Mar 152007
 

I’ve loved Monopoly since I was little, and played an awful lot of it with the kids in my neighborhood growing up. It’s a bit unusual for me, because I’m not a big fan of most games that include a large element of chance. There are dice in Monopoly, so there is an element of chance, but much of its effect can be mollified with effective strategy.

Get this straight at the outset: Monopoly does not take substantially longer to play than most other board games. (What did he say? Everybody knows Monopoly takes three hours!) No, it really doesn’t. The problem is that most house rules badly unbalance the game and make it take a long time. Unfortunately, many, many people play with house rules, and some want to take you to the mat swearing their house rules are the official rules.

In my experience, violations of these four rules contribute the most to making a Monopoly game take a long time:

  • Nothing happens when you land on Free Parking. One house rule says you get $500 when you land there. Another says you get all of the fees collected (income tax, Chance/Community Chest, luxury tax). Another says you get both. Folks, if you keep arbitrarily injecting money into the game, it substantially dilutes both the reward of the wise investor and the punishment of the poor investor. Nothing happens to you on Free Parking.
  • If a player lands on an unowned property and does not buy it, it is to be auctioned. You don’t want to own Mediterranean Avenue? Great. But the highest bidder will before your turn is over. (Generally speaking, when you land on an unowned property you should buy it.)
  • The bank never runs out of money, but the bank does run out of houses and hotels. There are exactly 32 houses and 12 hotels, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Moreover, to build hotels, the number of prerequisite houses must be available in the bank. To build hotels on a 3-property monopoly, 12 houses must be available (4 for each property). If they aren’t, no hotels for you. So in an evenly matched game, you can swing the course dramatically by stopping at 4 houses when you improve a monopoly. If your opponent can’t build, you won’t pay the big rents.
  • There is no such thing as “immunity,” and you can’t refuse to charge rent. You can’t waive rent for a player in exchange for a future pass on that player’s monopoly. You can’t say “I don’t pay on your monopolies, and you don’t pay on mine.” (You can if you want the game to last forever, I suppose.) (Update 3/15: Reader marzolian points out that immunity is indeed within the rules, as nothing compels you to collect rent when an opponent lands on your property. So two players could create a de facto immunity by “forgetting” to collect rent consistently. Thanks for the correction!)

And while we’re on the topic of house rules: yes you do collect rent while in jail; no you don’t have to go around the board once before buying property; and yes you do have to build houses as evenly as possible on a monopoly.

So what do you do to win?

  • Try to own the oranges and/or reds. The ideal monopoly has moderate building costs; substantial rents; and gets landed on a lot. The oranges (St. James Place, Tennessee Avenue, and New York Avenue) and reds (Kentucky Avenue, Indiana Avenue, and Illinois Avenue) are the best bets on the board. Folks hit ‘em coming out of jail; folks hit ‘em with Chance cards; folks hit ‘em, period. Own them; if you can’t, block them. If you have both of these monopolies and the money to develop them, you have a great chance of winning the game.
  • Try to own at least three railroads. Rents get serious at three railroads ($100), and of course even better at all four ($200). If you get at least three, you can count on them as a steady and substantial source of income.
  • Don’t be afraid to mortgage early to accomplish your strategic goals. If you can complete or block the formation of the orange or red monopoly; pick up or block a third or fourth railroad; etc., but you have to mortgage to do it, and it’s early in the game, do it. There aren’t any huge gotchas on the board yet, and if you think you can unmortgage it in the next trip or two around the board, then go ahead. Think long-term. Sometimes incurring a little short-term debt suits long-term goals perfectly.
  • Stick someone else with the greens, if you can. Yes, rents are high for this monopoly (Pacific Avenue, North Carolina Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue), but so are housing costs. The perfect deal leaves your opponent with all of the greens, but little cash. Play it smart, and the player won’t last long enough to come up with the $3,000 it takes to put hotels on them.
  • Be brutal! Be friends only until you get what you want in a deal. You’re driving your opponents to bankruptcy. Never forget that.

The Monopoly Companion is an excellent and fun-to-read resource for improving your game. Much of the advice above is contained therein. Furthermore, it contains frequency-of-landing and average rate of return charts for all monopolies, trivia, and other fun stuff. Definitely worth picking up if you enjoy the game and you can find it (unfortunately, it’s out of print).

I still love the game. I still have a working Monopoly Playmaster from 25 Christmases ago, which makes a bit of a different (but equally enjoyable) game. I’m looking forward to my children being old enough to play. Won’t be long for Nathan.

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     Posted by at 12:12 am

      24 Responses to “You have won second prize in a beauty contest; collect $10”

    1. I like SolarQuest. It’s monopoly except you are buying the moons around planets, and you put fuel stations on them. The BEST part of the game, when you are in space near an opponent, you can SHOOT at them, and possibly kill them. That makes it so much more fun.

    2. I used to play a lot of Monopoly. One year I bought my mom a Monopoly strategy book. Later I programmed part of the game, to calculate the odds of landing on any particular square.
      I agree with all your comments, with one exception: There’s nothing that prohibits a player from “forgetting” to collect rent. The rule says only that a player forfeits the right to collect a rental after the next player rolls to begin a turn.
      Another rule at our house was, you could only buy houses and hotels when it was your turn. That was a good way to reduce the confusion for younger players.

    3. Saintseester: I had not heard of that, but it looks very interesting and has the proverbial “cult following.” Might have to see if I can sneak up on that on eBay sometime.

      Marzolian: Yeah, that’s interesting. I never looked at it like that. A de facto immunity by two players “forgetting” to collect rent from one another is indeed permissible. To me it always seemed uncomfortably close to a loan between players, which is prohibited by the rules. But you’re right. Thanks for the correction.

    4. The best game of Monopoly I ever played involved something called a “candy cane” – 7-Up mixed evenly with Peppermint Schnapps.

      “YESH… I’LL BUY BALTIC AVENUE!!!!”

      Banker – “But you only have two dollars.”

      “GIMME SOME CREDIT! (hic!)”

      Ah, yes.

    5. Dude, if you can have fun playing a stinker like Monopoly, you should spend some time checking out boardgamegeek dot com. There are SO MANY really awesome games that have interesting decisions to make.

      Trust me, check it out man.

    6. Regarding the rule that says if you don’t buy the property goes up for auction. In the beginning of the game each player has enough money that they never need to pass up an opportunity to buy a property so the auction rule is never invoked. Also it means there is no strategy – you just buy up whatever you can.

      Love to hear you thoughts on this. Maybe I’m missing something critical. :)

      - Mirage

    7. The trick with immunity is this: there’s nothing to *enforce* it in the rules. So I can have a mutual immunity agreement with Bob until he lands on the Hotel of Doom, then demand payment. The fact that he’ll undoubtedly revoke my own immunity next time it comes up is less relevant if he’s bankrupt or forced to ravage his developments to pay me. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this tactic in a “friendly” game. When I offer immunities, I always play it straight. :)

    8. I won second place in a beauty pageant and all I got was this lousy case of the clap.

    9. I second boardgamegeek.com. There are so many better games to play in terms of strategy. Other than holding back sometimes on building hotels, the two main points are summarized as roll the dice and buy everything you land on. An eight-year-old is capable of much more complex thought. I’m a few years away from being able to play any strategy board games with my kid, but I’ve already donated many of the board game staples of my childhood.

    10. @saintseester
      Dude! I thought I was the only person who had ever played SolarQuest. I had totally forgotten about it too. I’m totally rumaging through the old games shelves tonight to find it.

    11. Duh! If you play the handheld version it works like this. It does go fast,,, but I wonder if it emotes the same feelings as “house rules”

    12. Thanks for the recommendations on boardgamegeek.com. I’ll check it out.

      Wow, Bacon’s drop on reddit.com has sent traffic through the roof. Delighted to have you all here, of course, and please have a look around if you’re so inclined.

    13. I have a game from my childhood called Klondike. It is similar to Monopoly but when the gold prospecting cards have all been used (similar to when the chance and community chest cards) the creeks are all out of gold. The town becomes a ghost-town, the properties worth nothing, the games ends with the person with the most cash as the winner.
      It never caught on though and I have the only copy of it I have ever come across. It is way more exciting than Monopoly.

    14. Third for boardgamegeek.com – Monopoly is what you play if a) you’re drunk and/or b) you don’t know any better.

      (And the ever-present c) if there are hot [insert your favorite gender here] hanging around that happen to i) be drunk and ii) not know any better.)

    15. Cephelotron – Dude! I still have my game too. My son loves it. Bo, dig up a copy, your kid will love it when he gets a little older. The moon “property” cards all describe the actual traits of the real moons. Pretty darn cool.

    16. I’ve played Monopoly straight (no house rules), but it still takes at least 3 hours. Maybe because we did effectively block each other’s monopolies and we at owned enough pockets of real estate to avoid paying too much rent on each pass around the board and we were all hard-nosed negotiators who didn’t trade away advantages to anyone else.

      If everyone plays rationally and selfishly, it can take a very long time to finish!

      These days, though, I prefer to play Anti-Monopoly, which is more in the spirit of the original Monopoly game invented by the Quakers.

    17. When I was a kid my parents and me used to play Monopoly every new years eve after eating lovely food and waiting for the midnight fireworks. I loved it as only kids can passionately love something like this. I won all the time I think resulting in my parents not wanting to play any more!

      When I came to the age of 14 and was a generic rebellious teenager I was in a three piece punkband. I was into hardcore punk, the other 2 kids were really into Communism so there was not much agreements about anything, musically or otherwise. I remember once asking if they wanted to play Monopoly and for that I got a lecture on Communism and the immorality of what I thought of “just a boardgame”!

      The Monopoly game on Playstation or even on Mobile phones are really crap by the way. Once I played it on my mobile phone against the computer for like 12 hours in row. I lost (the computer probably cheated).

      I am going to go and buy Monopoly now; its been too long since…

    18. You forgot one of the biggest reasons Monopoly takes so long! Houses and hotels are not resold back to the bank for full price! If you need to sell them, it’s half the price you paid. This is important, because without this rule, there’s no reason to not spend all your money buying houses and hotels. You have to be more strategic about how much you save for a rainy day, and how much you invest in building up your properties.

    19. When I was 10 I used to play a lot of Monopoly. I remember I never lost: When I used to run out of money, I would write checks! … just like my mother!

    20. If you like Monopoly, you seriously should check out Acquire and/or The Settlers of Catan. If you like investing in the future and shrewd business deals, Acquire the game for you, whereas if you like building and trading, The Settlers of Catan is the best you can find.

    21. Solarquest rocks. The amazing thing about shooting at each other is that it is pretty costly to fire at someone and puts you at some personal risk but if you hit them, boom, they’re out of the game. A real jolt and a good way for someone to try to end a game that has dragged on too long.

      I have incorporated similar rules into several other games with great results, Monopoly included.

      Love the tips. Boardgamegeeks, don’t be haters. Monopoly is one of those old-school games you can play with kids and adults. There aren’t many.

    22. I just want to agree with the earlier post…

      There is a wonderful world of board games out there that put Monopoly in the shade. To me a great game plays quickly, has lots of player interaction, includes cool mechanics, has lots of decisions, variables and options. A great game also plays differently every time you play it and rewards creative strategies. Unfortunatly Monopoly is lacking on all counts.

      The germans have always made great games and in the mid 90’s board gaming just exploded. There are probably more great new games this year than ever before. Find your local game shop and check it out. The website http://www.boardgamegeek.com is terrific.

      A most of the new games have really benifited from the desktop publishing advances and are beautifully made and reasonably priced.

      Its also a lot of fun to find a board gaming group in your town… people that get together every week to play different games. I have been playing in a group for 3 years and I bet we have played over 200 different games in that time.

    23. I have a playstation one game (greatest hits version) that ALLOWS players to offer immunity in trades. It requires that you specify how many turns they get immunity for, but does not let you specify specific property. This is in the U.S.A. greatest hits release on PS1.

    24. [...] an electronic accessory to supplement Monopoly called the Monopoly Playmaster (mentioned briefly in my earlier post on Monopoly). I got it for Christmas that year. My perception has been that it wasn’t that popular, but [...]

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