Sunday, 15 May 2011

I Heart Monopoly, part one

I love Monopoly. I really love to play it, but I don't think I'm too good at it. I can beat the computer most times, but my other half usually beats me when we play. I like to think this means that my partner is some kind of business genius, or at least some kind of board game genius. Unfortunately I think it probably just means that the artificial intelligence they use for the computer versions is a little ropey.

One of the things I love about Monopoly is that nearly everybody thinks they know how to play it, but in my experience, hardly anybody does. All kinds of 'house rules' are assumed to be official. For example, a player does not have to do one full circuit of the board before buying properties. If they land on a property and choose not to buy it, it must be auctioned to the highest bidder, even if the highest bid is only £1. If you land on Go you don't get double pay; if you land on Free Parking you don't get 'the pot' of fines, because the money should go straight to the bank. If you run out of houses, there are no more houses; you can't just substitute paper tokens or whatever. But if the bank runs out of money, then it is duty-bound to produce more, and to hell with the threat of hyperinflation. So even before you play, you enter a set of protracted negotiations as to whose rules you will play by. If you are particularly argumentative this can be almost as drawn out - and fun - as the game itself.

I adore the fact that there are so many different versions of it, and have done since I was small. The way that the names and places change but the game and even the currency stay the same. We rarely travelled as a family, but my father went abroad for work often and I would beg him to bring back foreign editions, although he never did. Huge nations are treated the same way as small-ish cities in Monopoly editions; much loved institutions get their own versions, but so do companies that only a shareholder could love (who else could possibly want the Thomas Cook Monopoly that is currently for sale on Ebay?) But then I must confess that Pentonville Road, Vine Street and Fenchurch Street Station mean as little to me as Hafenstrasse, Rue de Belleville and Marvin Gardens. I am on the desperate look-out to find a reasonably priced version for Coventry, where I at least know the different places.

At the moment what I love most is that Monopoly is a crafter's dream. I see it second-hand regularly, usually the standard UK version. I have learnt to recognise the subtle changes over time, and I have a huge collection of 'spares' from the war time cardboard tokens to an entire town full of houses. (Monopoly has always sold in such huge quantities that even the old sets aren't worth much, although that doesn't stop people on Ebay trying for silly money every now and then.) Frequently I donate pieces to the charity shops I deal with so they can sell a set complete, but just as often I end up buying it and taking it home to craft with.

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