<em>“On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, we will walk in a dream.</em>
<em>On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, life will be peaches and cream.”</em>
—From the song, “On the Boardwalk”.
Like a favorite sweater you just can’t part with, or that book you swear you will read one of these days, you most likely have a version of Monopoly in your closet—the box malformed, pieces mysteriously missing, and the Chance cards bent like tinfoil…but there it is nonetheless.
Monopoly. So iconic I need not waste a paragraph explaining the rules of the game. A game that has survived four decades on new and advanced video game systems. A game that has withstood the invention of countless board games with much more in-depth rules and complex strategies.
So ingrained into the American fabric, that much like the sports of basketball and baseball, Monopoly has a history that is part legend and part rapine theft.
The apocryphal story says that Charles Darrow, a Philadelphia salesman who was wiped out by the Great Depression, invented the game in the early 1930’s as a way to pass the time. The names of the streets came from the town of Atlantic City, which in the 1930’s was a party town on par with modern-day Las Vegas.
The truth is much more compelling.
Darrow lifted much of what we know as Monopoly from a game called “The Landlord’s Game,” which was produced by a woman named Elizabeth Magie. Magie was a quasi-Socialist who used her game as a form of propaganda to show the evils and immorality of land ownership.
Darrow lifted the main concept, constructed sharper rules, convinced the biggest department store in Philly to offer it for sale and then sold the copyright to Parker Brothers. The legend grew from there.
That brings us to this week. Hasbro, the company that currently owns and distributes Monopoly, keeps finding inventive ways to keep the Icon’s name in the news. Whether it is a round board, the introduction of the kitty cat as a token or changing a group color from dark purple to brown, Hasbro keeps Monopoly in the public discussion.
This time, Hasbro has asked game enthusiasts to help institute “house rules” into the official rulebook. Of course, this is self-defeating. Once you put a house rule into the official rules, it is no longer a house rule.
Such house rules have been around since the game’s inception. As a young kid playing the game with my family I was taught to put boatloads of money on Free Parking, receive a double salary for landing on Go!, and rolling three consecutive times on one turn as a means to get out of Jail.
This is nothing but a publicity stunt by Hasbro. However, I do think it exposes a huge problem with modern culture. The fact that Hasbro wants to legitimize rules that makes it easier for lesser players to win, it is fueling the “everyone gets a medal” mentality that is making us a nation of wimps.
Whether it be socialist propaganda subliminally exposing the evils of capitalism, or just something to do to pass the time, Monopoly is an abstract lesson on life. While not as elusory as Mr. Miyagi benefitting from unpaid manual labor from gullible teenagers as a means to teach them karate, Monopoly teaches kids that life is cruel, the rich command the poor and being savvy and ruthless makes you a winner.
You do not have enough money to pay the rent? Hand over your railroads! You need me to give you North Carolina Avenue so you can have the green monopoly? What’s in it for me?
Monopoly is a great way to teach young adults that at some point in their life they are going to get screwed over royally by people who have the means and desire to do so.
But house rules have an attenuated effect on this important tutorial thinly disguised as a board game. Better players can become victim of the randomness of the dice by having weaker players receive grotesque sums of money simply by landing on Free Parking.
Playing with my family as a kid, it was standard for Free Parking to progressively collect as much as $1,500. All the masterminding and manipulation that takes place during the hours of play are nullified by blind luck.
What kind of namby pamby, give-everyone-a-hug liberal conditioning is this? Everyone who puts $500 on Free Parking to start are the same people who think we should ban red ink markers from being used on grade tests because Jaxton will go emo on his parents when he sees how awful he tanked his “Catcher In the Rye” book report.
Doubling your salary for landing on Go! is the creation of some union organizer who was disgruntled watching his job being shipped off to China.
Mind you, I do use one house rule when I play. I have lowered Income Tax to $100 from its printed $200. But I am a Republican. Lower taxes are important for personal financial growth. Monopoly is not without its political biases.
The best stratagem to win Monopoly is to get a monopoly as fast as possible (I am a huge fan of the “light blues” because they are cheap to build on) and sell off everything to build houses as quick as you can get them up. Put your entire game on one block and then chip away at your opponent’s assets when they need to sell off collateral to pay you off. I win most of the games of Monopoly I play because I do not scatter my money around the board buying properties I cannot build on. Simplify!
Play Monopoly with your kids. In an age of elaborate video game systems and intricate board games that take up two tables and contain rule books that are 60 pages thick, Monopoly still has its place in our social interactions. It still is useful.
But when you do play Monopoly, stick to the rules as originally prescribed to the game. Do not allow for the safety net of procuring money through random means. Teach your kids that fiscal discipline and planning will give them an edge in the game as well as in life.
And when you play show them no mercy. Bury them in debt and excuse them from the table as the penniless failures they are when they go bankrupt. Someday, they are going to apply for an actual home loan—they should know what they are in for.