Game-maker Hasbro, apparently not content to crowdsource new words into its Scrabble franchise, is launching a new social-media venture: Starting today, players can vote for their favorite Monopoly “house rules” on the game’s Facebook page, and the winner will make it into the 2015 game guide. (To be clear, these will be additional, optional rules — the official set still stands.)
Perhaps this is not a big deal, to ye casual players. But Monopoly, America’s board game and its most unapologetic monument to capitalism, has undergone only a few substantial changes in its almost 80 years. (You’ll recall the furor that resulted from the demise of the iron token last year.) Also, house rules are like personal, childhood totems; to quote one wonderfully earnest, open-sourced house rules page: “Many casual Monopoly players are surprised and disappointed to discover that some of the rules they are used to are not actually part of the official rules.”
In fact, this whole experiment springs from Hasbro’s observation that nearly 70 percent of game players have never actually read the rules. (Which explains, perhaps, some of the more heated arguments I’ve had over board games in my day, but not why Hasbro plans to solve the problem with . . . more rules no one will read.) Here are the options under consideration, per a Hasbro press release:
o Free Parking, Fast Cash: All taxes and fees will be collected in the middle of the game board; if you land on Free Parking, it’s your lucky day: collect all the money from the middle of the board.
o Dash for the Cash: Landed on Go! Amazing, you get to double your salary — $400 million instead of $200 million.
o Frozen Assets Rule: When in jail, a player cannot collect any rent money from other players. Sorry about your luck.
o Lucky Roller: Did you just Roll Snake Eyes (double one’s) . . . odds are in your favor, collect $500 million.
o Three’s a Crowd: Are there three players in a row on three unique properties? Well done, each player gets an extra $500 million.
o Cash Advance: Don’t have enough to buy Boardwalk? With this House Rule, players can make loans between each other to co-own properties. Who collects rent money? That’s determined among the new property owners!
n Break the Bank: At the start of the game, leave half the money in the bank. Then mix up the other half of the money in the center of a board. On the count of 3 every player grabs what they can! Free For All!
n Mum’s the Word: Mum always gets out of jail free. Always. No questions asked. She’s just that special.
n See the Sights: Players must travel around the board one complete time before they can begin buying properties. Hurry up and get to GO before everyone else!
n Property Boom: Anxious to begin building? We hear you — with this rule, players do not have to own a complete set of properties before they start to build houses.
There is no mention, notably, of my favorite Monopoly variation — the one where the game ends, full stop, after 45 minutes, no matter how long the diehards want to play.
Hasbro is also surprisingly nonchalant about the thematic implications of the house rules — a triviality to many, perhaps, but a frequent defense of standard play in the past. According to popular legend, Monopoly was invented to preach the glories of raw, ruthless capitalism. It’s so evangelical on that point, in fact, that people have launched anti-capitalist games against it.
But the house rules are often, well — not particularly profit-seeking. Giving up your hard-earned money for someone else’s Free Parking? Letting all moms out of jail?!
“The game is not designed to make all players rich, just one — the winner. Everybody else loses everything,” lectured Philip Orbanes in his 2007 book “The Monopoly Companion.” “If you keep that object in mind, you’ll see later why so many ‘house rules’ conflict with this goal, because they stretch out the game, making it more of a social exercise than a clear, winner-takes-all competition.”
Social … or socialist?! (Kidding! It’s just a game.) Still, the point stands: Monopoly has resisted change for many decades. This is a big one. You can have your say until April 3, at which point power reverts to the corporate overlords at Hasbro once again.