David Morgan-Mar at one of my favourite webcomics has a rather impressive rant about Monopoly:
“Monopoly does not survive in the present day because it’s a good game. There are tons of much better games out there. Games that have been designed with principles of play and good game design, that have been developed over the decades since Monopoly was released. Monopoly may have been state-of-the-art when it was invented, but games have evolved a lot since then. Pretty much any modern game with a modicum of thought behind it has better gameplay, player interaction, decision-making, game balance, theme integration, playing time, pace of action, and basic down-to-earth fun than Monopoly.
The reason Monopoly maintains dominant market status is purely due to marketing and inertia. Hasbro continues to market it like the cash cow it is, not because it’s a good game, but because it’s a cash cow. And parents buy it for their kids because when they go looking for a game they see a few unrecognisable titles on the shelves and they see dozens of boxes of Monopoly, and they go, “Hey! I know that! I’ll get that!” They forget how miserable an experience it is to actually sit down and play the game. Retailers stock it because it sells, and it sells because retailers keep stocking it.
Department stores and generic toy stores don’t bother stocking many game titles, so they pick the biggest sellers and most recognised names – which usually means games that were designed 50 or more years ago. To find modern games – better designed games, since yes, we have learnt a lot about how to design a fun game in 50 years – you need to go to specialty game stores that stock your roleplaying games and stuff. These are stores that most people never go into, and if they do, they look around bewildered at the 300 game titles they’ve never heard of, give up on trying to pick something new, and ask where the Monopoly sets are.
I’ve literally seen this happen in a game store. And I’ve seen the owner, eager to serve a new customer, go from bright and keen to help, to dejected and slumped a second later.
Look, sure, if you get a group of people who genuinely like Monopoly and set them going, they might actually have a good time. But you get a typical family together and set them playing Monopoly, the typical outcome consists of: complaining about bad dice rolls, someone getting upset because they’re obviously losing, someone getting bored, someone accusing someone of cheating, arguments about rules, someone losing interest but having to keep playing because “you can’t quit now!”, somebody getting bankrupted and going into a sulk, everyone who’s been knocked out sitting around complaining or going off and doing something else, and eventually one player obviously going to lose and the other obviously going to win, but the actual victory takes another hour or more to play out to the bitter end. By the time it’s over, the family has been fractured, half of them are off doing something else, and someone’s had their feelings hurt. Believe it or not, this is not indicative of a well designed game!
A well-designed game has rules simple enough for everyone to follow without arguments, keeps everyone engaged to the end, and encourages positive rather than negative social interaction. Such games exist. Why are they not mainstream? Why do parents everywhere not play them with their kids?
Because Monopoly is marketed so aggressively, and because so many people are poisoned against the idea that games can actually be fun by their experiences with Monopoly.”
There’s actually more of this, but this pretty much captures what I want to refer to (this is the end of the rant, actually).
Now, I remember playing Monopoly as a kid, and my brother always beating me. I also remember playing it later with my brother and his then fiance. I’m not a huge fan of Monopoly, and my brother and I always ended up in a fight when we played it (except that time we played with his fiance, oddly enough). But it seems to me that Monopoly has a quality that I haven’t really seen in too many board games: it’s simple enough for young kids, complicated enough that older kids can do things without being bored out of their minds, turns move quickly enough so that each player doesn’t have to wait too long for their turn, and supports a flexible number of players.
And, to me, this is what makes Monopoly an ideal family game. There were other board games I had as a kid, and we played some of them, but Monopoly was about the only game (well, maybe “Game of Life” and “Poleconomy” count) that we’d both play. While Monopoly may not be a great game, it seems to me that it has a lot of qualities that make it an ideal family game.
But I’m willing to be corrected on this. Anyone have any examples of a good family game that’s easy but with some depth and that allows a flexible amount of players where the gameplay doesn’t greatly change?