The Game

I've had a post about the game Monopoly cooking in the drafts folder for about three months now. I became hopelessly addicted at some point during football season, where I was a nerd and needed to focus on something other than the game during the game. Since then, I play at least three games a day on my iPhone or iPad.

What I was going to write about was the strategy and the prioritization needed to be good at Monopoly. I believed that with the right set of priorities and the right objective, you could make good decisions and allow luck to play out as it will - the game is about being prepared for luck to go in whatever direction it will go.

At least, I thought it was. After a lot of time and consideration, I deleted the whole thing. Nothing about railroads vs. utilities, nothing about hating the Greens and loving the Reds, nothing about the Hotel race or the initial double-three. Every strategy I had about the finite amount of houses, moving its way through RAM right now, waiting in line for Cache Eternal.

The truth is, there is no strategy in Monopoly. There is only luck.

Monopoly is inherently misleading in this regard. You are given so much decision making room and so many choices to make that the idea of free will or the 'best road possible' is almost impossible to avoid. If I have this many options, isn't one right, or at least more right than others?

I don't think so. The most important part of Monopoly is the first few turns around the board, the initial land grab, where the board is effectively set. The first person to get a Monopoly generally always wins, and that depends entirely on luck, the roll of the dice.

But what about trades, you say? What about getting a monopoly by getting some pieces off someone else? Here's the truth: those trades more often than not depend on the stupidity or naïvete of their opponents, who either don't know or don't care that they're allowing you to win. That's it - the best decision I made when i started playing computers in Monopoly is to never, ever ever accept a trade initiated by anyone else. It will always be to my disadvantage - no one would ever initiate a trade with me in order to lose power.

I used to think that Monopoly was a cartoonish version of the real estate market - a caricature of itself, with the addition of the fact that going to Jail is a common occurrence that might not even be a bad thing.

Now, I look at Monopoly as a perfect microcosm of Capitalism. The game theoretically has no set winner or loser, no one starts off at a severe disadvantage, and everyone has the same amount of money to start, so it's fair, right? That American Dream kicks in - if I make the right moves, work hard, and with a little bit of luck, I can win!

Except you cant. the greatest indicator of economic success is your starting point - privilege has its perks, and it puts you on the track for more privilege and more assets and more opportunities. You can really do whatever you want, and everyone else is contingent on you to make generous offers to level the playing field in as much as it helps you. Watch someone grab a few properties their first turn around the board and see what kind of decisions they cam make.

There's no American dream. You can't work hard enough or long enough, and you need more than a little bit of luck. In fact, by the time you realize you need luck, it's too late, because when you needed luck was in the womb, or in the gene pool, wishing for a mother and father in a nice neighborhood, with basic needs met, with schools and a house all to your own, believing you could be whatever you wanted to be. You don't get that, and it's a question of how long you stay alive and competitive. You might make a good run at it, but Monopoly doesn't allow for close victories, or even the concept of a margin. There's one guy left, and you generally know who it is midway through the game. It's not that the game is rigged, its that the first advantage is so happenstance and so definite and so permanent that anyone who sees whats going on would be frustrated, unless they were under the false belief that next time it might be them, if they just try harder.

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.