Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Monopoly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Monopoly. Show all posts

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gaming in a hospital room - revisited

A little over four years ago, I wrote a couple of posts on what works and what doesn't when playing games in a hospital room or waiting room.  We find ourselves in a similar situation this week, although the medical circumstances are decidedly more serious.  All the same, it is helpful to revisit the principles that make for a good pasttime under such trying circumstances - portability, compactness, simplicity, humor, interruptibility, and brevity.  What follows is an amalgamation of highlights from the two posts.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lorton Monopoly Tournament

By way of background, Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) is a local charity that looks after the basic needs and means to self-sufficiency of low-income individuals and families in our area.  In support of LCAC, the real estate agency Ron and Susan Associates sponsors an annual Monopoly tournament as a fund-raising event.  I had the opportunity to participate in Ron and Susan's Seventh Annual Monopoly Tournament last weekend at the Workhouse Arts Center, a converted prison facility that now houses an art gallery and studio spaces for local artists.  Ron Kowalski (of Ron and Susan Associates) worked for Hasbro at one time and is something of a Monopoly enthusiast.  The event was very well run, and the setting in an art gallery was very pleasant.  Lunch was catered by Glory Days.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Boardgame landscape 76 years ago

Last year I wrote about the shortcomings of Monopoly as a case study for game design.  I caveated my criticism of the game with the observation that it is still among the best-selling games of all time.  One reader commented that there might not have been a lot of competition for Monopoly when it first caught fire as an American staple.  Re-reading that post inspired me to have a look at what boardgame options were available back when Parker Brothers introduced Boardwalk and Park Place to the gaming public.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gaming in a hospital room - Monopoly Express

Some months ago I wrote a post on what kinds of games work when keeping someone company in a hospital room, and what kinds of games don't.  I had the occasion this week to while away time in similar circumstances, and we settled on Monopoly Express (designers Garrett Donner and Michael S. Steer, publisher Hasbro) as a not-bad alternative when conditions don't allow the kind of space that board and card games typically require.

Monopoly Express
photo Hasbro 2007
First published in 1991 as Don't Go to Jail, the dice game Monopoly Express was re-released in 2007 in a round plastic container that is rather difficult to open.  This inconvenience is a blessing in disguise, because it allows ME to be thrown into a bag and taken anywhere without concern for lost pieces.  The container also serves as a dice tray, and it was this feature that made the game work so well in a surgery waiting room.  My wife and I were able to play this game on the seat between us without worrying about pieces rolling onto the floor.

Monopoly Express board
photo posted to boardgamegeek.com
by Chris Blakely
The "board" is a round plastic disc with recesses for placing dice to score points.  The game itself is a "push your luck" game along the lines of Pass the Pigs, $GREED, or Can't Stop.  Three dice have only "Go to Jail" policemen, "Go" green arrows, or blank faces.  Seven other dice have colors and denominations on each face that correspond roughly to familiar properties on a Monopoly board.  A player's turn consists of rolling the dice, putting any policemen on the board, and then also placing on the board a combination of colored denominations that offers the best prospects for scoring points.  Completed sets are worth more points than the sum of individual dice and also offer the opportunity to add the "house/hotel" die to the mix on the next roll; houses and hotels add greatly to the score.  A player can re-roll remaining dice or stop at any time and score the results of the turn, but if a roll turns up the third policeman, then the player scores nothing that turn (like a "pig out" in PtP).

The value in this game isn't the twist on the push-your-luck format, and certainly not its very small addition to the deluge of Monopoly titles in the world.  Its real value is its extreme portability and quick play.  This week it got more action than PtP because it doesn't even need a flat playing surface.  At a time when we all needed a little cheering up, ME helped pass the time in a pleasant, undemanding way.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What doesn't work - Monopoly as a case study

I've been reading a lot lately about what makes a game a hit.  While contemplating the factors of success in game design, the mathematician in me immediately wants to consider the counter-example:  What makes a game a disappointment?

Image courtesy of Hasbro
 One game that virtually never gets played in my house any more is Monopoly (designer Charles Darrow *, publisher Hasbro).  The over-riding reasons that Monopoly draws an inevitable veto in my house are that "it takes too long" and "it's just not fun."  These valid criticisms beg obvious follow-on questions:  What exactly is it about Monopoly's design that makes it take too long?  And what makes it "not fun" (at least to some)?  Perhaps investigating these questions can help sharpen the definition of what makes a game a disappointment, and therefore help to delineate the limits of a successful design.

[Now, we have to keep in mind that Monopoly is the best-selling boardgame of all time, a consideration that I will entertain in another post.]

What makes Monopoly take too long?  The game-ending condition is, frankly, merciless:  The game ends when all players but one have run out of money.  This characteristic brings to mind the original Risk, also lengthy because it demands conquest of the entire map to end the game.  In the case of Monopoly, there are other factors that serve to perpetuate the game as well.  The number of developed monopolies that players build will drive the pace of the game.  If there are too few monopolies, people end up moving around the board paying small amounts of rent and collecting $200 at every "Go."  In that case, the total amount of money in play can gradually increase for everybody, and nobody approaches bankruptcy.  By contrast, several high-rent monopolies on the board will drive people to bankruptcy quickly; so once players start building houses and hotels in earnest, sooner or later, somebody is going to go under.

Why isn't Monopoly fun (for some people)?  First, I have hinted several times that I am not fond of player-elimination games.  If the intent of playing a game is to have fun as a group, then excluding people one by one from the game leaves some individuals out of the action while others continue to play.  That works fine in a serious competition or tournament, but not for a social event.  We have a house rule - when I can con my family into playing Monopoly at all - that once the first player goes bankrupt, the game is over, and the person with the most money (cash+property) wins.  With this house rule in force, when the game is over for one person, it's over for everybody - which addresses both the game length and the player-elimination problems.

My father-in-law pointed out a second aspect of Monopoly that he doesn't like that can be summarized as "the runaway leader problem."  If one person is lucky enough to acquire and develop a monopoly long before anyone else, he can develop a commanding lead, to the point that no one can do any serious damage to him, and everyone else will be unable to develop their own monopolies or go bankrupt trying to do so.  The game becomes an exercise in inevitability - watching one real estate empire swallow up all the little guys.

A third reason that Monopoly can fail to be fun is that it often devolves into a long series of roll-and-move with no serious decision-making.  In the early game, players roll and move to acquire property with no real thought required.  In the mid-game, as players assemble monopolies, they face decisions regarding how many houses to build vs. how much cash to keep in reserve. But once everybody's property is fully developed, the game boils down to one of dice luck - I win if you land on my hotels before I land on yours. If most of the game is dice luck, it becomes a laborious version of Chutes and Ladders.

But I think there's more to the game than that.  I've come to realize that Monopoly is a game of property valuation.  Once players decide that obtaining a monopoly - and especially, being the first player to obtain a monopoly - is the key to winning, then trading becomes very important.  And therein lies the crux of the game.  If I offer you Boardwalk and you already have Park Place, what do I demand in return?  What should I be willing to give up for Mediterranean Avenue if I have Baltic Avenue?  Should I take my opponent's cash reserve into account if the deal gives him or her a monopoly on which to build houses?

Once these deals are made, then the real estate landscape is in place, and your rent-collection profile is a product of the way you valued the property you took vs. the property you gave up.  But again, at that point, once all the deals are done and everybody has reached an equilibrium point, we're back to dice luck.  Who lands on whose property first?

Settlers of Catan, the quick, fun
barter-economy game
That got me thinking about Settlers of Catan, a barter-economy development game that is eminently enjoyable and is certainly not a game that takes too long.  That game ends when one player has built up to a certain number of points.  Is there a way to translate that concept to Monopoly, so that I can declare a winner just based on who reaches a certain "tipping point" in development first?

Let's consider what that "tipping point" might look like:  If a player owned all the property on the board, the highest revenue configuration of 12 hotels and 32 houses would be hotels on the dark blue, green, yellow, and red monopolies and New York Avenue, and four houses each on Tennessee Avenue, St. James Avenue, the violet monopoly, and the light blue monopoly.  In that configuration, the total rent for all property on the board would be $20,802.  It might be reasonable to expect that if one player achieves half that revenue potential, then the game is close to a foregone conclusion. 

So perhaps a new game-ending victory condition would be if any player achieves a total rent of $10,400 across all owned property.  I haven't playtested this idea, but it might serve to make the end-game a little more merciful. 

What started this essay as a consideration of perceived design flaws led to an idea to tweak a time-tested popular game.  The fact that Hasbro managed to make fundamental improvements to Risk (discussed in a previous post) suggests that even the best-selling games might bear changes to fix the most compelling complaints.

*Although Hasbro lists Charles Darrow as the sole designer, there is significant research to suggest that Darrow based his submission to Parker Brothers on designs by several other people of a number of similar games, most notably The Landlord's Game by Elizabeth Magie Phillips.