers of Catan. Certainly, Settlers of Catan has a trading element, but the greater influence on the game is the actual building element; it has more in common with games like Puerto Rico or Caylus.

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The thing that really ruins Monopoly is that once things shake out and people have built their houses & hotels, it's a game where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, until the poor own nothing and the rich have everything.


Actually, that seems like the very best aspect of the game.
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What's with the hatred of Monopoly, man?

"Just to clarify:

What I'm saying is that Monopoly is a historical artifact whose time is long gone. "

Relax and play something else.
 
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Chris Tannhauser
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double_ones wrote:
What's with the hatred of Monopoly, man?

"Just to clarify:

What I'm saying is that Monopoly is a historical artifact whose time is long gone. "

Relax and play something else.


No hatred here. I'm attempting to clarify my own feelings on the game and perhaps get some new data points on the 'Monopoly vs. Every Other Game' curve. These discussions usually devolve into 'Monopoly sucks' and 'Nuh-Uh!' I'm just curious if there isn't another way of framing the debate; I'm hoping that viewing Monopoly as a cultural artifact will take some of the heat off.

If you have something to bring to the discussion, please do.



Chris
 
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HiveGod wrote:
I'm just curious if there isn't another way of framing the debate; I'm hoping that viewing Monopoly as a cultural artifact will take some of the heat off.


Perhaps trying to understand some of the positive aspects of Monopoly, including elements that some people might enjoy and that tend to be lacking from more recent games, might be another way to "take the heat off".
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mmoberly wrote:
...once things shake out and people have built their houses & hotels, it's a game where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, until the poor own nothing and the rich have everything.


So, it's not a game, it's a simulation.
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Chris White
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I disagree.

While the circumstances of the Great Depression are certainly the major reason why Monopoly caught the widespread attention of the public, and while increased prosperity and inflation has made the specific dollar amounts seem quaint, the general theme of "get rich on real estate" is by no means tired out. Hell, it's basically the same theme as Acquire, which while also relatively old, is still well-loved by the BGG crowd.

Also, it's not like all the umpteen-million rethemings of Monopoly have failed in the marketplace- the drive to "own it all" still exists with us today, and Monopoly has become a convenient, cultural-shorthand base on which to paste on whatever topic is of interest.

Besides, if the quality of a game was so intimately tied to the theme's connection with the zeitgeist of the times, then how do you explain Puerto Rico? That game should have gone out of style centuries ago! (Of course, it's not like PR has ever been "in style" for 99% of the public, so you may have a point.)

As for Twilight Struggle, I love the game despite being arguably too young to have a personal interest in the Cold War- by the time I was really aware of the world, it was the Barcelona Olympics and they were competing as the CIS. Sure, it helps, and I'd be shocked if TS is as popular 50 years from now, but that goes for almost every game anyway.
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Chris Tannhauser
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traininthedistance wrote:
Besides, if the quality of a game was so intimately tied to the theme's connection with the zeitgeist of the times, then how do you explain Puerto Rico? That game should have gone out of style centuries ago!


If you think in terms of a game invented by the people exploiting Puerto Rico at the time, using what would be, for them, 'cutting-edge' mechanics and with a theme that they were intensely interested in, then you're closer to my point. Such a game would be a quaint relic of little interest to us (outside of its historical value) today.
 
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Acquire has aged rather well for a themed game. It was first released in 1962, and currently boasts a top 50 ranking on this site.
 
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traininthedistance wrote:
Besides, if the quality of a game was so intimately tied to the theme's connection with the zeitgeist of the times, then how do you explain Puerto Rico? That game should have gone out of style centuries ago!


I think he's talking about the mentality of the design, not just the theme (although the two are so interwoven maybe it's just a distinction I fabricated to make sense of his point). I think this is a fairly good argument. I know as a kid a lot of the glamour came from that "look at how rich I am" feeling, throwing 20s around like candy, etc.
 
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Chris Tannhauser
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Perhaps a simpler way of stating my point:

Monopoly is a 'fad' game that has had its lifespan artificially extended through shrewd marketing.

This leads to a couple of questions:

Would it still be popular if it weren't ubiquitous?

and

Is its popularity due to that ubiquity, or the other way around?

What impact would it have on the game's sales if the effort required to get of copy of Monopoly were the same as a copy of Ticket to Ride?

The obvious answer is that, yes, it would impact sales as less marketing = fewer sales, naturally. But would it be a proportionate drop or a precipitous one? I posit that it would be dramatic, and dwindle to almost nothing within a generation. But then, that's my opinion.

Chris

PS. Please note that nothing about this argument (or bald, unsubstantiated opinion) says anything about those who actually enjoy Monopoly. If you enjoy it, you enjoy it--and more power to you. One of the major problems I see on the 'Geek when discussing games is that people often take criticism of a game they love as a personal attack--making the assumption that if someone thinks a game is 'bad' then it follows that those who enjoy it are somehow defective. Let's divorce ego from the equation and remember that we're critiquing inanimate objects and rules systems, not the feelings they elicit within you.

I personally love many games thought by the rabble to be 'bad', and while I will admit that many of them have outdated/outmoded and/or clumsy systems, I can't help the fact that I enjoy the ride. But no matter how good I think they are, I don't take criticism of the game personally.

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When played correctly vis a vis the rules, Monopoly is a good game. Not great, but good. With a cetain player mix (those who like to wheel and deal), it can become a very good game.


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Chris, I think you're right. If Carc or PR or Settlers were on every store shelf in America, Monopoly wouldn't have the popularity that it has today. If ASL were on every shelf, we would see more wargamers. If Ameros and Euros were easily available at Toys R Us, we would see a huge shift in the way gaming dollars were spent. I have never seen any of the above mentioned at the country's largest retailer - Wal-mart.

I have seen this discussion in other places. It boils down to: That's what my parents played with me, so I'm going to play it with my kids. That doesn't mean that it's right, but that's how it is.

How do we change that mentality? Obviously through exposure. But there is a lot more of them than there are of us. So we plug away, a neighbor at a time.

Maybe we need a high power spokesman. ASL has Schilling, maybe the rest of the industry needs somebody?

Mike
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Michael Taylor
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And as a follow up, the game manufacturers that we see here don't have a budget as large as MB or Hasbro, so they don't get as many places.

Money talks.

Mike
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DaviddesJ wrote:
mmoberly wrote:
For those that harp on the mechanics of the game, I will point out that the mechanics themselves are almost the same as the mechanics of the life-giver of all boardgames, Die Siedler von Catan. Resource management, negotiation, bidding, area control, etc. The individual mechanics themselves really aren't bad, although they are combined poorly.


The mechanics of Monopoly are totally different from the mechanics of Settlers of Catan. Monopoly is entirely about trading properties between players. The movement on the board is a way of randomly assigning the properties to the players, and generating random payouts to and between them. The actual game is about what the players do with those properties: namely, how they trade with one another. So it's much more like Civilization, or Bohnanza, than like Settlers of Catan. Certainly, Settlers of Catan has a trading element, but the greater influence on the game is the actual building element; it has more in common with games like Puerto Rico or Caylus.


Settlers is no less random than Monopoly, every player rolls dice every turn and resources are collected based on the roll. I would say that the building element of Monopoly is equally as important as the building element in Settlers. In both games the ability to build is often based on the results of trading and some lucky dice rolls, and in both games building is the only real route to victory. Settlers is much more like Monopoly than it is like Puerto Rico, IMO.
 
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David desJardins
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pilight wrote:
Settlers is no less random than Monopoly


This is just not true. In Monopoly, the valuable resource (opportunity to buy properties) is distributed much more randomly than in Settlers. In Settlers, by design, most people have several of the frequent numbers and so the allocation of resources tends to average out, pretty much. Also, the value of resources is very different. In Settlers, resources can be combined in several different ways. In Monopoly, there's only one way to form valuable combinations (color groups). So trading is much more critical in Monopoly.

Quote:
In both games building is the only real route to victory.


Building in Monopoly is essentially automatic. You could play a Monopoly game where you did the trading, and constructed houses and hotels according to a fixed algorithm, and your results could be about the same. That's not at all true in Settlers, imho.
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