Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my little family unit was almost torn apart from the inside by – you guessed it – a game of Monopoly.
It started innocently enough, like all board games do. But once all the properties were claimed, our true colors started to show. Ruthless property trades, risky hotel expansions and renegade community chest cards heightened tensions well past midnight, when we finally put the game on pause.
Though I didn’t have much cash, I’d accumulated a stretch of properties that all but guaranteed I’d get paid by each of my competitors every time they rounded the board. I went to bed with big plans for the next round.
Monopoly was originally inspired by a similar game called The Landlord’s Game, created in 1904 to demonstrate how monopolies crop up in industries with high barriers to entry and infrastructural costs. In these scenarios, the first to market has a huge advantage over competitors.
Think of the Water Works and Electric Company spots in Monopoly. Each utility’s rent is four times the amount rolled on the dice, but if both are owned, the rent jumps to 10 times the dice amount – infuriating!
The Monopoly we all know and love first hit shelves just in time for Christmas in 1934, and sold for around $2. Though Monopoly boards now exist in over 300 variations – from Star Wars themed boards to NFL “Gameday” Monopoly – the original board took its landmarks from Atlantic City, New Jersey, even the game’s four railroads. In the ‘70s, Atlantic City planned to change the names of the actual Baltic and Mediterranean avenues, but the immense public outcry halted the change.
In 1941, the British secret service had Parker Brothers, who manufactured Monopoly, create a unique version of the game for ally prisoners of war who’d been captured by the Nazis. They hid useful items like maps and compasses in the Monopoly boxes, which reached prisoners through fake charities set up by the British government.
According to Hasbro, who now owns and makes Monopoly, the longest game ever played lasted 70 days. Notre Dame sociology professor Daniel Meyers has worked out the shortest possible game of Monopoly only requires four turns, or nine rolls of the dice. Edward Parker, of Parker Brothers, once estimated that 45 minutes was plenty of time to play a game of Monopoly.
Monopoly is so infuriating because there’s no quick way to lose. It’s like the board starts to tilt toward your opponent, and with every turn, the slope gets a degree worse. Your money starts sliding away faster than you can make it. It reminds me of Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” when Bill asks Mike how he went bankrupt.
“Two ways,” Mike responds. “Gradually, and then suddenly.”
A run of bad luck might speed up the inevitable, but it’s always inevitable. Like when three dinky rolls landed me on three of my wife’s house-stacked properties on the most expensive side of the board.
God bless her, she tried not to laugh.