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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

The Campaign for Real Monopoly

I'd like to celebrate my return to non-cut-and-paste blogging with a link to a funny article in gamer e-zine Critical Miss: The Campaign for Real Monopoly. It's a gamer's take on the classic board game, pointing out that even we gamers have been playing Monopoly all wrong. And we should do something about it.

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 fucking rules.

Check out the article and turn it over in your head a few times. Go ahead. I'll wait in another window for you to come back.

Now, I liked to play Monopoly as a kid, and funny enough, I actually noted and pointed out this very rule to my big brother when I was maybe ten or twelve. I was ignored, of course (big brothers always do that, don't they?), and never gave it another thought. You see, Chris liked to win. And his favorite way to win was to win so soundly that there was no doubt in anyone's mind as to how complete, utter, and total his victory was. He would control the board by taking advantage of his younger siblings (my sister and me) and eventually, he'd control the entire board except for the shitty monopoly that he would let you hold on to so that you felt like you still had a chance.

But rather than simply bankrupting us and winning, he'd wait until you landed on Marvin Gardens with 3 hotels (yes, he played with multiple hotels), and then he'd say, "Well, I'll give you $5,000 if you let me buy Chance. This way you can keep playing."

Ever the gamer, even at such a tender age, I said, "Well, what would that mean if you buy chance?"

"That's easy! Any money you pay because of a Chance card gets paid to me."

Seemed reasonable. I don't know why I didn't insist that he foot the payouts, too, but whatever. I got to keep playing. Maybe if he could just land on my hotel on Oriental Avenue....

But my point is that when you change the rules of the game, more often than not, the entire experience suffers. And I don't just mean letting your older brother buy Chance. The point of The Campaign for Real Monopoly is that the entire game can change by ignoring just one simple rule. The pacing changes, the strategy changes, the balance of money changes. The game experience depends on many different variables being balanced against one another, and the rules are in place to ensure that the flow of the game proceeds the way that the designer had intended it. You see, game designers are a meticulous, almost obsessive lot. The game you play is the product of extensive design, testing, and balancing. The designer has worked out the probabilities of one landing on a given space, he's thought about how quickly money changes hands, and about how to keep everyone involved. Each rule that is there is there to ensure one thing: that the game is as enjoyable as it can be. That's the point, after all.

So play the game the way it was meant to be played. And don't ever let your brother buy Chance, no matter how much he offers you to let him.

Comments on The Campaign for Real Monopoly
  Comment from Anonymous Anonymous at Saturday, February 25, 2006 5:01:00 PM
Seems to me that this theory of probability and balance can apply to a lot more in life than just monopoly.

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.