I. Why Monopoly Is A Bad Game
My experiences with Monopoly tend to go like this: Choosing a game. Remembering the thrill of shrewd business dealings, of jockeying for the railroads, of squeaking past an opponent-controlled Boardwalk. Deciding to play Monopoly.
Three hours later, regretting this decision. Landing on a high-rent square. Slowly bleeding money, convincing myself that a lucky roll of the dice will reverse my fortunes. Attempting to bankrupt myself. Holding on by the thinnest of threads, mortgaging and un-mortgaging in an attempt to make the passage of the hours seem meaningful. Losing the game.
Now, that ignores some of the great times I had playing Monopoly growing up, with friends in college, etc. etc. The game has no small amount of sentimental value to me. But it is, from a game designer’s point of view, a bad game.
Here, in my opinion, is what makes Monopoly a bad game: Long before the game is over, the identity of the winner is exceptionally clear.
Sure there are exceptions to the rule — some of the best games of Monopoly are duels between the top two land barons that last the entire game. But any other players are merely casualties. Thus, Monopoly can be a great two-player game.
I would like to propose two options for rule changes that would, in my opinion, make Monopoly a better (group) game.
II. Fix A: The People’s Revolt
Monopoly is a simulation game — it represents the real estate market, and players take on the role of real estate tycoons. The game’s theme and even the nature of its flaw (progressively greater and greater inequality) accurately depict aspects of the real-world real estate market.
So, in the spirit of the simulation, this rule change allows for a communist revolt.
The rule change would be as follows: If any one player owns more properties than the total number of properties owned by other players, the other players may vote, by simple majority, to stage a revolt.
Now, the wealthy player plays against his rebellious comrades, all of whom are teamed together. There will have to be some sort of balancing mechanism — perhaps the government seizes the protestors’ assets and reallocates them to the capitalist — so that the single player is not rapidly overwhelmed.
This basic change allows for numerous permutations: Perhaps a combat mechanism emerges, whereby the empowered proletariat can capture properties by force. Perhaps the land baron’s game piece becomes a totem of the land baron on-the-run, moving from house to decadent house, one step ahead of the angry mob. The possibilities expand from the simple all-against-one Monopoly game that the initial rule change proposes.
III. Fix B: Rise & Fall
In the interests of full disclosure, I have been playing a lot of Small World recently, and this rule change is directly derived from Small World’s signature game mechanic.
In this version of Monopoly, after a set number of turns (let’s say 10), a player “declines.” Maybe the real estate tycoon retires, or passes the company to a younger partner. In any case, after 10 turns, the player represented by the Thimble removes the Thimble from the board. All of Thimble’s houses and hotels are removed and all of Thimble’s property returns to bank ownership. The player who once controlled Thimble takes Thimble’s money, and starts a new playing piece (Wheelbarrow) at GO, seeking to use Thimble’s fortune to begin anew.
This cascading cycle of “declining” pieces retains the main goal of Monopoly (hoard a lot of money) while forcing players to adapt to a strategy of short-term acquisition. Maybe the moment of decline is decided at random after certain number of terms, adding an element of risk (should I hold on and keep buying, or will my piece decline next turn?). Either way, this rule change, while not entirely leveling the playing field every 10 turns, does allow for a more even game, though perhaps one that would last indefinitely.
IV. Theoretical Underpinnings: Feedback Loops
These two rules changes both derive from an important game design concept: The Positive/Negative Feedback Loop. Monopoly, in its regular form, contains a strong positive feedback loop: The player with the most money can afford to buy the best properties, and improve them at the fastest rate, which allows her to acquire more money, which allows her to buy the best properties, etc.
An example of a negative feedback loop would be the robber in Settlers of Catan: Any player with a large hand (a strong advantage in that game) must discard half of that hand (when the robber strikes), while players under the limit are unaffected. This moves the formerly strong player into a position of weakness, and leaves the formerly weak players stronger by comparison.
While neither of the Monopoly rule changes proposed above are classic negative feedback loops, they both interrupt or subvert the action of the strong positive feedback loop that, in my opinion, makes the game unplayable.