Don’t Let Your Kids Play Monopoly

Monopoly is a terrible game. It is bad enough to make people believe that they do not like board games. What’s worse, is it’s often one of the first board games that children are introduced to. Still worse, it is so ubiquitous that many people believe it to be representative of board games as a whole.

It is not.

It is horrid. I cannot blame the creators, it was developed at the turn of the last century as a tool for teaching the evils of monopolies. Somehow, a tool meant to demonstrate how fun having land barons isn’t, became one of the most popular games in America for almost a century.

How can I say such a popular game is a hideous abomination? I can answer with reference to Fifty Shades of Grey, or Twilight and end the discussion there. I can, but I won’t. There is so much wrong with the game and so much to be learned from its dissection.

To begin, I would argue that I have never met anyone who actually likes Monopoly. Some people claim to like it, but if you ask them how to play, they will not actually describe Monopoly. They will typically omit auctions, and describe some rules for Free Parking invented to make the game playable. It is not a good sign when none of a games players actually follow its rules.

Next, the length of the game. A game of Monopoly can last from one hour to the heat death of the universe. There is nothing in the game that necessarily drives it towards completion. If properties are distributed somewhat evenly between players, and the players are disinclined to sell properties to one-another, then the game can go for eternity. The major flaw in the design, here, is that it can be very difficult to know how long a game will take, and whether anyone wishes to invest in a full game.

Monopoly, as a morality tale about the rich getting richer, is quite effective. As a game, though, it is often valuable to have some sort of rubber band. Mario Kart does this to a bit of an extreme, where those in last place are much more likely to get better items that help them catch up. Monopoly, though, exaggerates differences. Rather than there being a way for losing players to get back in the game, the players in the lead simply get farther ahead entirely at the expense of their opponents. This can be a long, slow, tortuous journey for those at the back of the pack, where a player knows that they have lost hours before they are actually given the sweet release of defeat.

Also, Monopoly is designed around a last-player-standing model. The winner is the person that did not get crushed out of the game by another player. This works well for tournaments where individuals are rivals competing for supremacy, but isn’t particularly useful in a friendly game. In my experience, monopoly and other board games are played as a group activity in a social setting. The fact that one player may be forced out of the game hours before anyone else is finished playing is a bit of a problem. It seems bizarre to me that anyone would choose an evening activity that would exile one of the party for the majority of the event.

In conclusion, any game where the best part of play is deciding which figure to be, is not a good game.

I get to be the hat.

Previous post

Ms. Marvel, or When Comics Meet Religion

Next post

Mad Quickies: Pussy Riot, Textus, Feeding Hannibal and more!



Ryan Consell is a skeptical artist, tap-dancing armorer, juggling scientist, rock-climbing writer, sword-fighting math teacher, uni-cycling gamer, fire-spinning academic and devout nerd. He has a Masters in Applied science, most of a bachelors in Fine Arts, and a very short attention span. He is the author of How Not to Poach a Unicorn and half of the masochistic comedy duo that is Creative Dissonance. Follow him on Twitter @StudentofWhim


  1. February 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Monopoly is torturous. We used to play growing up and it just became an exercise in hoping for ill fate so the game would end more quickly.

  2. February 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Yep, by any modern measure, Monopoly is a bad board game. In a way it’s a great example of everything the modern European-style board games avoid. A (relatively) predictable play length, everyone remains “in” the game until the very end, and multiple winning strategies to allow people who are falling behind to remain viable.

    The last time I played Monopoly was in college, and I was struck by how frustrating an experience it was. The lengthy time spent on it, coupled with the aggravation of my deterioration in the last half hour as the winner-to-be slowly ground me into the dust, actually served to ramp up my attachment to the outcome. I wound up feeling more upset about not-winning that game more than I had any game I had played recently. Never been tempted to play it again, and the new wave of European games ensure that there are now plenty of good alternatives.

  3. February 7, 2014 at 6:52 am

    Good post. You mention the oft-used (but not official) Free Parking rule as something that makes the game more playable. The problem is that placing fines onto Free Parking for someone to collect if they are lucky enough to land on it would tend to make the game longer rather than more playable, as struggling players occasionally get a leg-up back into the game. If I really had to play Monopoly again, I would probably insist on the real rules (auctions, no fines to Free Parking, etc) but finish when the first player is eliminated. That would seem so much more civilised.

  4. February 7, 2014 at 7:24 am

    This is a great post! I have always hated Monopoly. When I was forced to play, I always threw my “hand” in as early as possible, hoping to land on the hotel-ed Boardwalk so that I could lose and be free.

    This post is a revelation. I’m so pleased to read a criticism of the game. It makes me feel like I’ve come home. Thank you!

  5. February 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    These poor guys! Far from awful, Monopoly can be a high speed, exciting blast where skill prevails! Well, 3/4 of the time. I tell my students I am the world’s third best Monopoly player. The sharp ones ask “How was that measured?” and already they’re doing exactly what they should be doing. I explain that if they play me, I should win 3/4 of the time because of my skill. Luck does play some role, and I will lose some of the time.

    They go nuts. And for them, we begin pediatric Monopoly. In that version, of course we observe all rules but I consult with them openly and fairly, whether they’re making deals with themselves or with me. I help them along while maintaining the prospect of winning most of the time. One game should take a little over an hour with experienced players. (For example, you’re on Kentucky and you shake an eight. Place your token directly on Marvin Gardens – don’t count each square.)

    “Oh, but what about their feelings?” Yes. My friends, here is the metaphor we should be using. You ever watch a dad wrassle on the carpet with a nine year old? The kid jumps on him, the dad squishes the kid underneath him in the Grip of Steel, and only by full exertion can the kid escape. Barely! And then Bam! the kid’s back on top – again and again. What’s happening is that the kid is learning the rules and also learning that when one possesses adult power, it is to be used fairly, consistently and lovingly. The kid learns that he is safe and that he can trust the person with the power. The kid models the eventuality that he will possess that power in the fullness of time. And in time, the kid will win.

  6. February 7, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    And a couple of notes on the game running to the heat death of the Universe. Let’s say you have players who don’t want to trade. The first thing to have done is characterize them in advance. If they were players as children they fall into one of two categories: wheeler-dealers, and kids who like to go around and around, collecting Go each time. So ID those ahead of time and if necessary, arrange matters so they’re open to trading.

    Still, you can get a situation where one person has one of almost everything and won’t trade. There’s an effective way to deal with that. What you do is make a deal with someone else where *he* gets the sole Monopoly. And you get free lands, and have a contingent arrangement whereupon the death of the nontrader, you get some stuff. Then the other guy (of course) builds hotels, fairly speedily eliminates the nontrader, and life starts up again.

    But all of this is only tangential to your real point, and I respect that. My real response is that there are tons and tons of people who have a ball with it – certainly, my middle school students foremost among them. And how can that be? I suspect people tend to hang around like. So for me I can hit an enthusiast with a simple Frisbee throw and for you no one in your circle can stand it! Let me leave it, then, that millions do love it, and at the same time the world is wide enough to accommodate both tribes.

  7. February 7, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Libertybell, clearly you are an enthusiast for Monopoly, but have you tried other games? I will not argue that Monopoly cannot be enjoyed. I argue that it is poorly designed and that its structure is flawed for social gaming.

    Have you tried other games? Carcasonne, Settlers, Small World, Quirkle, Dominion, Dixit? These games all support playing against each other in more interesting ways. Or what about Pandemic or Forbidden Island, where players are working together against the mechanics of the game?

    My problem with Monopoly is not that it can’t be fun. It is that it is not designed to be fun for all players. You have learned to overcome the hurdles that the failures inherent in the game. If new players sit down to the game, without an old master to show them the “right way” to play, the game is not as you describe. It is long, slow, and for most of the players, cruel and boring as they are eliminated well before the end of the game.

  8. February 10, 2014 at 9:51 am

    So now I’m thinking about how Monopoly could be adapted into an RPG. Banker = DM, character sheets determine starting wealth, that sort of thing.

  9. February 10, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    “Whoops, one of your followers ratted you out to the cops! Save vs. Jail!”
    “Uh … 12?”
    “Sorry. Go directly to jail. Do not pass …”
    “No way! I cast Magic Missile at the arresting cop!”
    “Seriously?! Fine, you kill a cop in front of dozens of witnesses. It’s the death penalty for sure now.”
    “They gotta catch me first! I’m head to Marvin Gardens and attempt to hide in shadows.”

  10. February 10, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Apparently we’ve started something here. The latest Tree Lobsters takes the torch and runs with it, delivering cripplingly precise monopoly based social commentary via arboreal crustacean.

  11. February 10, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Wow, thanks for this article, it’s so true. I’ve been in a board gaming meetup for the past few years, and it’s so surprising to see how much crap stays on the shelves of Wal-Mart, Target, etc., – when there are so many actually *great* games out there.
    I guess lbertybell has found a way to make it not so painful – but still, there’s so much stuff that’s better out of the box.

    I bought Catan, Jr for my two nieces (9 & 7 yo) and I was a little worried that the younger one wouldn’t get the rules, but they both picked it up right away with not problems at all. Any other recommendations for good games to introduce children to?

  12. February 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Off the top of my head, dixit and quirkle. They both have a low complexity to fun ratio. Apples to Apples is always good if you’re looking for social fun rather than competitive gaming.

    I admit that I don’t have many kids to game with lately. I’ll hit up some of my child-having friends for suggestions. Anyone else have experience gaming with children?

  13. February 10, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Ironically, I think that the house rules that people play with (money on free parking, no auctions) actually make the game WORSE. The game is about bankrupting your opponents. To do this, you typically need to get property, houses/hotels, and then have them run out of money. Auctions speed up property acquisition (may lead to over paying which speeds up bankruptcy), and money on free parking slows down the pace of bankruptcy with an influx of money into the economy.

    But I agree that the only winning move is not to play.

  14. February 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I just remembered 10 Days in Europe, which is a decent little game for kids – and it helps with learning geography.

  15. February 10, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Frankly, I wouldn’t worry too much about getting kid-specific games. In my experience, the kids will happily play Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride or any such game that adults happily play. Yes, they typically won’t play at a high level strategy-wise, but they’ll have fun nonetheless. (And you’ll find that most adults automatically downshift their playing level, without even thinking about it, to give the kids a climbable learning curve.)

    Of course a game like Qwirkle is also perfectly kid-appropriate. I’d also recommend a game like Set, which I find kids sometimes actually have the edge on adults, at least initially. Dixit, though — while the game itself is certainly very fun (and *very* kid-friendly), in my experience it’s too easy for adults to unintentionally dominate in a mixed-group setting. Dixit rewards players who have a wealth of cultural referents that are not shared by everyone present, which is pretty much what adults are in this context.

Leave a reply