Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Maybe it's time to stop dissing Monopoly.

Sad little Monopoly. It's the game that seemingly most board game geeks hate. Of course, everyone also plays it completely wrong, and just adds to eventual frustration of it. So while placing collected taxes on Free Parking may seem like you are doing everyone a favor, the game only works by the removal of money from the system, not by adding it back into the game.
But, after reading this interview with the US Monopoly coach, I now realize how COMPLETELY wrong people play the game even if they are hardcore rules Nazis.
Most people view Monopoly as a game where you move around a board, collect some property, and build on them, with a little trading involved. When played at the tournament level, however, the game is almost solely based on trading; moving around the board just sort of randomizes which properties you start with, and who you have to pay when you land of other player's properties. The entire focus of the game has changed while still keeping the same rules. This is the equivalent to professional poker players who, after enough time under their belt, don't even care what the cards are, and instead only play player's reactions. You're still playing poker, but playing at a completely different level with access to a whole different set of information.
However, it should be noted that there's a big difference between the two. Poker is a fairly quiet, solitary experience at this point. Studying and reading your opponent intensely requires quite a bit of concentration and understanding of tells. And everyone THINKS they can do it. This can easily be accomplished no matter what the joviality rating is at any table; primarily because it is an individual talent.
Playing a game of high stakes trading Monopoly requires a whole table of people willing to trade. Unless you have the capabilities of the shrewedest, slickest used car salesman alive, trying to spin 3-way deals probably will get you nowhere. If you are trying to give 4 loosely gathered properties to someone just for Electric Company, which you can then bundle with Illinois to someone else, you will most likely end up with a lot of uneasy trust issues and have the deal blocked. I think that everyone who's played Monopoly grew up playing it so straight and conservative are more than willing to lose the game to " that bad dice roll" than accepting the fact that they potentially got "swindled" at some point.
I also suppose the whole meta-game aspect of professional Monpoly plays pretty out interesting, too. After my first playing of I'm the Boss, where the whole game is just completing deals with other players, having an understanding of how your opponent have operated in the past is something good to know. I'm the Boss, incidentally, is also another game where, if you have a crowd who is somewhat timid about making deals, it's not going to work well. But, since players aren't giving things up (trading away properties of unequal value), and instead are building a steadily growing bankroll of cash, it's probably quite a bit easier for the dealmaker to pull off an interesting game. Unlike Monopoly, where he'll just sit there and stew about why Free Parking shouldn't be handing out free cash.


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