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Subject: Is Classic Monopoly Really That Bad? rss

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Julian Meynell
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Introduction

Monopoly is a game that people love to hate on the Geek, but is it really so bad? I’m going to give away the ending of this review by telling you that I rate it a 5 out of 10 in my game collection. That is for the four to six player game, mind you. Monopoly is terrible with two or three players. I rarely play Monopoly, because I have sucked everyone I can into board gaming and as a result I always have better things to play. But, from time to time, I do end up playing Monopoly, and I always enjoy it. There are just other games I enjoy more. I am going to assume for the purpose of this review that everyone reading it has played Monopoly and is familiar with the rules. There is a new version of Monopoly with a speed die to speed up the game. I haven’t played that version and I’m not sure it is a good idea for reasons I will discuss in the review. I’m going to write this review as answers to a number of questions, starting with some Monopoly myths.


Doesn’t A Game of Monopoly Never End?

In a way this is not a myth. Most people play Monopoly with house rules. In particular, most people play with some sort of rule that injects money into the game when you land on Free Parking. As noted on the game page, this rule breaks the game. Monopoly is a limited commodity game, in which you have to manage your primary resource, which is money. In fact, as far as I am aware, Monopoly is the first resource management game. In any resource game, if you change it to flood the market with a particular resource you will break the game. Imagine a game of Settlers of Catan with a house rule that said, instead of returning resource cards when building, the next player to roll a 7 collected them all. This would absolutely destroy the game. Something similar happens in Monopoly when you flood it with money. The game is designed to flush money out of the system when you purchase property and build houses and hotels. Without flushing that money out, bankruptcy takes too long to accomplish.

My own feeling is that these house rules date to a time where the point of playing the game was to keep the kids away from mischief. A lot of parents wanted to make the game as long as possible so that they would give fake money to the kids in rents, and not real money to the neighbours in property damage. Now we have TV and the internet for that purpose. If you play with the actual rules, and at least one competent player, the game takes about two hours.


Isn’t Monopoly Just a Game of Luck?

No. Monopoly is a game in which the most skilled player will almost always win. The problem is that people think that there is no skill to Monopoly and so they do not bother to develop a strategy. About twenty years ago I started refusing to play Monopoly with house rules. Since that time, I have never lost a game of Monopoly. Granted, that is only about twelve games, but it is probably my longest unbroken winning streak in any board game.

The view that randomness equals a lack of skill is not as widely held as it once was, probably because it is completely wrong. In a well-designed game, random elements are about risk management. Having some sense of what you are likely to hit next and which of your properties are likely to be hit is important in deciding whether to take the risk and build housing or whether to sit on that pile of cash. Knowing which properties are more likely to be hit and which sets are better is important too.

More importantly, developing your economic engine is what Monopoly is all about. Making sets and building housing on them, which can bring in money for more housing and sets is the engine. No one seems to think about Monopoly that way, but it is really the first game designed in which you make an engine. To take an obvious example, many people wait until every single property is taken before getting to work on their economic engine. In fact, deciding when to start developing and depleting that stack of cash you could use to buy properties is an integral part of the game.

There are all sorts of interesting moves in Monopoly. For instance, if a set is split between two players and you land on the third property, sometimes it is not a good idea to buy it. You can put it up for auction, and, because you are allowed to bid, step in if it goes for a bargain. But often you can watch one of the players pay far too much to obtain that property and cripple themselves; evil and fun.

Most importantly, Monopoly is, at its heart, a trading game. Winning at Monopoly is about understanding how to trade. Even if you land on nothing, you can still win, because there should be a player short of cash who will sell stuff to you, and then you have something to trade. I once won a game of four player Monopoly in which I landed on three properties, none of which were all that good. I had to make four trades to do it (that’s right, I traded with one player twice), but I still won. I’m going to come back to trading later, because it is trading which I love about the game.


Doesn’t Monopoly Have Boring Mechanics?

OK, so roll-and-move is a bit of a boring mechanic, but the real reason that Monopoly has lasted is not because stupid people don’t know any better. At the time it came out it was radically innovative. I have already mentioned that it has an economic engine in it and that it is a resource management game. It has set collection as well. Lastly, it has the best trading mechanic of any board game that I have ever played. Other than abstracts, Monopoly was the best game around for decades. Now it is not. But buying Monopoly was a sensible decision until at least the seventies. People who buy Monopoly now are just a little behind the times.


Isn’t It Bad Because it has Player Elimination?

There is some truth to this objection. Mind you, I think that there is something great about player elimination. I enjoy watching my enemies going down to crushing defeat, instead of having slightly fewer points than me. However, I would never bring Monopoly to a game night because of the player elimination. Monopoly is a true family game in that it should only be played by families. If someone gets eliminated, they just wander off and do something else: play Wii, or talk to batty Aunt Betty or whatever. Besides, you can get your non-board gaming family members to play it. Although, I recommend brain-washing your family until there are no non-board gaming family members. Finally, if the game is hopeless, don’t forget that it is possible for the losing players to concede and not wait for the inevitable. They do that in chess, so it is OK.


What’s so great about this Trading You Keep Going on About?

In Monopoly you can trade anything, at any time with anyone. This is an amazing mechanic. While Monopoly does not have a lot of downtime because of its roll and move mechanic, you can be trying to trade through most of the game. That means that there does not need to be a lot of down time, because you can be trying to make trades from near the beginning to near the end. People tend to think that Monopoly has two stages. The first stage where you buy properties and the second where you develop them with a midway point where you might do some trading. In fact, quite quickly most of the properties tend to go, and it makes sense to start trading then, to get your economic engine up to speed. As the game progresses, you might need more sets or more money, and when someone lands on your property, it often makes sense to resolve that with some element of trading.

Trading is almost always to your advantage, because you get a benefit relative to the players that are not involved in the trade. Making the trade is the important part. For instance, one of the tricks that I use to win is to flip my offer in a potential trade. I might offer another player Set A, if they give me Set B and $200. If they refuse, I will suggest that they get Set B and $200, if they give me Set A. I am pretty good at Monopoly, because I focus more on making trades, than ripping off the other player and I trade whenever it makes sense. Once you see that trading early and often is the key to victory, two wonderful things happen. First, you win about a dozen games in a row. Second, the game speeds up dramatically because development happens before thousands of dollars of extra cash have been injected into the game by going round Go! As a result bankruptcies happen much earlier.

Because you can trade anything, at any time, with anyone, the trades are richer and more complex than in any other game. I have managed to get a trade to happen on several occasions by throwing in a get out of jail for free card. There are massive numbers of trades that are possible. You can give people sets in return for sets. You can give them sets in return for properties that you cannot use, in order to trade them to someone else. Money can play a factor in the trade, with a little bit of cash to sweeten the deal. You can even just sell or buy something from another player. Trading is very complex and filled with nuances. The more you understand the game, the more elements come into your trading decisions. Understanding the psychology of the other players and what they will trade and what they overvalue is another huge factor. It completely buries the trading mechanics in any other game. A wood for a sheep looks boring in comparison.

Some games are only good if they are played by skilled players. Weirdly, Monopoly is one of those games, although it gets good with only one skilled player. If someone starts trying to trade early and often, other people do too. Because trading for properties you cannot use makes sense if you can mortgage them or trade them, there are always multiple players to trade with. Making several offers gets everyone trying to trade in my experience.

My skepticism about the speed die, is that, from what I understand, by accelerating buying the properties and other players landing on them, you encourage the lead players not to trade and to try to wait for sets. To my mind, anything that discourages trading is bad. I should buy the new Monopoly, to get that Speed Dice, and see if that is a real concern. But I cannot justify it, because I have three copies already. As all gamers know, you get given themed versions of Monopoly all the time.


If You Love the Trading so Much, Why only a 5?

The biggest problem with Monopoly is not any of the alleged problems addressed above. The real problem is the decision-to-time ratio. You do not make that many decisions in Monopoly and only a few of those decisions take much thought. Most of the time, it is obvious whether you should buy a property, mortgage a property or build a house. The really interesting decisions are around trading and you only do that a few times in a game, but, even playing properly, the game takes two hours.

Monopoly is an outdated game with a truly awesome mechanic in the middle of it, which you do not get to do enough. But that mechanic is wonderful. Until someone comes up with a game that has trading options as deep and rich and non-obvious as Monopoly, but that takes a shorter time to resolve, Monopoly will not be completely obsolete. Until that game appears, I will always be willing to play Monopoly, at least until my gamer brain-washing of the other players is complete.


Are You on Crack?

Well, I do live in Toronto.





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John "Omega" Williams
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I like Monopoly. It is a solidly designed family game. Otherwise it wouldnt still be selling like crazy.

It can be long to play. But for some that is a bonus rather than a flaw.

It is certainly not boring unless you make it so. Some people fing Magic the Gathering deathly boring. Everyone has different interests. But BGG seems to concentrate the snobbery side sometimes.
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Quote:
It is a solidly designed family game. Otherwise it wouldnt still be selling like crazy.

Wrong. That something sells well does not mean that it is solid in any sense. It just means that it sells well.
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Chris in Kansai
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Si Fei wrote:
Quote:
It is a solidly designed family game. Otherwise it wouldnt still be selling like crazy.

Wrong. That something sells well does not mean that it is solid in any sense. It just means that it sells well.

Something that has sold well (and continues to do so) since 1936 is, if nothing else, solid.
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It sells well because it's a recognised name, a brand. Which is what consumers usually turn to if they are no connoisseurs of the product in question. There is no suggestion that Coca Cola is the best beverage in the world; in fact, I would argue that it's not a very good one, and isn't even the best cola (nor is Pepsi, FWIW). But it's a big, powerful brand and that exerts a lot of pull with consumers. So with Monopoly.

It's not broken, it's sort of playable, it has big enough flaws to rate it only 4 or 5, and as a result there are thousands of other games I'd rather play. But I suppose I'd rather play Monopoly than not play anything at all.

Always play for the orange/red corner of the board, by the way. Unless you're playing with people skilled enough to know *why* you are trying to do that.
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It's nice to see someone saying te same thing I've been saying for years. I actually like Monopoly (albeit like you would probably rate it a 5). My family however has pretty decided they'll play any other game than that with me for the simple fact I win to much at it (99% range)

I use very similar tactics as you and one of my favorite trades is trading for baltic or mediterranean (whicever I'm missing) with park place or boardwalk.

They think I'm crazy until I drop hotels on both properties and they can barely pay for a house on theirs.

I also the houe rules (free parking and no auctioning) are what generally prolong the game the most.
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Something that has sold well (and continues to do so) since 1936 is, if nothing else, solid.

Could you explain that? Especially your definition of "solid" would be of interest here.
 
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Julian Meynell
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apocalyp wrote:
I use very similar tactics as you and one of my favorite trades is trading for baltic or mediterranean (whicever I'm missing) with park place or boardwalk.

They think I'm crazy until I drop hotels on both properties and they can barely pay for a house on theirs.

Thanks for the nice words. I've used that tactic too, although I prefer the light blue set. I'll trade virtually anything to get the light blues early on.
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Si Fei wrote:
Quote:
Something that has sold well (and continues to do so) since 1936 is, if nothing else, solid.

Could you explain that? Especially your definition of "solid" would be of interest here.

Doing what it says on the tin, to wit providing an enjoyable (or at least memorable) social experience for the players.

I played a fair amount of Monopoly in the 70s at family gatherings, as did most of my peers. The games were often unfair, frustrating, occasionally with outrageous swings of fortune, but they were never boring, and the remembered thrill of bankrupting my sister, or mum, or dad, or whoever still makes me grin now, as do the memories of me stomping off in a huff because it just WASN'T FAIR!!!

And the thing is, I can ask a total stranger from pretty much anywhere in Western Europe or the US/Canada to tell me a Monopoly story and chances are they'll be able to, and their experiences will be very similar to mine. You can't do that with Coca Cola.

That's what makes Monopoly a solid game - it's easy to learn, easy to play at a basic level and has provided millions of people (non-gamers mostly) with memorable moments of victory and defeat, outrageous fortune and misfortune, tantrums and gloating.

Best game ever? No of course not.

A classic family game? Most definitely
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Oh, and one more thing.

Playing Monopoly with the family gives Mum & Dad the rare opportunity to grind their kids' faces into the dirt of defeat, then when the kids flip out they can explain how this is a valuable life lesson about losing with grace, accepting the good with the bad and so on while yucking it up for all they're worth.

That's parenting gold right there, that is.
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Now you are arguing about the quality of the game. ("Solid" as in a "solid game")

My point was that there is no connection between Monopoly selling well and its qualities as a game. ("Solid as a game" is not "solid as a product" and vice versa.)

I have not said anything about Monopoly as a game. My personal opinion would be, that Monopoly, if played by the original rules, is a slightly below mediocre game. Its not horrible, but I would not play it if I had the choice of choosing another game from my collection.


Quote:
Oh, and one more thing.

Playing Monopoly with the family gives Mum & Dad the rare opportunity to grind their kids' faces into the dirt of defeat, then when the kids flip out they can explain how this is a valuable life lesson about losing with grace, accepting the good with the bad and so on while yucking it up for all they're worth.

That's parenting gold right there, that is.

I think thats a horrible justification for a game. But then, "parenting" is a horrible word.
 
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Richard Irving
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Monopoly suffers from two things:

- It is a trading game--the game doesn't advance towards a finish until someone acquires a complete color group and doing it by landing on properties is rare. (Someone will say "You should play with auctions...", but auctions should NEVER occur because the players always have enough money to buy the property outright and they should!) That requires making trades.

But the game makes it hard to trade:
- All trades are fundamentally imbalanced and the primary agents to balance things don't work: cash is too vital to buying houses and hotels and unmatched properties and Get Out of Jail Free Cards have little effect. Granted ANY reasonable trade helps the two players who make it over the rest of the field--but the trade will always help one player more. And that makes them hard to engineer in the first place.
- You have no option in trading partner: Say you have 2 reds and the player with other red doesn't want any of your properties to complete a color group, they won't trade with you. Or if they simply won't trade. Or they won't trade WITH YOU.


The other reason is most of us have played Monopoly mostly with family and friends who are non-gamers and who usually really bad players. They engage in meta-gaming and don't know the game:
- Your brother won't trade with you because you "swindled" him when he was 7. (Even if that trade was reasonable--just didn't turn out.)
- Aunt Sally only trades with your sister because "Us girls have to stick together!"
- Dad will only trade you the last Orange to you if you promise to wash the car this weekend.
- Mom always makes trades that give the losing child a Monopoly. Both to make it "fair" and to gracefully bow out of the game--until the argument ensues.

Makes a great argument starter, but a lousy game!
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Si Fei wrote:
Now you are arguing about the quality of the game. ("Solid" as in a "solid game")

My point was that there is no connection between Monopoly selling well and its qualities as a game. ("Solid as a game" is not "solid as a product" and vice versa.)

If it were just the matter of a few years I'd agree with you - there are endless examples of fairly unremarkable products selling like hotcakes on the back of the latest fad for a while.

Monopoly's been going strong for over 75 years though and in my opinion there's no way that's just down to good marketing.


Si Fei wrote:


Quote:
Oh, and one more thing.

Playing Monopoly with the family gives Mum & Dad the rare opportunity to grind their kids' faces into the dirt of defeat, then when the kids flip out they can explain how this is a valuable life lesson about losing with grace, accepting the good with the bad and so on while yucking it up for all they're worth.

That's parenting gold right there, that is.

I think thats a horrible justification for a game. But then, "parenting" is a horrible word.

I do apologise - I forgot to end my remarks with
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Our games when I was a child would last several evenings. It's because we would not play by official rules. It didn't ruin the experience for us as we played it many, many times back then and had a nice time together.

Nowadays, I'm more interested in playing as the game is supposed to be played and, frankly, I'm surprised at how quick they're over with. Emphasizing the trading aspect is nothing more than reminding others that you're supposed to barter for property to help move the game along.

For added flavor, using an "all-auction" variant is also fun. Land on a property, that spot goes up for auction immediately. Whomever throws down the most money for it gets it. Variants may not be "by the book," but even sophisticated games of today are often treated with alternative rule sets.

I don't think Monopoly is necessarily "bad," but it does lack a lot of depth and is made worse with fellow players who don't seem to want to play it "for real." I can't fault the game for those who play it, but I can be frustrated when people knock it and also fail to enforce rules at the same time.

I sometimes wonder if those who hate the game the most are also awful at it. laugh

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Julian Meynell
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rri1 wrote:
Monopoly suffers from two things:

- It is a trading game--the game doesn't advance towards a finish until someone acquires a complete color group and doing it by landing on properties is rare. (Someone will say "You should play with auctions...", but auctions should NEVER occur because the players always have enough money to buy the property outright and they should!) That requires making trades.

But the game makes it hard to trade:
- All trades are fundamentally imbalanced and the primary agents to balance things don't work: cash is too vital to buying houses and hotels and unmatched properties and Get Out of Jail Free Cards have little effect. Granted ANY reasonable trade helps the two players who make it over the rest of the field--but the trade will always help one player more. And that makes them hard to engineer in the first place.
- You have no option in trading partner: Say you have 2 reds and the player with other red doesn't want any of your properties to complete a color group, they won't trade with you. Or if they simply won't trade. Or they won't trade WITH YOU.


The other reason is most of us have played Monopoly mostly with family and friends who are non-gamers and who usually really bad players. They engage in meta-gaming and don't know the game:
- Your brother won't trade with you because you "swindled" him when he was 7. (Even if that trade was reasonable--just didn't turn out.)
- Aunt Sally only trades with your sister because "Us girls have to stick together!"
- Dad will only trade you the last Orange to you if you promise to wash the car this weekend.
- Mom always makes trades that give the losing child a Monopoly. Both to make it "fair" and to gracefully bow out of the game--until the argument ensues.

Makes a great argument starter, but a lousy game!

Thanks for replying. I'll address your two points by referring to the game I mention in my review where in a 4 player game I landed on three properties, but still went on to win that game.

I played it with my sister, my mother and my son. The metagame started out with my sister starting a campaign that no one trade with Julian. That's because of sibling rivalry and because I always win. My son agreed to that, because he is very sensible and has never beaten me. My mother didn't agree because she did not want to play favorites with her kids. That is some spectacular metagaming. I went onto win that game, and my first trade was with my sister. That's because I offered her an irresistible trade. I like the kind of games which have metagaming problems, because those games tend to have deal making and alliances which I like. Overcoming the metagame can be part of the fun.

Which brings me to your second point. In that game I gave my sister a set in exchange for a lot of properties which I couldn't do anything with and some money. I then gave my mother a good set in return for a lot of properties. My son and I were the only ones without sets and he was forced to trade with me, because I had everything he needed. I ended up with two fully developed sets, lots to mortgage and lots of cash and I won.

You can always trade. You can get the worst of any particular trade and still win. That's why trading is awesome in Monopoly.
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Julian Meynell
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Oh, and you shouldn't always buy a property, because you should be trading to get sets as soon as possible. Later on sometimes you just want to let it go to auction, especially the utilities.
 
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I'm in the pro Monopoly camp. Yes looking from a gamers point of view and only looking at the rules, it is lacking something. But that is one of the main problems with the gaming community and the "cult of the new" It doesn't value the historical and social aspects of the game.

When I'm introducing my son to Monopoly, I am introducing him to a game that most people know, he most likely play it outside his "Game playing dads" home. I am introducing him to an important part of gaming history. My son loves the game, my wife loves the game (Not a gamer but she has played Agricola) and I loves sharing a game with them. These are aspects that makes the game good, even if the rules could be said to be "outdated"

But even outdated rules is not fair. It is outdated to the hobby gamer, but rules are vital in the family setting along with yatzee and Uno.

People interested in film still like Citizen Kane even if it doesn't have color. Music lovers stil like early Beatles even if they did not recorded in mutlible tracks yet. And the first Spider-man comics are still loved even if they look far from modern.

Monopoly is a true boardgame classic, and it is a shame it is rated so low.
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This is one of the best reviews of Monopoly that I have read. Well done!

I enjoy Monopoly on occasion and have good childhood memories of playing with family and friends. Once I learned HOW to play the game, it only got better. Playing with people that actually know how to play really makes a difference. I have taught my kids to play the game by the rules, about probabilities, trading, auctions, and housing shortages. It is a rare game that lasts longer than 2 hours.

Many are also unaware that there is an official timed variant for playing that limits the game to a specific time limit. You could limit it to just 20 minutes if you like and the other players agree.

Quote:
ANOTHER GOOD SHORT GAME
TIME LIMIT GAME

...
Before starting, agree upon a definite hour of termination, when the richest player will be declared the winner. Before starting, the Banker shuffles and cuts the Title Deed cards and deals two to each player. Players immediately pay the Bank the price of the properties dealt to them. (empasis added)

Last time I checked, the official Monopoly World Championship (and all the national championships) use a 1 hour time limit. Again, many of the complaints about the game being too long are because players are not playing by the actual official rules.
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Monopoly's been going strong for over 75 years though and in my opinion there's no way that's just down to good marketing.

And that is the point where we differ.
I would like to argue that it is selling well mainly due to two factors, which are 1) Good marketing of the Monopoly brand and 2) A long established and thus deeply ingrained tradition of playing Monopoly. The second point is quite complex and I guess (but am not totally sure) that the deciding factors are a) the game was very innovative for its time and was also much superior, compared to the other games back then b) the game was in that position for a very long period of time, thus entering mainstream culture quite deeply* c) both a and b might be due to succesful marketing more than anything else.

* Point b) could be tested to a degree in the following way: Compare sales figure of Monopoly in the US for the period where it only had to compete with war games as an alternative, to sales figures of the same period in countries where there were alternatives easily available (i.e. German games).
Still would be quite inaccurate for a number of problems. Most serious one is distribution systems, i.e. actual exposition of the game to potential buyers, i.e. availability. Plus, what the office clerk is trained to tell buyers (or just makes up).

My main arguments come down to limited actual choice and irrational buyers behaviour.
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Anyway: The discussion which my above post is part of is pretty off-topic.

This thread is about the intrinsic qualities of Monopoly as a game. (Or not?)

I think Monopoly sucks in comparison to a lot of the games out there. In fact, it sucks so much that the only reason to play it is merely for extrinsic reasons. Thats not the problem, but I think it is worth asking the question whether that should be a strong criterion for ranking a game.
 
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George Husted
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Yet, in BGG rankings (arguably an informed gamer population), Monopoly ranks 5-6 with 4669 BGG players. That is not an inconsequential number of gamers that agree that monopoly is an OK game. They like it. It isn't all marketing. There would be a saturation point if the game were all hype and no substance, and clearly there is a very large group of people in cultures across the globe that enjoy the game play. Just because YOU do not like a game does not mean that a game is unlikable.
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Chrysm wrote:
Si Fei wrote:
Quote:
It is a solidly designed family game. Otherwise it wouldnt still be selling like crazy.

Wrong. That something sells well does not mean that it is solid in any sense. It just means that it sells well.

Something that has sold well (and continues to do so) since 1936 is, if nothing else, solid.

How many people, who know nothing about games, go to Target to buy Monopoly during Christmas. Not because it's a good game but because they know the name and it's readily available?
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George Husted
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What you say is true, but I was specifically talking about fellow geek gamers and their like of the game and then making an inference that if a largish part of the geek gaming community enjoys the game moderately, it is not unreasonable to believe that a largish portion of the general population enjoys the game as much or more.

As for Target shoppers, you might say similar things about Catan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, etc.

Just because a game is "mainstream" does not make it a bad game.
 
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I always find it funny that it's always seen as a sin to say anything nice about monopoly on the geek.

It's a solid game for various reasons like solid ruleeset (I don't recall ever seeing or needing an faq), it's a universally understood theme and it can be rre-themed to anything easily.

Saying it's a solid game doesn't mean you have to like it.

That being said 7 wonders is considered a solid game I believe by quite a few gamers but I'd rather play monopoly over 7 wonders any day. It's my opinion though and it doesn't make 7 wonders any less of a game?
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Darrel Raines
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The fact that you are reviewing a game that is so old, and yet still get many people to weigh in with their opinions says all that needs to be said about the ubiquitous nature of Monopoly.

I haven't played Monopoly in quite a while. Yet I would be happy to do so if the majority of the family wanted to play on a given evening. The game is enjoyable if played by the official rules. But the conversation about the meta-game are right on target. I cannot play a game with any of the family without being identified immediately as "the person to avoid in trades". It doesn't help that I am perceived to have won most of the games in the past.

Now, I could be upset by this targeting. But I am not. I look at this as just another challenge when we play a game.

And in my experience, the game can be rather quick paced as long as the banker is knowledgeable about how to handle mortgages and the players don't take forever to consider a trade.

All in all, a better experience than sitting around the television watching reruns of a bad situation comedy!
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