Jonathan Chait wants you to know, You Don’t Hate Monopoly, You Just Suck at It. And he is right that Monopoly is a wrongly vilified game. In particular, the game does not take hours to play. A big part of what makes the game grind on are common extensions like doubling the starting cash and paying $500 for landing on Free Parking.
When I was a kid, I played Monopoly a lot. So although I never made a study of the game, much of my intuition was right. Here are just a few things I knew that are backed up by actual analysis: don’t buy the dark green properties; avoid the purple properties; generally, try to buy the second group on one line; and the properties on the first two lines are better than the second two lines. The first two rules are just my experience. But there is a “go to jail” spot right before the green properties; and the purple properties are right after Go, so they are less likely to be hit. The third rule is just simple analysis: these properties have higher rents but cost less to build on. And the fourth rules takes advantage of the fact that people are so often transported to Go and Jail.
But there is a very good reason that most people don’t like playing Monopoly. And Chait knows about it. He explained, “Trading is the key to the game.” When multiple people are playing, there is always one or more people who think that other players are ganging up on them. This is the reason that pretty much no one wants to play the game Risk. Chait is right, of course, without trading, the game is boring and, in general, long. So players have to be willing to trade.
The problem is that the trading is distinctly outside the set rules of the game. If you land on another person’s property, you own them rent. That is all there is to it. But if two of your opponents trade themselves into monopolies and you are left out, you will not see it as the vicissitudes of the game. You will see it as the other players screwing you. And you won’t be completely wrong.
Personally, I find games of pure skill more edifying: chess, checkers, Go. But they also suffer from what is probably the worst aspect of all games: most people (but men especially) are jerks. The joy is in the playing, not the winning or the losing. I’ve noticed a lot that people (conservatives especially) have this problem with little league games where score isn’t kept. This is like enjoying a book only to get to the end. Games should be fun in the playing and winning should largely be irrelevant.
What Chait discussed is valuable. Because what he’s really getting at is understanding the game. It is only by taking the game seriously that we can enjoy it fully. If Monopoly were just a random game, it wouldn’t be much fun. On the other hand, I never mistook chess to be a random game, but it was boring because I didn’t understand it. I had to teach myself how to play it because chess instruction is so horrible. And I think that’s the case because most people who play it are only interested in winning. To this day, I enjoy chess greatly without being terribly interested in winning.
Chait ended his article in an unfortunate way:
This strikes me as a big problem with people who play games. If you were playing Monopoly with someone who did not understand the essentials of the game, wouldn’t you explain at least the basics? Wouldn’t that make the game more fun? And isn’t that the point?