Game Doctor: Building a Trust In Monopoly

A lot of people hate on Monopoly. Understandably so. But why is it so often despised and what can be done about it?

Hey friends!

Welcome to another edition of Game Doctor, a series where we look at classic board games and try to fix them up for the modern era. If you missed the last edition, we took a look at Clue.

Today we will be looking at Monopoly. After I discovered Hasbro had announced their plans to release the Cheater’s Edition of Monopoly, I thought this would be a good time to take a close look at the classic game and find out why it might need a Cheater’s Edition at all.

History of Monopoly

Just for fun, let’s dig a little bit into the history of Monopoly. The game has a pretty involved history, considering it’s a board game. The history of Monopoly goes back over 100 years.

Lizzie Magie (1866–1948) was an economic philosopher who wanted a more accessible way to show the consequences of economic privilege and land value taxation. In 1903, she applied to patent her game called ‘The Landlord’s Game’. Magie developed the game to help demonstrate her point in a more easily accessible way. The patent was granted in 1904, which you can find here.

She approached Parker Brothers about the game but George Parker declined, calling the game “too political”. And so, Magie spread the game around herself, teaching it to others who would further spread it around the country. Eventually, the game made its way to Esther Darrow who taught it to her husband, Charles. After learning about the game, Charles started distributing the game himself under the name ‘Monopoly’ under his own patent.

Darrow, who seems like a pretty sleazy dude, took his game to Milton Bradley to sell as his personal invention. Milton Bradley wrote a rejection letter to Darrow on May 31, 1931 saying the game was, “Too complicated, too technical, [and it] took too long to play.”

On March 18th, 1932, Parker Brothers bought the game from Darrow after seeing how well he was selling the game on his own.  It was only afterwards that they discovered Darrow was not the sole inventor of the game. Parker Brothers went to buy out Magie’s renewed 1924 patent on the game and copyrights of all other variants which had popped up over the years.  This gave Parker Brothers legitimate and undisputed rights to the game and brought us to where we are today.

Identify What’s Wrong

Anyone who has played Monopoly can probably point out a few obvious key flaws of the game.

Too Random

Overall, the game is far too random. If you’re a fan of my blatant self-promotion, I mean, Popular Mechanics series, you’ll know my stance on randomness. The players have no choices to make other than if they want to buy the property they land on or not. But you should always buy every property you can. Speaking of….

You Should Always Buy Every Property You Can

There is only advantages and zero disadvantages in buying up every property you can. The only reason you wouldn’t buy a property that you’ve landed on is because you can’t afford it. That’s not a good design.

Gameplay Too Long

Even Milton Bradley acknowledged this in 1931, saying the game takes too long to play.  Long gameplay is not inherently bad, but Monopoly is incredibly repetitive.

How To fix

I don’t blame Monopoly for being a bad design. When it was conceived over 100 years ago, they certainly didn’t have the game theory concepts we do now.  Getting mad at Monopoly for being bad is like getting upset that the Liberty Bell has a crack in it.  Yeah it’s broken, but it’s historic.  So having said that, let’s completely ignore that sentiment and go over how to fix it.

That’s a lotta damage

Bid For New Dice

Rather than players always rolling 2d6 to move, instead they have the option to buy different dice to use on their turn. Before rolling, any player can start a bid on other polyhedral dice: d4s or d8s. The active player announces which dice they wish to purchase and puts out a starting bid.

Other players will have the option to outbid that player on the dice, preventing them from being able to claim the dice on their turn. If the active player wins the auction, they replace one (or both if the player purchased multiple dice) of the d6s the normally use for movement.

This gives players a bit more control over how far they will move on their turn, but without granting full control.  Also, the whole process comes with a cost but it’s also not without player interaction.  So if a player is only a few spaces away from Boardwalk and they are aiming to purchase 2d4 for movement, other players can step in and try to prevent that from happening.

Upkeep Costs

New Monopoly will have upkeep costs. Owning a property isn’t free and everyone pays taxes. To institute this into our game, each player at the start of their turn, will be required to pay an amount directly to the bank for each property they own. The costs of each owned property will vary based on the properties value, but will scale higher for the more valuable properties.

If your first thought is, “Ugh! That will be so annoying to calculate every turn!” then maybe chill for a second. Geez. Each property card will note its upkeep cost which must be paid, and players need only add up those values.

Hostile Takeovers

In New Monopoly, players can buyout other players, if they have the funds to do so. If a player is bought out, they are eliminated from the game and the buying player gains all of their properties and any housing on them.

To buyout another player, the buying player must spend (to the bank) twice the amount of money the other player currently has in liquid assets (that is to say, paper money). If a player has the funds to buyout another player and chooses to do so, there is nothing the other player can do about it. They are eliminated from the game. An aggressive player should be careful. Spending that much to buyout another player might lower your funds enough to put you at risk to be bought out by a third player.

This game feature works well in the theme of the game for a couple reasons. First, it hastens the endgame. Monopoly often ends with one player holding on by a few dollars, until they get unlucky and land on a bad spot.  In New Monopoly, the rich player can end their suffering and the game in one fell swoop.

Secondly, this fits the theme very well. The game is about getting monopolies.  Real life businesses get to that point by buying out other businesses.

Third, because the buyout rate is based on how much paper money a player has, this encourages players to consider mortgaging their properties earlier to make sure they are not caught without enough funds to resist a buyout.

Final Thoughts

I realize the humor in trying to fix a game which was purposefully poorly designed as to make a political statement, but whatever. Overall my goal was to add player choice through cost and risk. I think we’ve done that with only a few modifications.

Anyway, that’s all for today.

Thanks for reading!

  • YetAnotherFacelessMan

    You’re SUPPOSED to hate monopoly. That’s the point of the game. One player is supposed to, through quirk of dice, get an immediate and near-insurmountable lead. This then slowly crushes his opponents one by one, then the monopoly-possessing person outbids their competition at the bankruptcy auction and that only extends the lead. Free Parking is a dead space that never gives money.

    Everyone who tries to “fix” Monopoly to make it more fair and “fun” only extends it into a drudgery.

    • Matt Sall

      Yeah, I mentioned that in the Final Thoughts section. I realize that the “point” of the game is to be bad and frustrating, but doesn’t mean I’m gonna let a bad game go unfixed!

      • Kritarion

        But is it fixing if you remove the original intention?

        • YetAnotherFacelessMan

          Right. Fixing it breaks it.

          • JPMcMillen

            Exactly. All those ‘house’ rules people have added over the years are what makes the game drag on so long. You’d be surprised how many people have never actually read the rule book for Monopoly, they just go by how they were taught to play.

          • euansmith

            So, that makes it even more an accurate reflection of real life 😀

    • Simon Chatterley

      Indeed. The whole point of monopoly is cause a huge family row, flip the board and sulk for week.

      Making it fun defeats the object.

      • YetAnotherFacelessMan

        Exactly. Same with Diplomacy. When you need a good old family knife fight, you’ve got the shelf of board games for that.

        • Simon Chatterley

          I honestly don’t remember any game ending properly. Just expletives and things being thrown and adults stepping in to stop bloodshed.

          Now that was a Christmas.

          • Sniddy

            Darn we and my cousins must be saints – many a game played no real impact (house ruled the standard way no auto auction, free parking) and the epic 5 hour game on my last day of primary school is an abnormally

  • euansmith

    I remember playing a game as a wee kiddie where you drew a hand of cards and could draw one and play one each turn.

    The cards were marked with a number which corresponded to how far you could move one of your playing pieces (I think the game was like Ludo or Sorry!). This had a nice effect of combining luck with choice.

    Maybe in New Monopoly, players could spend cash to purchase extra cards, or buy the ability to play multiple cards at a time.

    Of course, with a deck of movement cards, you could also add in other effects that a player could trigger by playing a specific card. Like calling an Audit on an opponent, or Blackmailing a rival, or getting a property condemned by Environmental Health.

    Your buying out idea certainly adds a extra nasty Libertarian edge to the soul destroying game.

    Can you please do a Game Doctor on Talisman? The end game in the versions I played always seemed so weak and dull after the fun of teaming up your Space Orc with a Demon-sword wielding Fairy and a Power Armoured Barbarian riding a Unicorn.

    • Simon Chatterley

      We played Horus Heresy Talisman on the plane to Vegas. 4 hours it took us but damned if we’re going to let it get the better of us….

      My mates Angron was so powered up by the end he autowinned against the Emperor. Fun times.

  • JPMcMillen

    From what I understand, if you take out all the house rules the game usually doesn’t take as long. Especially that house rule where you put a set amount of money on the board ($50 last time I played), along with any money players lost from cards drawn. Then, when someone lands on Free-Parking they get all the money in the pile. That extra influx of cash is what keeps players in the game longer than they really should be able too.

    Also, If nobody can get a monopoly without trading and nobody is willing to trade, you might as well call the game a draw. There’s not really any way for anyone to lose enough money fast enough to go broke when there are no house/hotels anywhere on the board.

  • NNextremNN

    The buyout just because you have more paper money is stupid. It wouldn’t speed up late game. It would disrupt early- and midgame. Property is the real value and it’s the same in real life so you should also be able to pay for the properties. And what happens to the money? Does it gets to this player and is his final score? Can he buyback himself with it? Also normally you couldn’t force a buyout. There have to be certain circumstances.

    And why bit on dices at the beginning of a players turn? Why not set a certain amount of dices at the beginning of a round (e.g.: 2x d8, 2xd4). Let all players bid on the separate dice and then let them use the dice they won on their respective turn. If they didn’t won any they use the d6. It would require more thought and chance of double 8 could become quite expensive. If you win the bid you loose money but get more control over your turn. If you loose the bid you save money. With this you (more or less) bid FOR yourself instead of AGAINST someone else. Bidding against someone else to hurt him only adds more even hate then the randomness to this game and that’s the least this game needs. I really liked this special unicorn monopoly where people get to eat cookies in certain situations.

  • Rob brown

    The game is a classic, and has been for 100+ years with sales in the millions. So obviously it isn’t that bad.

    This article is a bit like a tenth grade English teacher explaining why Shakespeare was wrong to set his plays over three acts because modern audiences prefer only one intermission.

    Long live monopoly!

    N.B Incidentally the single player app version is good fun if you want a quick game. Vs computer.

    N.N.B The advantage to not buying a cheap property is that you have the money for the more expensive yellow, green and purples which is where most of the wealth comes from. Do you buy multiple cheap properties or save for the big stuff.

  • SpaceDwarf

    Part of the problem with Monopoly is that nobody really knows how to play Monopoly, we all just have a unique mishmash of half-remembered rules and things that our cousin swore up and down were official rules that one summer at the Beach House twenty years ago that nobody’s bothered looking up to verify or debunk.

    Plus, as others have pointed out, it’s hard to have fun with a game that’s been designed to highlight the evils of a given system. Here’s another thing to try: Play The Game Of Life without being able rob the bank or sell your ‘kids’ on the international organ market. Not fun.

  • BrianAWC

    The best “fix” I’ve seen over the years is super-simple. When any player is eliminated from the game all of the remaining players get one more turn. No trading or selling of properties between players is allowed past this point. After this last round of turns the game ends. If a player is in jail when the game ends they cannot be declared the winner.

    The winner is the guy with the most assets. Houses don’t count but hotels count as the cost of 4 houses + the cost of the hotel. (this is to discourage players from hoarding houses.)