How to Rule the World, Board Game Style
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A wise man once laid out three rules on which to base your life:

  • Never get less than 12 hours of sleep.
  • Never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city.
  • Never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body.

Okay, so maybe the coach of the basketball team in the movie Teen Wolf shouldn't really be considered a "wise man," but it seems like decent advice. Recently, however, Ive found that perhaps a fourth rule should be added:

Never play Monopoly for real money.

I made that mistake, late one night. A few of my friends and I were sitting around, trying to think of something to do. Having recently polished off a very large bottle of Jack Daniels between the four of us, we quickly decided against any physical activity. Right around the time we figured watching TV was the best and only thing we could somewhat coherently do, someone spied an old, tattered, stained Monopoly board in the closet. He suggested we play -- with one catch: we use real money. Since we were starving college students with no jobs and not Wall Street Financiers, the $1500 buy-in was out of the question, so we simply moved the decimal point over two places to make all the monetary units one tenth of the actual figure (e.g. $100 became $1, rent on Park Place was 35 cents) labeled on the board. We scrounged around and collected all the change we could and began play, laughing and joking with one another, mostly because we were drunk, but also because we were excited to play.

By the end of the night no one was laughing or joking.

Playing Monopoly without real money (or drunk) is a complex beast on its own, but when done right can be pure bliss. Of course there is some groundwork that must be laid out when embarking on this board game journey. The rules, while being a few pages long, seem simple enough, stating the objective of the game is to be the player with the most amount of money. The problem with Monopoly is that I think there are roughly ten people in the world who have actually read these rules; the rest of us learned by playing with cousin Joe as he moved his car token around the board, buying up properties like a kiddie Gordon Gecko. By the time the game was over, Joe was counting his tens of thousands of dollars while mocking your Water Works purchase and forcing you to swallow as many green houses as he could force down your throat. It was your first taste of Monopoly.

There's nothing wrong with not knowing the exact rules, except for the fact that, of course, no two people play Monopoly the same way. So even before the game starts, there is already a debate about how the game is to be played.

Player 1: "We're playing with Free Parking, right?"
Player 2: "Of course we are. Are you stupid?"
Player 3: "Free Parking? What's that?"
Player 1: $500 goes in the middle of the board. Land on Free Parking, you get the cash."
Player 2: "We're also playing where you have to go around the board once before you can buy property."
Player 1: "What? Why? That makes no sense!"
Player 4: "All the Chance and Community Chest expenses go in the middle too, right?"
Player 3: "I've never played Free Parking -- what a great rule!"
Player 2: "It makes perfect sense. It gives everyone a chance to see what's going on in the game."
Player 1: (stares at Player 2 dumbly)
Player 4: "We're gonna be auctioning off properties to the highest bidder if someone lands on it and doesn't buy it, right?"
Player 1: (turns his dumb stare to Player 4)
Player 2: "Nah, I hate that way. It takes the strategy out of the game."
Player 3: "Can I be the thimble?"

The next argument may be even more important than the rules of the game. The outcome will last for the entire game, with some players happy and others dejected.

Who gets to be the car?

I don't care what people say. Everyone wants to be the car. Sure, a lot of people will tell you they want to be the boat or the dog, but that's only after the car has been snatched up -- roughly .002 seconds after the idea of playing Monopoly is suggested. Debates, arguments, even wars, I'm sure, have broken out over who gets to be the car. And the only other thing that matches the intensity of the who-gets-to-be-the-car debate, is the who-has-to-be-the-thimble debate. If you have eight players, no one is going to be the thimble. It's not even funny to jokingly pick the thimble. If you get stuck as the last person to choose a token, you'll get more respect tearing a button off your shirt and using that as your token. The only thing the thimble is good for is lying in the box, unused.

Once these things are settled, play can actually begin. In my lifetime I've probably played around 500 games of Monopoly, which collectively adds up to around eight years of my life. The game is designed to be long. But don't even think about playing the so-called "short way" by dealing out the properties at the beginning of the game. This should be considered an arrestable offense.

Theoretically, if you can bargain, you can stay alive indefinitely. This aspect of the game turns some people off. Not me. I thrive on it. I have made Monopoly wheeling and dealing an art form. In fact, if my game had one flaw, it would be that I spend too much time on back alley deals I create with my opponents and not enough time trying to get the most money. My strategy is to stay in the game as long as I can, and hopefully people will just get too exhausted to continue, at which point I claim victory and hurriedly leave the room, so I don't have to clean up. One time, my strategy horribly backfired, though, when I played someone with the same Monopoly stamina; it got to the point where we were printing our own money once the bank ran out. I ran out of cash and had to start bartering services to stay in the game. I think I'm still obligated to clean the kid's room for two more years.

Speaking of strategies, everyone has one when it comes to Monopoly. Certain colors to go after, how many houses to build, how fast to go around the board, buy up all the railroads, grab utilities; and none are right or wrong. Just go with what brings you the most amount of fun. However, if you would like some tips on how you can increase your Monopoly savvy, I offer a few of my own:

  • Never trade to someone a property that would give him/her a monopoly without first working out a "rent discount" deal for yourself. Example: Stan has Oriental and Vermont Aves, and yet you have just landed on Connecticut. You quickly grab it up, keeping Stan from being able to get the elusive, lucrative monopoly. Of course as soon as you do, Stan is going to open negotiations with you to get the deed to good old Connecticut. Never, ever give up the property without an agreement of a discounted rate if you happen to land on one of the properties. Personally, I never give up properties for less than cash and a 50% rent discount. Oh sure, Stan will balk at first, but as soon as those other monopolies are being grabbed up, he'll come back to the table and agree to anything.

  • Conversely, never give out rent discounts to anyone. The rent you collect is what keeps you alive in the later stages of the game. When you have properties with three houses sitting on them, one roll of the dice can wipe a player out. Rent discounts are evil. Remember that. Unless you get one -- then they're great.

  • Volunteer to be the bank. Usually people will let you, since it's a bunch of work, and people are lazy. If someone volunteers to do it before you get a chance, throw a tantrum and threaten not to play unless you're the bank. Hopefully that works. Trust me on this. If you're the bank, you control the money. Need a loan? Interest free? As the banker, you can convince yourself that the bank gives out monetary gifts. Just keep it to yourself. Look we're not talking Enron here... it's a board game. If you have a conscience in Monopoly, you should probably be playing Chutes and Ladders. (Note: Everyone cheats in Monopoly. If someone says they don't, it just means you aren't good enough to catch them.)

  • I've always played the game so that if I land on someone's owned property -- but the owner misses it and doesn't ask for rent before the next roll of the dice -- I get to stay there rent-free. If you don't play by this rule, then this won't apply. But if you do, I say be vigilante of your properties and pay attention for anyone landing on them so you collect your rent every time. Be attentive to the game, and your chances of winning go up. On the other hand, don't rat out others when they land on someone's property and the landowner misses it. The less attention you bring to the situation, the more you yourself can exploit it. And besides, no one likes a rat.

So now the question on everyone's mind after reading this far is: how did I do in the real-money Monopoly game? Well, to tell the truth, the memories are a little hazy. I know I had deals on the table with everyone, I was holding my own as the Baltic and Mediterranean Aves. slum lord, and I had some cash stashed somewhere. But the Jack Daniels kicked in about halfway through, and details are sketchy. What I do know is that since we played in my apartment, when I woke up, I was stuck cleaning up the board and all the pieces, and I was missing just about all of my loose change. But I wouldn't have done anything differently. I love Monopoly and all its varieties -- as long as I'm never the thimble.

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