As a child we played a lot of board games – Monopoly for the most part – more often than not, it ended long before any satisfactory conclusion. Not that it mattered, the rules were simple and it was something to do.Every family had a Monopoly game; expressions like “get out of jail free” or “do not pass go” became part of popular culture.
Monopoly wasn’t something I would ever classify as fun; the premise of collecting property by forcing others into bankruptcy struck me as vicious – perhaps explaining why the game rarely reached a conclusion. I can’t recall a single game with an amicable parting of players. If we didn’t lose interest, it was guaranteed someone stormed off in a huff.
Before Christmas, shopping found me in a game store. Years since I’ve paid the slightest attention to boxed games on store shelves. I’m can’t say for certain what I expected to see; board games never really went out of style – judging by my twenty something kids and “gaming” cafes or bars popping up all over town – boxed games are big business.
I know what I didn’t expect – Dogopoly, Catopoly, Princessopoly – row upon row of “opoly”, knock offs as far as the eye can see. Hard as I pondered, I couldn’t imagine playing Catopoly; in hindsight, I wish I’d taken a closer look at what exactly these cats were trying to accomplish. Likewise the hundreds of “hopefulopoly” speculators trying to cash in. The Monopoly franchise; seemingly unstoppable despite being one of the most boring games in history.
Monopoly began with the best intentions; often playing when we were bored, once in a while the entire family sitting around the kitchen table – full of anticipation, happy to be doing something together. It was a recipe for disaster – games took far too long, financial calamity gripping unlucky children with unparalleled vengeance, attention drifted as the rich got richer – polite players were bored, the rest were sulking or walking away from the game.
Monopoly is a strange game; kids don’t want to land in jail, go bankrupt, face a punitive banker, or live on the wrong side of the tracks. The game drags on for eternity, the only happy players being those with property and money to back it up. Seeing countless versions on the game store shelf left me asking – why?
I have great memories of playing Scrabble, Checkers, and Risk. Card games never caused problems, never sent any of us storming out of the room or feeling defeated.Board games are supposed to be fun; we settled on a game called Theories – players take turns reading a historical or scientific statement with 4 possible answers, others place their answer face down on the table, the reader reads out the answer which may or not be true. Points are awarded for calling a bluff on the reader, or having the correct answer. Dull as that may sound it was lots of fun – fast, silly and never leaving anyone with the urge to storm off.
Parker Brothers marketed the first Monopoly game in 1935. In 1941 the British secret service had UK licensed manufacturer John Waddington Ltd. create a “special” edition for Nazi held prisoners of war. Distributed to prisoners under the guise of fictitious charities, the games contained hidden maps, compasses and real money useful for escape. In 1994 Hasbro – parent company of Parker Brothers – gave a license to USAopoly for a San Diego edition of Monopoly. Since then, several more U.S. publishing licenses have been granted, licenses exist in the UK, France, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands and Nigeria.
I found a blog post claiming the definitive list of Monopoly versions; a total of 2433 – written in 2006, I would guess hundreds more are collecting dust today.
Learning of wartime Monopoly shenanigans makes me feel a little happier; knowledge of the world’s most popular, boring, rage inducing game, able to find a useful purpose , means Monopoly has one redeeming quality.