Sunday, August 2, 2009

Monopoly Taking too Long? Just Follow the Rules

I really do like Monopoly. And not just in the vague nostalgic way that a lot of people do; I seriously think it's a cool idea for a game. Designed during the great depression and incorporating many of the lessons learned from that economic disaster, it creates a microcosm of our national economy in a way that is really pretty ingenious. I played a game with my son, niece and nephew just the other day but before that it had been several years since I last played Monopoly (other than the time I talked a few of my friends into joining me for a game of "Broncopoly"--sweet!) and the reason is pretty simple. Any time you bring up the idea of playing Monopoly you hear the same thing, "Oh, that game takes way too long." So you end up spending a few hours playing Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble or whatever, which is all well and good, but I think that Monopoly is getting a raw deal here and I think I've finally figured out why.

I've noticed that the first thing you have to do when you join a new group of Monopoly gamers is figure out what the hell the rules are going to be. This is because no one has ever actually read the rules of the game. Think about it, have you ever actually read the rules or did you learn by playing with people who said they could teach you? I rest my case.

The biggest problem that I have with made up Monopoly rules is Free Parking. For some reason everyone puts the luxury tax and income tax in the middle of the board for whoever lands on Free Parking. Some extremists also put doctor's bills and other fees charged by the Chance and Commity Chest cards in there too. I even played with a girl once who insisted on putting a $500 bill in the middle of the board at the start of the game and when somebody won it she wanted to put in another one for the next person too.

No wonder your game of Monopoly takes so long; that's like giving your miniature economy a massive economic stimulus every time someone happens to land on free parking. In the rule book (page 6) it says, "A player landing on this place does not receive any money, property or reward of any kind. This is just a 'free' resting place."

Think about it. The object of the game is for everyone to go bankrupt except for one big winner. Well, if you're constantly injecting more and more money into the economy, how do you ever expect to drive anyone to bankruptcy? Just as Aunt Maggie is about to go bankrupt she lands on free parking, collects fifteen hundred dollars, and builds hotels on the purple group instead. Well, that just added another four hours of die rolling to your Monopoly adventure. Had she gone out of the game she'd have handed her properties over to your little sister who already controls two other Monopolies with hotels and who would have been able to put you, Uncle Earl and Grandma Josephine in the poor house in less than an hour.

So the key is to put the income tax and luxury tax where it belongs, in the bank--remember the lessons of supply side economics, raising taxes takes money out of the hands of businesspeople and entrepreneurs and thus hurts the economy. If you're taking that tax money and putting it right back out into circulation through the Free Parking space it won't have the same dampening effect and the game will take that much longer.

There are a lot of other things that bother me too, like the almost universally ignored fact that there are only supposed to be twelve hotels and thirty-two houses on the board at any one time. The rules actually state that if players want more houses and hotels than are available the bank should start auctioning the remaining units to the highest bidder--yet another way to drive up prices and ruin the economy. Limiting supply is disastrous economic policy, as Charles Darrow knew back in 1934 when he designed the game, but when people run for the little red and green legos and allow every property on the board to be developed the gross domestic product of your little economy increases dramatically, everyone grows richer, and the end of the game grows further and further away.

Supply-side economic theory is great for real-life politics but in a game designed to replicate the great depression you've got to set the stage for economic disaster. Well, that or else have a lot of caffeine and dig in for an all-night Monopoly marathon.


  1. Your example of putting one player out of the game so that another can put everyone else in the poor house "in less than an hour" seems like a silly argument for the game not being too long. At this point you would have been playing for an hour or so already AT LEAST, and now you have one player who has to sit there and watch everyone else play FOR AN HOUR.
    I read the rules to the game when I was about 12. My family played by them. The game STILL takes too freaking long, and makes for poor group entertainment because someone always has to sit there and watch everyone else in the end or go find something else to do.