monopoly

My family is, frankly, calculating, coldhearted, money grubbing, and ruthless, and that is just the three grandchildren.

That is how they behave, how we all do, when we play Monopoly.

Monopoly, which is designed to create winners and losers using rules agreed on at the outset, actually brings us together. Even with the agonizing, complaining, euphoria and get-out-of-jail luck, we are together and that is a precious thing. Better than a hotel on Boardwalk!

There may not be a home in the world, certainly here in the United States and Canada, that doesn’t play Monopoly or has at least heard of this game.

It ranks right up there with a handful of wildly popular games as well as old favorites we return to again and again. People have been playing board games for thousands of years. In archaeological digs in the Middle East and Africa, examples of now-forgotten board games have been unearthed. The Royal Game of Ur, once all the rage, had the rules inscribed on stone by an astronomer dating back to 177 BC.

For our era it is Monopoly. Since the board game was introduced in 1935 there have been over 250 million sets sold. It is estimated more than one billion people across the globe play this property trading game.

I know, I know, video games are the wave of the future. Still, for a board game first published in 1935 during the Great Depression and sold in 114 countries in 47 languages, that’s pretty impressive all right.

And to think Parker Bros., the famous game manufacturer, initially turned this cash cow down. It’s true the company at first was cool to the very concept of buying and selling property.

They listed 52 deficiencies in the game’s appeal.

Monopoly helped generate interest in family game nights. People liked the idea of acquiring properties, buying and trading deeds, amassing wealth, even if it was funny-looking paper currency.

A monster bestseller like Monopoly generates lots of interest, like, who invented it, where, insider tips, that sort of thing.

By the way, a playing card version of Monopoly can take as little as 15 minutes to determine the winner. The longest Monopoly game on record lasted 70 straight days.

When granddaughter Claire finished crushing me, forcing a total bankruptcy and liquidation of all my hotels, homes and rental properties, she had more than $18,000.

By comparison, the total amount of cash in the Monopoly bank is only $20,580. That may be as close to being a ruthless capitalist as Claire will ever get. For a brief moment it wasn’t Monopoly funny money. It was a quick way to keep score.

I had tactics, Claire had strategy that day. I went for a few select properties to develop with houses and then hotels. She seemed to be all over the board, buying this and that almost at random. She managed to stay liquid enough, though, to both buy property and make improvements (houses and hotels). It didn’t hurt when she achieved a monopoly in railroads. I actually had hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place, the high rent district.

That strategy failed when Claire’s roll of the dice magically skipped landing on my high-priced properties.

Monopoly has captured the attention of Nerd culture — you know, people with pocket protectors who read Scientific American for relaxation because they want to, not because an article is part of a class assignment. For absolute Monopoly fanatics there is the internet. You can download all manner of game strategy tips, charts, you name it.

One intriguing posting suggests you’re money and property ahead if you make use of get-out-of-jail Chance and Community Chest cards early in the game and then try to actually stay in jail in final rounds. Less exposure to ruinous rental fees. These players with calculators and math majors also figure the income potential of various properties. Should I buy just short of “Free Parking” or just behind it? Is Kentucky Avenue more valuable for snaring players for rent than Illinois Avenue just down the line?

There are probability graphs that can predict the number of times a player will land on Mediterranean Avenue, the flop house of board game addresses.

Monopoly has it all: dice for the thrill of chance, bonus events in the shape of “Chance” and “Community Chest” play money, deeds and a bank.

An earlier, similar game developed by Charles Darrow, Philadelphia, was “The Landlord’s Game.” Created and patented in 1904 by Lizzie Magie of Virginia, it was devised as a teaching tool to explain the dangerous impact taxation has on land values, a theme of Philadelphian Henry George. George had proposed a single federal tax on land as a means of keeping it accessible to lower income users rather than the wealthy who gain unearned value simply through ownership.

Lizzie’s game had all the elements at the heart of Monopoly. It was Darrow who ultimately “passed go” with the sale of rights to the game for $500 plus royalties. When Darrow died in 1970 he was a multimillionaire, the first game inventor to reach that goal.

There are now more than 300 different versions of Monopoly with no end in sight. The set we used as kids has vanished and in its place is a collector set with ornate currency and fancy artwork that Brenda found in a thrift shop out here in Washington. But it’s still the Reading Railroad, Marvin Gardens and every other familiar address around the board.

For some added competition we throw assessments and fines into a pot. Whoever lands on Free Parking gets the pot, which can be substantial at times.

It’s the same game time after time and that, my friend, is why even losing at Monopoly is good times.