Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Monopoly Here and Now Edition

On Sun 30 Mar 2008, Michelle and I played Monopoly: Here and Now Edition . It is basically the same game, differences being cosmetic only. I bought it primarily because of the London factor, same reason as why I bought On The Underground. My wife Michelle used to study in London, so most of the new property names in this version would be familiar to her. The other reason I bought it is I wanted to see how it plays when played by the correct rules. At BoardGameGeek, playing Monopoly is like blasphemy to some people. This is because for many people who have played lots of Monopoly before and then discovered better modern German-style games, indeed Monopoly would seem a very poor game. However Monopoly may be a victim of it's popularity in the mainstream market. To most boardgame hobbyists it probably symbolises outdated, bad games, thus it gets lots of bad ratings at BoardGameGeek, some of which may be lower than what they would be, if Monopoly weren't that prominent in the mainstream market (and have so ridiculously many different themed versions - zoos, fishing, dogs, DIY, family photos, dinosaurs, The Simpsons, Star Wars - I've seen all of these). Also apparently many people don't play Monopoly correctly, e.g. there should be no jackpot at the Free Parking space (I never played with this rule myself so I'm not sure of the details), and if you land on a property and decide not to buy it at the listed price, it will be auctioned to all, including you (I didn't know this in the past).

This Here and Now Edition doesn't come with paper money. Instead, it comes with 6 debit cards and a card reader that looks a bit like a calculator. You use this card reader to manage earning money, paying money and also giving money to another player. At first I thought this would be too troublesome and inefficient, but it turned out to be OK.

In our game, Michelle managed to buy the whole set of yellow properties (Regent Street set). For all other property groups neither of us were able to purchase the whole set. By the time Michelle started to build apartments, things started to look bleak. It seemed I was destined to die a slow death, as Michelle slowly built up her yellow set, and I had no chance of ever collecting a complete set. Then later I managed to convinced her to make a trade. It was a slightly biased trade. I let her complete the pink set (Wembley Stadium set), and she let me complete the orange set (Tate Modern set), and in addition I gave her an airport, so that she had three and I had one. By itself it was a good trade for Michelle, but considering the situation, if she had played completely ruthlessly, she wouldn't have accepted the offer, because it gave me a chance to come back. It gave me a completed set, which was crucial.

And come back I did. I built up to hotel level, and Michelle was unlucky to land on my hotels a few times, and I was also lucky not to land on her more expensive yellow properties for some time. It seemed my numerous effort to persuade her to trade paid off. That single trade of the game gave me a fighting chance to win the game. However it was not meant to be afterall. I started landing on Michelle's properties again and soon went bankrupt.

Michelle holding up the card reader. I had prepared some plastic poker chips to be used as currency, but because the denomination range was not enough (only 10K to 1M, but we needed some 5M too), we decided to just use the debit cards and card reader that come with the game.

You have airports instead of railway stations, and the utilities have changed from Electricity and Water Works to Telecoms and The Sun (a newspaper).

One of the debit cards, and some of the player pieces - airplane, mobile phone, skateboard, roller blades and the London double-decker bus.

A close-up of the card reader. You insert your card on the right to pay money, and on the left to earn money. You insert cards on both sides if one player is to pay another.

Michelle's yellow set during its early stage of development. A hotel was placed in the background for comparison. The apartments were meant to be stacked on top of one another, but we preferred to place them this way because it is easier to see.

All six debit cards. The smart chip is fake. The small oval shaped indents are what the card reader reads.

My orange set all proudly upgraded to hotels. Unfortunately I later had to sell them off to pay rent. The hotels are designed poorly. They topple over easily.

An aerial view of the full board.

I was feeling very lucky to be landing right between the majestic hotels.

The game lasted about 2 hours. If I were to evaluate Monopoly the same way I evaluate the usual Euro games that I play, then I'd say that's too long a play time considering the amount of interesting decisions I get to make in the game. Monopoly is not so good when played with two because the opportunities for trading is less, and luck factor is higher in terms of who can collect a full set, like in our game. More players means little chance of a player collecting a full set of properties all by himself / herself. This would force players to trade. We only invoked one auction in the game. So playing this rule right didn't make much difference, but then maybe we were just too used to the old way. We just kept buying and rarely bothered to remember that invoking an auction was an option. So I'm not sure whether the auctions contribute much to gameplay. It didn't in our game. I invoked an auction when I landed on The Sun (a utility, which was formerly Water Works), because Michelle already owned the other utility, and I was hoping to make her pay more to get the second utility. I bid up the price, but Michelle didn't take the bait and just let me buy it. I ended up paying more than what I would have paid if I hadn't invoke the auction. Needless to say, I felt rather stupid.

One important rule that I didn't play right in the past is that you can buy houses and hotels any time. You don't need to land on your property to do so. That makes things better. Less luck dependent. Another one is when you roll a double, you still do everything as normal (e.g. you can buy property, you need to pay rent), just that you get another turn. In the past when I played you don't do anything when you roll a double, you just roll again.

There is another unofficial rule I remember which I have used before - if you land on Free Parking, wherever you land on on your next turn, you don't need to pay rent. I have no idea where this rule came from, but at least it jives with the Free Parking.

After playing Monopoly again, this time making sure I follow all rules correctly, and don't use any variant rules, I went to Boardgamegeek to rate it. I realised I have not rated it before. Probably I had already thought of playing with the proper rules before rating it. After having done so, I thought Monopoly isn't that bad. Granted there is some nostalgia factor, but it really isn't that devoid of strategy. There are things that you can do to mitigate luck. And the luck factor does even out somewhat. There is some "engine building", as Eurogamers call it. There is the lucky draw fun factor because of the dice. So it's not a game I'd hate, and I don't mind playing it once in a while. I just need to remind myself to play with 4 players next time, which I suspect is the ideal number.

I gave it a 6.

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