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Subject: Monopoly: Why so popular? rss

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ian o
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Monopoly

If you ask the general public what they first think of when you mention ‘board games’, their one word response will almost certainly be ‘Monopoly’. Over the last century Monopoly has managed to works its way up into the position of being the quintessential board game. It has been played by 750 million people around the world. That is not an insignificant number.
It seems to me that many game lovers view Monopoly much as lovers of film view Birth of a Nation. You cannot deny its impact and its grand influence on all those that would come after, however it is hard to deny the offensive content and flaws involved within. Where Birth of a Nation was laced with inherent racism and glorifies the KKK, Monopoly is laced with inherent dice rolling and glorifies chance over skill. But despite these flaws it is hard not to show an appreciation for the grandfather of modern board games.

Gameplay

It would be silly of me to describe the mechanics of Monopoly as the game is so ingrained in the collective consciousness of gamers (and even non-gamers for that matter) that there simply is no need. So instead I will talk about what works and what doesn’t.
Monopoly is a flawed game. This point seems all too obvious to many. But exactly where is its fatal flaw? It is true that Monopoly involves a lot of dice rolling, which results in luck becoming a heavy factor on the outcome of the game. The beginning of the game is a rush to acquire as many properties as you can. The random chance of which two faces of those white, bumpy cubes is all that determines where on the board you will land, there for there simply is not a lot of strategy as to which properties you shall receive.
However, Monopoly does have a strong component of player interaction once the properties begin to be bought up, as they must trade with others in order to form their colour coded monopolies and begin their ascent up the greedy landlord ladder. This interaction is where the game is decided. Those who are able to make the best deals and own the best locations on the board will stand a good chance in winning. This player-player interaction is a strong component of the game and for this reason the heavy prevalence of dice and luck is not Monopoly’s true downfall.
Where Monopoly’s gameplay truly fails is in its conclusion. Yes, the game is long. It can take three hours to play a full game. Yet the length itself is not the problem. There are many games which can take much longer to play, yet still manage to keep interest high. Where Monopoly goes wrong is that the outcome of the game can be seen from miles away, much like Omar Sharif’s entrance in Lawrence of Arabia. He can be seen far in the distance walking through the desert. His coming is inevitable, yet we still must wait for some time before his eventual arrival.
As the game progresses, Monopoly becomes very much a sad reflection of the financial situation of the world itself; the poor become poorer while the rich become richer. It does not take long before one player begins to run away with the game and cannot be caught. There is very little room in Monopoly mechanics for any other player to mount some great comeback. Yet it still takes many more turns and many more rolls of those blasted dice before a winner can be declared. This is the unraveling of monopoly; the tightly knit string at the beginning of an innocent enough game at the start which only become more and more frayed as the game goes on.

Components

The board of monopoly is simple, a square with 10 game spaces on each side, and has become a standard template in the world of board games, especially the Go space as the staring point. The game pieces themselves really make no sense (a thimble?!), yet because of Monopoly’s status they are simply accepted and have even reached ‘classic status themselves. The Community Chest and Chance cards are goofy but work to set up the overall atmosphere of the game. It is hard to truly critique Monopoly’s components as they have simply become a part of the background of any family rumpus room. The applicability of the game’s set-up is also the reason why Monopoly has countless impostors and spin-offs; it is easy to fill in the gaps with whatever you wish, whether it be Star Wars, beer, or the Caribbean.

Conclusion


So Monopoly is a heavily flawed game, yet it is also the most popular game in the world. This begs the question; why is it so popular? Yes, it is true that monopoly has a universal appeal. Its theme is heavily adaptable and its rules are based in a very simplified form of commerce. And yes, it came out of the thirties, a hard time for society where a simple board game could bring some form of relief from the hardships around. These indeed are factors in its overblown reputation. However, the depression is far from over, and as universal as Monopoly can be there are still many other games which can fill this role better.
Forgive me if you are becoming tired of my many film references throughout this review, but I must make one more dip into the well. Monopoly’s popularity reminds me of teenage boys being thrilled by big explosions and high-speed cars chases in the movies that they see. They believe that there can be no greater movie than one such as Transformers where the fun and excitement is there, even if the stronger components of film-making are not. They fee this way about the movie simply because they have not had much exposure to other better films and cannot see that there is more to a movie than eye candy and accessibility. If one of these teenage boys delves deeper into the world of film, he discovers the weakness of the movies he once held on a pedestal.
Monopoly has managed to stay on top of the gaming world simply because the general public has not dove into the rich world of board games that exists beyond and therefore simply does not realize that other games do not contain Monopoly’s flaws. They simply do not realize that there is much more potential in board games other than buying up the streets of Atlantic City. Monopoly is comfortable and recognizable. It is for those who dare to venture beyond these surface comforts who will truly discover the world of board games.
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Malcolm Wardlaw
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Because it's an easy to learn game that is very social, so it's easy to pick up and you get to chat a lot with your buddies. No more, no less.

To your point, there are games that do this better, but I don't think any do those two things so much better so as to get the general public out of their familiarity rut.
 
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J Holmes
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The really short answer is:

It allows some people to dream*, and for others it shows what people can achieve when they put their mind to it.

The chance and community chest cards show that life can be random and unfair at times zombie , but good planning and fast thinking can usually help you.

It can teach other useful lessons about having cash on hand and making good economic/business decisions.

O and I mostly liked your review


*Given the origins of the game in the Depression and the backstory this is quite obvious.
 
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Drew Spencer
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Nxe5 wrote:
Some rambling comments:

1) Monopoly is NOT a flawed game. It does not have a an 'overblown reputation'. It is one of the greatest games of all time becasue it involves that splendid mechanic called negotiation, which is found in other gems such as Diplomacy and Risk.

2) The first trade in a game is usually fair. Subsequent trades are usually unfair, because someone panics and is out-negotiated by a cooler, more experienced player.This becomes apparent after a few plays and players adjust their game. Therein lies the brilliance of Monoploy.

3) Games should not last much more than 1 hour (5 players). The first elimination should occur after 20 minutes. There is NO downtime in Monopoly. You roll the dice and pass 'em. Rent collection, negotiation, purchases, chance cards etc are all processed whilst players take their turns. This makes the game very busy, kinda like a stock-exchange. There is NO downtime.

4) 3 hours is way too long to play a game. One hour should see 2 players left with either an agreed draw or a forfeit soon after. If you see a winner the proverbial mile away - do something about it and NEGOTIATE & TRADE with others!

5) Players use variants to engineer fair elimination rules. The official ruling is unfair. Basically, a bankrupt player does all he can to discharge a debt, including negotiating (great thing isn't it?)with other players and mortgaging. Upon elimination cards are turned over to bank, not to creditor.

6) Settlers of Catan is a good game. I play it. However, its negotiation mechanic is far far far inferior to Monopolys. The reason is simple. A trade in monopoly may not confer a great benefit to someone immediately. But it could be the game winner several turns on.

7) What other boardgames confer a richer experience? How have the general public got it so wrong? Have you ever played the game properly, with a snappy, no-nonense group? I have played it 1000s of times. Still a great game.

8) Do you like Risk? (Euro version - ie called Mission Risk in places) I'll go out on a limb - you would not play risk. Diplomacy maybe? Just curious. What is your all time fav game?
edit: oops! Noticed u are a risk fan! good 4 u. Now why don't u apply some of that negotiation stuff to monop?

9) Dice - best component of em all. Nothing adds sheer excitement to a game than dice. If dice go against you, never forget the golden rule - NEGOTIATE with your creditor, and try to live to fight another day (another couple of rounds anyway).

10) The strategy of Monopoly is NEGOTIATION. eg "If you land on X this turn I'll give you Y + 150 cash - deal?" - and there are a gazillion other things you'll hear near a game.

11) Perhaps you have underestimated the power of the dar...of Monoploy (sorry - film references - sheesh). You need to play in another group. Not online - not pbem - only f2fs. Understand that trading is the name of the game, not dice rolling. Sure the dice can get you killed - just ask the ASL folk.

12) Why are games like Risk & Diplomacy also adored? Simple - they involve negotitation - something critical in Monopoly too.


Whoa.
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Kevin Brown
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RedArmyIan wrote:
So Monopoly is a heavily flawed game, yet it is also the most popular game in the world. This begs the question; why is it so popular?


Because in the 1930's it was the best boardgame in the world for more than two players. It had lots of innovations, some of which are still used today (spaces with unique properties, event cards, resource management, thematic elements, etc). Thanks to the Depression, people were much more apt to stay home and do things together with family, friends, and neighbors then, and few people had television. After that, it was passed down from one generation to the next. People played it with their kids and grandkids, then they played with their kids and grandkids, and so on until it became embedded in the culture.

Monopoly is to boardgames as the Model T is to automobiles. You can get from point A to point B driving a Model T, just as you can have fun playing Monopoly. However, there are many more modern cars that can get you from here to there faster and in greater comfort than the old Model T can, and there are many more modern games that are more fun than Monopoly.
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John Clark
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I also agree that Monopoly is no more flawed than many highly rated games.

Monopoly should take 90 minutes to play. Yes, there is a period in the end-game where you watch the inevitable happen. This also happens in Puerto Rico, Power Grid etc etc etc - its just that many players don't realise that the game was a foregone conclusion from about half way through.

Monopoly is a pure negotiation game. However, unlike (say) Genoa, which has a whole lot of little negotiations which add up to a winner, Monopoly has much weightier negotiations, where one decision will often decide the game.

The major flaw in Monopoly is this: a weak player can ruin the game by inadvertently playing kingmaker through a horrible decision. In this way Monopoly is no different to a host of other games, notably Puerto Rico.
 
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James Gambrell
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RedArmyIan wrote:
As the game progresses, Monopoly becomes very much a sad reflection of the financial situation of the world itself; the poor become poorer while the rich become richer.


This is one reason the game is so popular, it is realistic!! I'm not kidding. Monopoly strongly resembles the real world of real estate development. There is a lot of luck in the beginning, a lot of negotiation in the middle, and in the end the rich get richer and the poor go out of business!

The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is known as the Matthew effect from the biblical quote, and it is a basic law of economics: If money buys value, and value leads to more value, then you will always get the Matthew effect. Hard to imagine a game where this law does not operate to some degree.



RedArmyIan wrote:
Forgive me if you are becoming tired of my many film references throughout this review, but I must make one more dip into the well. Monopoly’s popularity reminds me of teenage boys being thrilled by big explosions and high-speed cars chases in the movies that they see. They believe that there can be no greater movie than one such as Transformers where the fun and excitement is there, even if the stronger components of film-making are not. They fee this way about the movie simply because they have not had much exposure to other better films and cannot see that there is more to a movie than eye candy and accessibility. If one of these teenage boys delves deeper into the world of film, he discovers the weakness of the movies he once held on a pedestal.


I think what you are describing is more an effect of age and hormones than "not being able to see" the "stronger components of film-making". Boys and men of a certain age love explosions, that's just a fact. Women, very young kids, and the very old do not like explosions as much. Does this make them more sophisticated film aficionados? Nope. It means their brains are wired up differently so they don't get as much raw pleasure from seeing big explosions of power. There are dozens of different valuables a person can take away from a movie, and while some may take more sophistication and experience to see than others, that does not necessarily make them better. Even though as mature adults we may be able to see deeper into a film, we often don't get as much enjoyment out of movies as we did when we were kids.



RedArmyIan wrote:
Monopoly has managed to stay on top of the gaming world simply because the general public has not dove into the rich world of board games that exists beyond and therefore simply does not realize that other games do not contain Monopoly’s flaws. They simply do not realize that there is much more potential in board games other than buying up the streets of Atlantic City. Monopoly is comfortable and recognizable. It is for those who dare to venture beyond these surface comforts who will truly discover the world of board games.



Is it really on top of the gaming world outside of America? I always thought its success here was due to the American obsession with money. Any game that allows players to feel rich is going to do well. I also think people like it because, like Risk, in the narrow scope of "easy family games" it is relatively complex and sophisticated! Look at the typical menu of 4-player family games available:

Monopoly
Risk
Scrabble
Sorry
Trivial Pursuit
Various card games

On this sort of list, is Monopoly really such a bad choice? I always went for Monopoly or Risk as a kid, because they were relatively more complex and had the "domination" mechanic I wanted. The flaws you point out are only flaws for experienced gamers who are trying to win and know the basic strategies. I have yet to EVER play a game of monopoly with players like this! You are always playing with people who are just there to have fun, aren't really thinking about strategy, aren't going to be pushy negotiators, etc. Its popular because it is easy to learn, gives the feeling of getting rich and dominating that people love, and is relatively complex.

Would everyone who likes monopoly learn to like "better" games if they were introduced to them correctly? I doubt it. I think there is a certain personality that enjoys sophisticated games, and since you are unlikely to have 4 of those people in one family, the kinds of games that appeal to mainstream families will always be different from the kinds of games that appeal to gamers. You see more overlap in party games and 2 player games. This is because everyone can agree that the point of party games is just to have a lot of loud fun. With 2 player games, players tend to be more focused on winning so better games like chess prevail. Also, there are more likely to be 2 gamer-types in a family than 4.

 
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ian o
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Hmm, I didn't realize my review came off so negatively towards Monopoly. I am pro-monopoly by the way, and will gladly play a game if my friends want to play. And Nxe5, you're right, I probably should have involved negotiation in my review, but ti just wasn't in my mindset when I wrote it. I don't think it would personally offend anyone however....
 
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Bob Bob742
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Maybe because of its homemade folk origins?
It was invented by Quakers to teach about monopolies and illustrate why they suck.

It wasn't until later that Darrow patented it and sold it to Parker Bros.
Today, with the huge marketing capabilities of a modern day business corporation such that Parker Bros is, they are able to insert it into your living room via television commercials.

When this game was first invented the 'become the richest and stomp all your opponents' wasn't the focus of it. It'd be sort of interesting to sort of pin point when most people came to see it as such. My guess would be not too long after PB got a hold of it.
 
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