« Slide some oil to me, brother | Main | Dishes left on the Countertop of Life »

You can be the shoe, I'll be the hat.

Your Humble Blogger has been playing a lot of Monopoly against the computer lately, and it has caused me to change my mind about some aspects of the game and its MFQ. Specifically, I am arguing for a trade-for-two norm, which I will describe below, but which you probably can figure out just from the phrase.

Yes, I know, you hate Monopoly. Move along, then, this is not the board game you’re looking for. I happen to like the game. It’s a deeply flawed game, with many playability problems, but it’s also a fun and easy game with several different possible winning strategies, and of course it’s one of the Great American Boardgames. It would be a shame—it is a shame—that its flaws have relegated it to the bottom of the boardgame pile, and its strengths are forgotten.

The main problem with the game, of course, is its length. It’s true: it can go on far too long. It’s not just that it can be a long game (there are many excellent games that sometimes require hours to play), it’s that often it gets to a point where there will clearly be no further interesting strategic or tactical decisions, but the game will go on for a long time yet, playing out those decisions that have already been made. The beginning of Monopoly is fun, when everybody is still hoping to get the red ones, and a pair of railroads commands a pretty decent rental, and the chance card that puts you on Boardwalk is whimsical, rather than devastating. The middle of Monopoly is (in my opinion) fun, when people are buying a few houses and trying to judge whether to keep a few hundred dollars on hand, just in case. The auctions are fun (or should be, if people aren’t being gratuitously nasty, and if they are, then no board game will be fun) and the suspense of who will land on the last unsold properties ramps up. Then the fun rapidly diminishes.

Now, playing against the computer, I have found that (for the official Hasbro Monopoly app) the computer players have a bias toward making trades. Not that they will make trades that actively disadvantage them, but they make trades I wouldn’t make. And as a result, we get monopolies earlier, houses earlier, even hotels earlier. And the game is more fun. The MFQ of the game is higher. It’s a better game. Which is the point of this note: Monopoly is a better game if people make more trades earlier.

I don’t mean that anyone should make a trade that leaves them worse than she was before. That’s not fun, not for anyone. But if the Shoe is offering a trade to the Flatiron, that trade may improve the Flatiron’s situation only a little and the Shoe a lot, or both about the same, or the Shoe a little and the Flatiron a lot. For most of my life, I would only accept that trade if I were getting the better end of the deal, or if the deal was very very close. After all, if I help the Shoe a lot, even if I help myself a bit, I’m essentially increasing the odds of Shoe winning, which necessarily decreases the combined odds of Flatiron, Racecar and Thimble winning, and, well, I’m Flatiron. Why would I do that? And I’ll never do a trade that gives Shoe a monopoly unless it gives me a monopoly as well. That’s just sense. But I have also been unwilling to make a trade that will give Shoe two-out-of-three to a monopoly with the third still unpurchased. That means that in a game with four or five players, it’s awfully hard for anybody to get a monopoly, ever. And the slower that part is, the longer the game is, and the longer the game is, the lower the MFQ.

So here’s my suggestion: trade for two. Early in the game, there should be a bias in favor of trading so that the first two properties of a monopoly wind up in the same player’s hand. On the very first go-round of the board, when the Hat gets St. Charles and Illinois, and the Battleship gets Virginia and Tennessee, they should already trade so that one of them has St. Charles and Virginia and the other has Illinois and Tennessee. And perhaps some money, or a promise of future rental waivers or whatever; they should of course negotiate. But that trade should take place if possible before States gets purchased.

And if everyone believes in this, Hat (let’s say) winding up with Illinois and Tennessee isn’t screwed, because Thimble will land on Kentucky and will trade him New York, or whatever. The more that the players can get two-out-of-three early in the game, the more likely it is that they will be able to make mutually beneficial trades in the middle part of the game, and then there will be monopolies and houses and so forth. And yes, somebody will get crushed and be out of the game very early, but my own feeling is that it’s better with this sort of game to have the crushee out of the game quickly and then the rest of the game resolve fairly quickly and entertainingly than to have the crushee limp along for half an hour of increasing despair, followed by an hour of endgame between the final two players.

However, if five people are playing and only three of them agree to the trade-for-two norm, Hat having Illinois and Tennessee is in no better position than he was before the trade, really, since Thimble will land on Kentucky and hang on to it for ages and ages, hoping for more leverage and a better trade, and, well, all the things that people dislike about Monopoly probably happen. Like a lot of social norms, this works only if everybody relies on everybody else adhering to it. Like stop signs, you know? Only without the option of police enforcement, which just for the record I do not endorse in the case of Monopoly norms.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Interesting. As to this:

> For most of my life, I would only accept that trade if I were getting the better end of the deal, or if the deal was very very close.

MEB90 has made the argument that in Settlers, trading is generally a good strategy for you, even if the trade is somewhat unequal (not drastically, but more than just "very close"); and I think he's right about this. One way to think about it it: If you trade with each of the other three players, on each of their turns, such that their position improves by +2, and yours by +1, that seems like a pretty bad deal, right? And yet by the time your turn comes around, you'll be at +3, and they'll each only be at +2.

This may be more true in Settlers, where oftentimes more than one person has what I want, and thus it's advantageous to you to be the one who completes the deal with me, because either way I get what I want, so you're better off if you also get something than if you get nothing and a third player gets something. That might not come up as often in Monopoly, not sure.

That one game of Speed Monopoly that one time, with you and FAA91 and others, I think at MEB90's house, remains one of my fondest Monopoly memories. :^)

Well, that's a separate issue: Monopoly should be played as fast as possible, with the dice in constant motion, but that may interfere with frequent trades. Or not! I'd have to try.

The Settlers point might well be correct, and is different from Monopoly in that there are only three, for instance, greens, and mostly if Shoe wants them, he has one, so there are at most two others out there to trade with, and probably only one. Although multi-player trades are a Good Thing, such that Shoe and Hat may not be able to come to a mutually beneficial deal, but Shoe, Hat and Racecar can. In Settlers, it's true, I think, that a slight bias in favor of trading is probably a benefit (toward winning, I mean, not just socially) but if you don't need lumber, you just don't need lumber.


Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.