Why Monopoly Is The Worst Game In The World, And What You Should Play Instead
There are hundreds and hundreds of really good board games. Why are you wasting your life playing this crap?
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Monopoly is shite.
That is my opinion, but it's not only my opinion. It has been reviewed by more than 15,000 users of the website BoardGameGeek, and gets an average score of less than 4.5 out of 10. People who play board games think it sucks. So does James Bond. See above.
BoardGameGeek lists Monopoly's playing time as 180 minutes. Wikipedia puts it at one to four hours. Even this post, which says that when people play Monopoly "correctly" it's faster, says that a game "often lasts about two hours".
That's still quite a long time, especially since once somebody starts winning, they can just grind out the victory.
You'll just keep raking in their money until eventually everyone else goes bankrupt. And it'll be obvious to everyone, as well. You're just playing out the inevitable for ages. You get trapped in what's called a "positive feedback loop": The game is easier for whoever's in the lead, so they'll tend to get further and further in the lead. You end up with a runaway winner.
And you can be knocked out, which is no fun in a game that long. If you're playing a four-hour game, and you get eliminated in the first 45 minutes, you've got a lot of time on your hands while your friends carry on playing.
What's more, while there is some skill involved, there's not very much. As this Redditor puts it:
Essentially, there is an ultimate "strategy." There are simply some properties that have a higher ROI [return on investment] than anything else. If you know these properties, you know what there is to buy and what there isn't to buy. The order of how the properties are laid out never change, so this strategy never changes. Everyone always rolls two dice. 7 is always going to be the most likely outcome with 6 and 8 being the next most likely outcome. So the probabilities never vary. So again, the strategy never will vary.
If everyone's using that strategy, then it's pure luck who actually wins.
Risk has the exact same problems. Plus it makes you want to murder each other.
I feel sad saying it, because I sort of love Risk, but playing it is a waste of your life. And no one has ever got to the end of a game without ending up in a major row with an old friend. One guy at school ended up with armpit sweat patches that met in the middle because he got so furious when someone broke their Brazil/North Africa non-aggression pact. That is a true story.
It's not as bad as Monopoly, but still, you need to devote most of a day to it, and there's a good chance that someone will take an early lead and just grind out the victory – take Australia quickly and you'll probably be able to slowly take the whole board. You can get knocked out quickly and have to spend the day on the sofa watching Friends repeats because everyone else is still playing. And one major battle between two big armies can take ages. Boardgamegeek gives it a better-than-bloody-Monopoly-but-still-fairly-damning 5.6 out of 10.
Stop playing them. Play something else. There are lots of other games you could be playing. There has been a sort of revolution in board games in the last 20 years. You'll all go home this Christmas and play god-damn Monopoly, and no one will enjoy it, and two members of your family won't speak to each other until April. Don't do it. There are so many better things to play.
If you want to create a huge property empire on your kitchen table, there are better ways to do it. One of the best is Ticket to Ride. It's a game about building railways across Europe. At the beginning, you draw a secret set of objectives (build a railway from Rome to London, that sort of thing). It's simple to learn: Each turn you either draw cards, which dictate what you can build, or you build routes. Better still, it only takes about 90 minutes, you can't get knocked out, and it's only dead obvious who's going to win once they've actually won.
The objectives at the beginning are what really change it from a glorified game of craps, like Monopoly, to a game of genuine skill. For one thing, they make the game different every time, so players have to come up with new strategies (and since they don't know their opponents' objectives, there's a poker-like element of bluff). For another, you have to guess at the beginning how many of your objectives you can manage, and discard the rest: It's like the bidding before each hand of bridge.
If you're thinking about playing Risk, don't. Play Settlers of Catan instead. I know – I just know – that some people are going to get sniffy about this. Recommending Settlers among real board-game geeks is a bit like saying "There's this cult movie Star Wars, I think you'd like it". That's because since it was released in 1995 (it was probably the game that really sparked the board-game revolution I mentioned above), it's sold 15 million copies. By the standards of actually good board games, it is a global megabrand.
But still, I promise you, most people won't have heard of it. Fifteen million people is not very many, especially when you consider that bloody Monopoly has sold 275 million. And it's a shame, because Settlers is brilliant.
For a start, everyone's involved in every turn: Only one person rolls the dice, but everyone has the chance to gain resources and trade. The board is different every time, and it's harder to get a runaway leader, because there's a mechanism built in to prevent it. (Specifically, that mechanism is called the "robber". I won't go into it here, but it works as a "negative feedback" system. Think of the blue shell in Mario Kart, only less brutal.)
Or you could play what is apparently the very best game of all. Settlers and Ticket to Ride are known as "gateway drugs" to the real stuff of modern board games. Once you've played them, you might want to move on to the real crack and heroin.
The best game, according to the board-game geeks of BoardGameGeek, is called Twilight Struggle. It's a – look, there's no way this is going to sound promising – card-based simulation of the Cold War. It's for two players, and one of you plays as the USA, while the other plays as the USSR. I know it sounds boring, but it's been the highest-rated game on BGG since 2010.
It's a bit longer than the other two – around two and a half hours, according to its creator Ananda Gupta, although BGG has it as three. Obviously no one can be eliminated (there's only two of you), and both sides are in with a shout until the end – more than that, the way the game is designed means that the USSR has an advantage earlier on, while the USA gets stronger later, as in the real thing.
Gupta reckons that the game "only" ends in global nuclear annihilation about one time in 20.
Or maybe you like games that go on forever and make you hate each other. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not judging. But if you like that stuff – if you actively want to be stuck in a room for hours at a time with a group of people whom you are increasingly coming to despise – then there is still a better option. And that option is Diplomacy.
Diplomacy is like Risk, without the sexiness and cool. Diplomacy has been described (in a magnificent Grantland article) as "the board game of the alpha nerds". Diplomacy has a playing time of 360 minutes, which it actually took me a few seconds to realise is six (6) hours. Diplomacy has actually scarred, and possibly ended, friendships.
That's because there's no dice-rolling or card-playing in Diplomacy. If you attack with three guys, and there are four people in the place you're attacking, you'll lose. If you've got four and they've got three, you'll win. How it works is that everyone moves at the same time – but before you move, you make deals with other players to attack the same places. And then they can do as they say, or betray you. Hence the friendship-ending.
It is, in a sense, a pure game. It's basically the Prisoner's Dilemma made into a pastime. And it has a fantastically devoted following. If you have an entire weekend spare and you don't mind alienating the people closest to you, it may be worth a go.
Or maybe you'd like to play something else. Play Village: It looks like a sweet Game of Life-type arrangement, but it's surprisingly dark (you gain points as your villagers die) and has a multilayered tactical element: There are two main ways to win, and several ways to get to them.
Or King of Tokyo, a rowdy face-off between Godzilla-like monsters.
Or Alien Frontiers, in which you build up a fleet of spaceships and try to take over a planet.
Or Power Grid, an exercise in heartless capitalism which was Twilight Struggle's predecessor as the best game on BoardGameGeek.
Or Agricola, a much-loved game about farming (yes, I know, but you're the one playing a game about buying property in London).
Or if you fancy playing something based on one of your favourite TV shows, Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica have both been turned into excellent board games. GoT is a classic, well-balanced conquest game where you play as different houses fighting for control of the Iron Throne. And Battlestar is an entertaining co-operative game where players work together to achieve a mutual goal as you fight off crisis after crisis... except, of course, some players are secretly Cylons, working to bring you down from the inside.
Or Netrunner, widely acknowledged as an incredibly addictive and multi-layered card-based game. Be warned: if you get into it, you will really get into it, and may end up unable to think about or talk about anything else, eventually driving away all your non-Netrunner playing friends.
There are hundreds of other good, easy to learn, fun games. Lots of them (including Agricola and Power Grid) you can buy for about a fiver on your phone, so you can try them out without committing to a £30 game and an evening with friends. And every single one will be more fun than Monopoly.
So don't play Monopoly. You owe it to yourself. Thank you.