There's No Wrong Way to Play Monopoly

Marco Arment just linked to this great article about how everyone plays Monopoly wrong. If you read the actual rules, it’s a completely different game than the one you likely grew up with — one that moves much, much quicker.

Five things I never knew about Monopoly’s official rules:

1. If a player decides not to buy a property, it immediately goes up for auction by the bank and is sold to the highest bidder. This blew my mind.

2. Houses must be built, and sold, evenly across a color-group. For example, you can’t build three houses on Park Place without having two houses on Boardwalk first.

3. It’s the property owner’s responsibility to ask for rent. If you forget to ask for rent before the end of the next player’s turn, you’re out of luck.

4. Rent is doubled on properties without houses in a monopoly.

5. Income tax is calculated from your total net worth, including all properties and buildings, not just your cash. And you have to decide whether to pay 10% or $200 before you add it up.

While these official rules gradually disappeared from common play, other unofficial “house rules” came to take their place. We always put funds collected from Chance/Community Chest cards into a “kitty” that was given to whoever landed on Free Parking. Many others gave $400 when landed on “Go,” or didn’t allow rent to be collected while in jail.

Many of us learned Monopoly like we learned the rules of dodgeball or rock-scissors-paper — spread by word-of-mouth from family and friends.

It’s interesting to see a commercial game see the same sort of cultural variation as other children’s folk games.

But maybe that’s appropriate for a game that was itself derived from another board game. Contrary to popular belief, Charles Darrow didn’t invent Monopoly in 1933 from scratch. It was heavily based on The Landlord’s Game, an innovative board game patented in 1904 by Lizzie Magie, to be a “practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.”

The Landlord’s Game and its variations like “Auction Monopoly” and “The Fascinating Game of Finance” spread by word of mouth throughout the early-20th century with evolving rules and hand-drawn boards, popular among the Quakers and used as a teaching aid for university students.

In 1933, Charles Darrow played a homemade version of The Landlord’s Game printed on oil cloth, saw the market potential, and tried to patent the new “Monopoly” as his own. After finding great success selling handmade versions, he sold the rights to Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers bought Magie’s patent for $500 to have an undisputed claim to the board game, but was threatened by other popular competitors and homemade variations. Through a process of litigation, acquisition, and quiet settlements during the late-1930s, Parker Brothers wiped all the other derivative versions of The Landlord’s Game off the map.

By the 1970s, Parker Brothers’ revisionist history was canon — the official Monopoly rules and a 1974 book on the history of the game stated that the game was created solely by Charles Darrow.

So, when someone says you’re playing Monopoly wrong, tell them you’re playing your own version… just like Darrow did.

Because everything is a remix.

24 thoughts on “There's No Wrong Way to Play Monopoly

  1. A friend of mine wasn’t even aware that you could trade properties!

    I try my hardest to stick to the rules of the game, but my gosh people really do love getting money for landing on free parking.

  2. Even played according to its real rules, Monopoly suffers from several intrinsic flaws. Modern board game design has come a long way; great German-style board games like Dominion, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan are easy to learn, much faster to play, reward skill, don’t involve player elimination, and eliminate the runaway leader problem.

  3. The most recent versions eliminate the “pay 10%” option entirely, which is a minor improvement.

  4. The only one I wasn’t aware of was the first rule about auctioning properties, which would help move things along.

    Lately though, we’ve been playing Trivopoly at our house, mashing up the Trivial Pursuit cards. To purchase a property (or avoid rent on a property if it is already owned) you have to correctly answer a question of the same color (and for the couple odd real estate areas left out by this arrangement, make one asker’s choice, one answerer’s choice.) It definitely adds another layer of skill/strategy to the game…

  5. I think that’s why I always won playing w/ my cousins. I was the only one who studied all the rules. 😛 Sorta like how it works in real life, but w/o the lawyers.

  6. +1 for knew all except the first rule thru my childhood.

    does “everyone play it wrong”? hmmm seems like a bit of a jump

  7. There’s a new version of Monopoly where there’s no paper money. You have a digital tally of your net worth in a bank — a giant bank monolith gizmo at the center of the board — and it calculates how much you have left after paying the various rents…

    And there’s also a really horrible version on Facebook called “Monopoly Millionaires” which is a lot more like “Farmville”. You just try to earn upgrades to your property — new colors, new decorations — which keep costing more and more money.

    I was surprised (and glad) that the Kindle version of Monopoly is 100% faithful to the original version…

  8. The versions of Monopoly for iOS has the original rules, which definitely came as a shock at first when rediscovering the game with my 9yo son. But the nice thing is it also has a bunch of options to set “house rules” which cover just about every variation that I’ve heard of – Free Parking, etc.

    With the computer managing all the money and mortgages, it actually lets players easily have more options to buy properties and makes trading a more integral part of the game. You don’t realize how deep it can be until the AI players tromp you a few times.

    It’s still a damn long game though. 🙂

    -Russ

  9. Growing up in a family of 8 kids, rules were extremely important. And I think you forgot a major one.

    Once all the houses are built then no more can be built. I’ve played with people who start using pieces of paper or tokens when the houses run out. The ideas is that I could hold all the slums and crappy properties and buy up all the houses and never upgrade to a hotel. This means everyone else needs to have the cash on hand to go straight to a hotel. It a great way to hold people with expensive properties hostage.

  10. Unlike the title, there definitely is a wrong way to play Monopoly. The Free Parking payoff rule is a destructive element of chance in a game that already relies too much on luck, and serves to make a very long game even longer.

  11. Tell that to my seven-year-old son who LOVES the Free Parking rule. As it builds up, it gives a lottery-like chance of recovery to players who might not be as skilled as the older kids.

  12. Actually I think Johnny Nexus (not his real name) who wrote the original article about the Campaign for Real Monopoly has since renounced the idea having played real Monopoly with an eight year old.

    It was brutal and there was screaming. Personally I like the campaign for no Monopoly, give Settlers of Catan for Xmas presents instead.

  13. Like Russ, I now know all these rules from the iOS version of the game (except for the rent ask requirement). I was really surprised by some, but I also agree that having the computer keep track of the calculations involved is a big difference. Active mortgaging makes the game much more realistic, for better or for worse…

  14. Having played Monopoly in tournaments a bunch when I was younger, I was well aware of all of the real rules. And while I definitly see the arguments about playing with children, when everyone at the table actually knows all the rules and is actively involved in the game a full play through takes 2 hours, tops.

  15. Wow, I always wondered why Monopoly had such crap game dynamics. Whoever lands on more property in the first round is almost guaranteed to win. Let the tedious death march begin!

    It makes so much sense that the game was created to show the inevitable results of land grabs. It plays like a tedious death march on purpose. I want to give Lizzie Magie a hug; that’s hilarious.

  16. Rule 1, didn’t know/use, others yes, and no ‘pot’ growing up.

    Now seeing my kids grow up they want the money going to the ‘pot’ the board equal of the lottery.

    On to Risk and Chess!

  17. I was the president of my board game club in college (I was the best, obviously, but the club was typically just another place for UG nerds to loudly fight while playing Settlers of Catan) and Monopoly was always my favorite. About a year ago, I went out with some friends to a bakery in Chicago that has board games, and we all played a massive game of Monopoly (no, it did not end) crowded around a tiny table.

    During the game, a friend of a friend took the auction rule to a new and weird place. She landed on the third property of a split set – I think it was Marvin Gardens, and one other player had Vetnor and a third had Atlantic. She then began the auction as auctioneer. When the price soared to around $500, she paid the bank the $260 or whatever was owed for the property and pocketed the rest. I then let the game descend into anarchy because it was the most piss-poor showing of Monopoly players I’d ever seen.

  18. Hi there,

    Just coming in for no other reason than to say that I’m the guy who wrote the article, and that it’s very cool that six years after I wrote it, it’s suddenly started appearing on my Twitter feed and so on.

    So thanks for all those who are discussing it, and I’m very glad that it’s sparked some debate.

    Jonny

  19. Actually I think Johnny Nexus (not his real name) who wrote the original article about the Campaign for Real Monopoly has since renounced the idea having played real Monopoly with an eight year old.

    I’d forgotten about that. Actually, I don’t think it was “real” Monopoly, but the standard one (think I was overruled). But getting to see how upset kids get did really reinforce why people dropped the auction rule. 🙂

  20. A strange revelation for me – my family and I have always played by the “official” five rules that you claim are not commonly known.

    I don’t ever remember reading these rules – so I guess my parents are just sticklers for how they began playing the game in the early 1960s when these rules were commonplace?

  21. I play a lot of monopoly on the Ipad with the real rules, and I have to admit I like them better now even though in the beginning it was hard to get used to them…

  22. It’s the property owner’s responsibility to ask for rent. If you forget to ask for rent before the end of the next player’s turn, you’re out of luck.

    You didn’t know that one? My favourite. The only thing which makes the game playable, actually.

    TRiG.

  23. To address Nick above, you said:

    “Once all the houses are built then no more can be built……This means everyone else needs to have the cash on hand to go straight to a hotel.”

    This is incorrect. If there are no houses available, it’s impossible to upgrade any property, period. On Boardwalk, for example, the cost of a hotel isn’t $1000 – it’s $200 *plus* 4 houses. This is stated in exactly this way on the card, and I’ve read official rules clarifications that confirm that’s how it’s intended.

    So if you hold enough property, it can actually be a strategic move to leave your properties at four houses each (as opposed to upgrading to a hotel), as that can effectively prohibit other players from upgrading.

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