Monopoly: Why So Popular?
If you ask the general public what they first think of when you mention ‘board games’, their one word response will almost certainly be ‘Monopoly’. Over the last century Monopoly has managed to work its way up into the position of being the quintessential board game. It has been played by 750 million people around the world. That is not an insignificant number.
It seems to me that many game lovers view Monopoly much as lovers of film view Birth of a Nation. You cannot deny its impact and its grand influence on all those that would come after, however it is hard to deny the offensive content and flaws involved within. Where Birth of a Nation was laced with inherent racism and glorifies the KKK, Monopoly is laced with inherent dice rolling and glorifies chance over skill. But despite these flaws it is hard not to show an appreciation for the grandfather of modern board games.
It would be silly of me to describe the mechanics of Monopoly as the game is so ingrained in the collective consciousness of gamers (and even non-gamers for that matter) that there simply is no need. So instead I will talk about what works and what doesn’t.
Monopoly is a flawed game. This point seems all too obvious to many. But exactly where is its fatal flaw? It is true that Monopoly involves a lot of dice rolling, which results in luck becoming a heavy factor on the outcome of the game. The beginning of the game is a rush to acquire as many properties as you can. The random chance of which two faces of those white, bumpy cubes is all that determines where on the board you will land. Therefore there simply is not a lot of strategy as to which properties you shall receive.
However, Monopoly does have a strong component of player interaction once the properties begin to be bought up, as they must trade with others in order to form their colour-coded monopolies and begin their ascent up the greedy landlord ladder. This interaction is where the game is decided. Those who are able to make the best deals and own the best locations on the board will stand a good chance in winning. This player-player interaction is a strong component of the game and for this reason the heavy prevalence of dice and luck is not Monopoly’s true downfall.
Where Monopoly’s gameplay truly fails is in its conclusion. Yes, the game is long. It can take three hours to play a full game. Yet the length itself is not the problem. There are many games which can take much longer to play, yet still manage to keep interest high. Where Monopoly goes wrong is that the outcome of the game can be seen from miles away, much like Omar Sharif’s entrance in Lawrence of Arabia. He can be seen far in the distance walking through the desert. His coming is inevitable, yet we still must wait for some time before his eventual arrival.
As the game progresses, Monopoly becomes very much a sad reflection of the financial situation of the world itself; the poor become poorer while the rich become richer. It does not take long before one player begins to run away with the game and cannot be caught. There is very little room in Monopoly mechanics for any other player to mount some great comeback. Yet it still takes many more turns and many more rolls of those blasted dice before a winner can be declared. This is the unraveling of monopoly; the tightly knit string at the beginning of an innocent enough game at the start which only become more and more frayed as the game goes on.
The board of monopoly is simple, a square with 10 game spaces on each side, and has become a standard template in the world of board games, especially the Go space as the staring point. The game pieces themselves really make no sense (a thimble?!), yet because of Monopoly’s status they are simply accepted and have even reached ‘classic’ status themselves. The Community Chest and Chance cards are goofy but work to set up the overall atmosphere of the game. It is hard to truly critique Monopoly’s components as they have simply become a part of the background of any family rumpus room. The applicability of the game’s set-up is also the reason why Monopoly has countless impostors and spin-offs; it is easy to fill in the gaps with whatever you wish, whether it be Star Wars, beer, or the Caribbean.
So Monopoly is a heavily flawed game, yet it is also the most popular game in the world. This begs the question; why is it so popular? Yes, it is true that monopoly has a universal appeal. Its theme is heavily adaptable and its rules are based in a very simplified form of commerce. And yes, it came out of the thirties, a hard time for society where a simple board game could bring some form of relief from the hardships around. These indeed are factors in its overblown reputation. However, the depression is far from over, and as universal as Monopoly can be there are still many other games which can fill this role better.
Forgive me if you are becoming tired of my many film references throughout this review, but I must make one more dip into the well. Monopoly’s popularity reminds me of teenage boys being thrilled by big explosions and high-speed cars chases in the movies that they see. They believe that there can be no greater movie than one such as Transformers where the fun and excitement is there, even if the stronger components of film-making are not. They feel this way about the movie simply because they have not had much exposure to other better films and cannot see that there is more to a movie than eye candy and accessibility. If one of these teenage boys delves deeper into the world of film, he discovers the weakness of the movies he once held on a pedestal.
Monopoly has managed to stay on top of the gaming world simply because the general public has not dove into the rich world of board games that exists beyond and therefore simply does not realize that other games do not contain Monopoly’s flaws. They simply do not realize that there is much more potential in board games other than buying up the streets of Atlantic City. Monopoly is comfortable and recognizable. It is for those who dare to venture beyond these surface comforts who will truly discover the world of board games.