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In which John reviews the mobile version of the game Monopoly, while also exploring the complicated history of the famous board game.

This video is part of a series in which I'm taking long looks at my mobile gaming habits. For more, head on over to https://www.youtube.com/user/hankgames, or start with this review of the skateboarding game True Skate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x640o9ofqDM

Huge thanks to Meredith for recording all of my achingly slow Monopoly gameplay.



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Good Morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

Today I'll be reviewing the mobile version of the famous board game, Monopoly. I hadn't played Monopoly in a number of years before downloading the app and what I'd forgotten, or maybe just never noticed, is that Monopoly is a terrible game. 

The Basic idea, you buy property and then charge rent when your opponent lands on that property, leads to a game that is distressingly similar to real contemporary human life. Monopoly unfolds slowly at first, then very quickly at the end, people find meaning in its outcomes even though it's mostly random and it's only occasionally fun.  

The Mobile game brings all the terrible things about Monopoly to your phone, while adding some new additional terrible things. Consider for an instance rich Uncle Penny Bags, who plays a minor role in the board game but here shows up to introduce you to Monopoly every single time you play, also since you can't play online with friends or enemies, you're forced to play against a not particularly intelligent artificial intelligence. And when the AI begins to lose, it quickly becomes desperate, proposing on each turn increasingly ludicrous trades in an attempt to acquire properties. You have to decline these trades over and over, and after a while you start to feel guilty because the only thing this artificial intelligence has been told to do is win at Monopoly, and so now it's failing at literally its only goal.

Whereas you, as a thinking feeling human, have a variety of passions and fulfillments outside this mobile game so sometimes you just end up agreeing to the ridiculous trades to make the AI happy. Even so, you usually win eventually but you can't even enjoy it properly because you feel so sorry for the sad little artificial intelligence kitten. Or maybe that's just me. 

Anyway, by far the worst thing about Monopoly, both the board game and the mobile app, is its convoluted, self-contradictory analysis of capitalism. Like, the game is essentially about how acquiring land and the ability to exploit monopolies is literally a roll of the dice. And yet, the game celebrates getting rich, I mean the only way to win is to bankrupt your opponents, and this turns out to be partly a product of Monopoly's complicated origin story.

So in 1935, a door-to-door salesman named Charles Darrow sold his board game Monopoly to the company Parker Brothers. The game became hugely successful; Darrow was the first board game millionaire and his story embodied the American Dream: a rags to riches tale of an American inventor who became successful via his individual genius and hard work. 

Today there's a plaque celebrating Darrow on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and Parker Brothers often prints his heroic story alongside the game's instructions. There's just one problem, which is that Charles Darrow did not invent Monopoly. 

Thirty years earlier, a woman named Elizabeth Magie invented a board game called The Landlord's Game, and although it was in many ways similar to the Monopoly we play today, it was a more direct attack on land monopolism and an exploration of how over time capital tends to become concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. 

She patented the game, and even tried to sell it to Parker Brothers, but they passed. Still, the Landlord's fame became popular in progressive circles and was even used as a teaching tool at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Finance school.

For decades, many people played the game and changed the rules as they went. Along the way, some versions of it came to be called Monopoly, and then in 1933, Charles Darrow played Monopoly at a friend's house and afterwards asked for a written version of the rules. He altered some of the design, patented the game, and became a millionaire.

And so the story we hear of an individual rightly rewarded for his genius, turns out to be far more complicated story of a woman who invented a game that thousands of collaborators then improved by playing it. A story of capitalism working, turns out to be a story of capitalism failing. I mean, the game that became so popular was really created by a community, and the free market failed to reward that community, instead wrongly assigning most of the value to one contributor who, truthfully, added very little to the game. 

This iPhone app, by the way, is published by Hasbro, the multi-national conglomerate that now owns the very same Parker Brothers company that declined Elizabeth Magie's game, only to later buy Charles Darrow's version.

Of course, none of this answers the underlying question, which is how anyone ever enjoyed Monopoly in the first place. (I guess maybe Settlers of Catan hadn't been invented yet.) Regardless, the history of Monopoly turns out to be a far more interesting study of capitalism than the boring game itself. (I give it 2 out of 10, not recommended.)

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.