Review: Monopoly: Nostalgia Edition

Players:  2-6
Ages:  8+
Time to play:  60-180 minutes

So we’ve all heard of it and most of us have played it, it’s the classic board game and family argument starter, monopoly.  And although most of us know it’s old, it’s still surprising, to me at least, exactly how old.  The original game on which monopoly is based (called the landlords game) was designed by Elizabeth Magie and patented in 1904 which makes the game well over 110 years old and counting, but of course the version that we are all familiar with began its life in the mid 1930’s.

Over the years, it’s safe to say monopoly has had more costume changes than Mr Benn. Usually to capitalise on a movie franchise or TV show, which is understandable. But from time to time some questionable versions hit the shelves like “Coca Cola Monopoly”, “Horse Lovers Monopoly” and “Star wars the phantom menace monopoly” (for the criminally insane).

With such an esteemed pedigree, it’s sad to think that Monopoly nowadays gets a bad rap, the world is changing and the “roll and move” dice games have had their day.  Serious gamers simply aren’t interested in the simple mechanics and the reliance on luck, but is monopoly really that bad? Have we all forgot our roots and become board games snobs.

In this article I’ll be reviewing the Nostalgia Edition which is actually inspired by the 1930’s Edition and looks like a real slice of history.

This edition of monopoly comes in sturdy wooden box with a slide open front and looks great alongside my other nostalgia games.  The houses and hotels are chunky painted wood and the player pieces are really nicely moulded metal.  The property cards are a decent quality but the chance and community cards let this release down a bit.  They are made from cheap card which marks quite easily - in fact I marked one getting them out of the cellophane.  The iconic monopoly money is great, but as with all paper money, don't expect it to look great for long.  After a few games it'll look grubby and dirty - just perfect for the kind of brown envelope deals you'll be making before long.

It's worth taking note that this version of monopoly is pretty decent quality. But most versions of monopoly (with the exception a few deluxe editions) have succumbed to the pitfalls of mass production.  You see, in some ways monopoly is a victim of its own success.  Iterations upon iterations of production runs whereby small cost saving over small cost saving have resulted in a board game whose components feel noticeably cheap.  A board game that probably started it's life as something special has ultimately ended up as Cheap Christmas Cracker quality.  I'd strongly urge you to choose your edition wisely.

So the game itself is relatively easy to play.  After the board has been laid out and the chance and community cards are in their proper deck places on the board, each player gets £1500 from the banker and places their token on the square marked GO.  For your information, the banker is usually just one of the other players who keeps hold of all the property cards, property tokens and spare cash in the game, and gives them out accordingly when people are buying and selling properties.

The first player then rolls the dice and moves his token around the board.  If he lands on a space with an action then he must perform that action, like pick up a chance card or pay a tax.  If he lands on a property however he has the option to buy it.  If he does, then he pays the purchase price and receives the deeds card for that property.  From now on, if any other player lands on that property, they pay him rent for staying there.  If that player in the first instance decided not to buy the property then it immediately goes to auction.  Each player (including the player who refused the purchase) has the opportunity to bid what ever they want for it.  This is good because it means that players might be able to pick up properties for cheaper than their market price.

The game continues like this with players buying up the plots of land and getting the deeds for them, each time the player completes a loop of the game board and passes GO they get £200 from the bank - giving them more capital to purchase more land in addition to anything they are getting from their rentals.

You'll notice that each of the properties are grouped by colour.  If you manage to get a complete set of properties then you can develop that land further by spending cash to add houses to each of the properties (up to 4 houses per property) and then ultimately you can upgrade the houses for a hotel.  Each time you upgrade a property with houses or hotels, you can charge more rent to the players that land on them, which is depicted on the property deeds card.

Now it's going to take a lot of luck for you to get a group of properties just by rolling a dice but that's where monopoly's most interesting mechanic comes into play - the ability to make deals with the other players.  There are so many games that employ this mechanic nowadays that it might seem trivial, but monopoly is the Grand Daddy for this type of play.  Players have been striking deals over it's hallowed board for the over 100 years.  Simply put, at some point during your turn or a another players turn you can strike a deal to trade pretty much anything for anything with any player.. and that's it.  Well almost  - you can't trade houses or hotels, so if they are on a property that you are trading you must first sell them back to the bank.

Because of this, negotiating skills are crucial in this game.  As the game is so dependent on luck, this is one area where you can apply some kind of strategy.  This means that you need to be a master at getting inside your opponents head-space and striking a deal.  This could be as simple as a straight out swap for cash or properties that you own, but it might mean you anticipating their needs a bit further down the line and striking a deal with another player to get a card they may need in the future.

As the balance of power shifts through the game the stronger players will start to gain more capital, enabling them to make better deals, expand, build bigger and better and charge more for their rents.  Conversely those players who have little cash and can't afford the exorbitant rents start selling their hotels and houses, weakening their position further until they mortgage their deed cards, meaning they can't make any income from those properties.  Inevitably they end up landing on an opponents property and can't afford the rent.  All of the players properties go to the opponent, they are declared bankrupt and are out of the game

There are a few extra things in this game that help mix it up like the chance and community cards and the "go to jail" mechanic (which is effectively "miss a few turns unless you buy yourself out").  But in the end, this is how the game goes, power and money shifting from player to player, knocking everyone out turn by turn until one player is left who owns the monopoly on everything.

Now it’s fair to say that there are a lot better games out there nowadays, but for me monopoly still has its place if only from a historical perspective.  It has acted as the blueprint for many modern games and introduced game mechanics which are still widely used today.

There are elements to this game that are extremely satisfying.  Collecting sets and building an empire can be really rewarding, especially getting your hands on all that filthy money! But ultimately the real satisfaction comes from the interaction other players, striking deals and changing alliances. 

There are also some bad sides too, games can take a long time so don’t expect your mates to hang around while you play. The knockout nature of the game means that they’ll be plenty of people twiddling their thumbs towards the end, especially in a large game.  Also, because of the dependency on luck, you can get into situations whereby you feel like your on rails, with the game taking you to it's inevitable conclusion, whether that be a win or a lose....

Overall monopoly is a solid game, it simply must be to have survived so long.  Families will enjoy it, and most people of all ages will have played it at some point, which makes it a great game for getting different generations around the table.  But truth be told, there are much better games around now which will mean that (for me at least) this one rarely hits the table.  That said, reviewing this game has made me want to play a game, so maybe I'll have one more go for old times sake...

If you're interested in a slice of history, you can pick up monopoly here.


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