Picks

It’s All About the Trade

A defense of Monopoly.

A Monopoly game being defended by a knight.
Photo illustration by Slate

Read Slate’s complete list of the 40 Best Family Games.

Despite the widely held opinion to the contrary, Monopoly is a great game. When I was 10, I used to wake up very early and make my brother play it with me, and all these years later, I still try to force it on friends and family whenever possible because I love it, perhaps precisely for the reasons most people hate it. I think it gets a bad reputation because people find its absurd duration and the cutthroat dedication it requires to not be “fun.” Monopoly mixes luck and skill together in a way that some may find infuriating, but I find exhilarating. Most exhilarating is the additional ingredient Monopoly requires of its players: the need for them to negotiate with each other.

The arc of any game of Monopoly is simple. There’s the boring part at the beginning where you go around the board and buy property and pay dumb things like income tax for a while. There’s the concluding, satisfying, destroy-or-be-destroyed portion. But in between those two parts comes the trade, the intellectual and emotional center of the game. I don’t think the way I was taught to play Monopoly is exactly universal, but in my house, the unspoken (and correct) rule is that you do not trade properties until every property has been purchased. This makes that early portion of the game tolerable, because you can spend that otherwise boring time plotting and subtly priming your fellow players to go along with whatever you’re going to propose.

The point of the trade is to secure for yourself a reasonable set of monopolies that could set you up to win the game. There are a few strategies that reliably work better. The orange properties, for example, make the best monopoly, a thing everyone knows. Also, no matter what property you own, the correct way to play is to do everything you can to get at least three houses on your monopolies as soon as possible (the penalty/payout for landing on a square jumps significantly when you reach that three-house threshold).

My preferred play is the combo strategy. That means securing one very cheap monopoly (either the purples or the light blues) and one expensive monopoly (the reds, the yellows, or the dark blues) while retaining enough cash on hand to immediately purchase hotels for the cheaper monopoly. That’s very possible to achieve because buying hotels on those cheap properties costs half as much, or less, than buying them anywhere else. As people land on your cheap monopoly, it doesn’t bankrupt them, but they’re constantly stymied from building on their own properties, while providing you the capital to build up your second monopoly, suck their resources dry, and win the game.

Of course, deploying this strategy depends a lot on what properties you end up with, which you can’t control. Which is why you need to pay attention to what properties everyone acquires, and why you need to be prepared to make very creative proposals during the trade. Make sure someone gets the railroads! Placate another opponent with the pinks! Honestly, I think this is where my commitment to the game generally goes off the rails. I can’t help but get a little bit too consumed by the project of taking a big messy spread of divided properties, envisioning how everyone can swap them to get to a point of reasonable competition (yes, with me having the advantage), and then convincing everyone to get on board.

It’s clear to me that this is not many people’s idea of a great time and that I can be a little annoying while doing it. Once, a college boyfriend who was visiting during Thanksgiving threatened during the trade to drive three hours back to campus because I was being such a nightmare. (His proposals were terrible! He didn’t even try to ensure everyone got a monopoly.) I like to think I’ve gotten better since then, but there’s no real evidence to support my case (my current boyfriend doesn’t play with me either). It’s probably true that the ruthlessness and compulsiveness with which I approach Monopoly reflects, to some degree, a larger aspect of my personality, a sort of competitive streak that I perhaps actively suppress in my daily life. And honestly? Writing this has made me realize that maybe people are right about Monopoly. It is not a fun game—but it sure is a fantastic way for people like me to channel their aggression.

Monopoly with dice showing 12 as the optimal age for the game.

Monopoly

Types: Board, Strategy
Players: 3–6
Time: 60–180 min.
Variations? Y
Expansions? N
Play without kids? Y