Beads of sweat form on your brow. Your shoulders ache from hours spent hunched over in concentration. And even though your throat is dry and your belly empty, you refuse to take a break. For many Monopoly enthusiasts bent on creating an economic empire, the fun of this board game is serious business.
Since 1935, Monopoly has offered hours of entertainment to many players, but during World War II, this game went from being a fun (if highly competitive) way to pass the time to a real life-saver. British airmen held as prisoners of war by the German army received care packages through the International Red Cross that included innocuous-looking Monopoly games -- which actually contained escape maps, compasses, metal files and real money provided by the British Secret Service. Although there's no record of how many soldiers used the rigged games to escape, the people who were involved in the project believe several airmen were able to use the board game's secret tools for their own benefit [source: Mikkelson].
Although you probably haven't rolled the dice under such dire circumstances, we're betting you've bent a few Monopoly rules, too. Monopoly was originally designed to teach lessons about building -- and losing -- wealth, a process that seems to encourage improvisational tactics.
While there are some house rules that make game play more challenging or competitive, there can be downsides, too. Unless you're willing to embark on a marathon Monopoly game, or one that'll earn the winner bitter glares from family and friends for the next few days, there are some house rules you'll want to ditch.
The Free Parking Jackpot
Under Monopoly's standard rules, there are plenty of random penalties built into the game. For example, landing on Income Tax requires the player to pay a flat rate of $200 or 10 percent of his total worth. Landing on the Luxury Tax space charges the player a $100 fee. And landing on Chance or Community Chest makes the player draw a card that may result in a fine. Normally, all of these fees go to the bank.
Some house rules are built to offset those penalties. When players use the popular Free Parking jackpot rule, all the money collected from Income Tax, Luxury Tax, Chance and Community Chest goes to the center of the board instead of the bank (sometimes with a bonus $500 or more stuck in for good measure), and the first player to land on the Free Parking space gets all the loot. It's a pretty good payout for a space originally intended to have no action associated with it -- which is the whole problem.
Played by the book, Free Parking is a potential respite from the gambit of your opponents' highly developed properties. By giving the space a heavy monetary reward, you unbalance the natural cash flow of the game. The jackpot makes leading players richer, but it doesn't give straggling players enough of a boost to win -- just enough to prolong their loss (and the game). In the end, property ownership is what counts in Monopoly. All a losing player can do with that jackpot is feed it to his opponents. Unless you enjoy games that are both nigh-endless and frustrating, ditch this rule.
Collect Double the Salary at Go
Monopoly may well be one of the first games children (and adults) play that's designed to help them understand the concept of economics -- and the fact that their cash reserves may run out before they've bought everything they desire. It's not a coincidence that Monopoly's rules closely reflect the Depression-era economic conditions that were present during the game's initial mass-production debut.
Monopoly's standard rules allow each player to collect a $200 salary upon passing Go, but there's a house rule that inflates this amount to $400 or more (sometimes only when the player lands directly on Go, sometimes with every turn around the board). The impetus behind this is to speed up economic activity. But the benefit -- quickly accumulating wealth, and being better able to buy and develop properties -- is actually the problem, too.
Similar to the Free Parking jackpot rule, this house rule infuses too much money into the game to keep the economy functioning properly. When all the players are flush with cash all the time, they can both build up their own properties and easily pay their opponents' high rental prices. In the real world, buying things has consequences and often requires careful budgeting. Ditching this house rule not only makes the game more realistic (and shorter), but teaches young and old players alike valuable lessons about income and expenses [source: Lindsey].
In real life, taking out a mortgage is a serious thing -- as many homeowners discovered during America's recession in the early 21st century. It's a bad idea to promise more than you can really afford for a property, leaving yourself open to financial disaster should any unexpected expenses strike. However, a mortgage is nice option to have: Taking out a well-considered mortgage on a property you've previously paid off can keep you in the proverbial game until you can get your feet back under you.
Which is why Monopoly's rules allow players who need a quick burst of cash to mortgage any of their properties to the bank for half the face value. (The player can unmortgage it on another turn by paying the bank back that amount plus 10 percent.) But some people enact the no mortgaging rule to remove that option, forcing players to instead sell properties back to the bank for half the face value -- at which point any player can land on and purchase the property as usual.
We're all for a challenge, and we appreciate the tough-love economic lessons that Monopoly can teach, but this house rule reminds us a little too poignantly of the foreclosure crisis. Owning a mortgaged property means you still have a chance to get it back and claw your way to the top. Being forced to sell your property at a loss means your downhill journey has just begun: The chances of both landing on your lost property and having the cash to buy it again are practically nil [source: Lindsey].
Multiple Hotels Allowed per Property
There are four official Monopoly rules that dictate how players may build houses and hotels on their properties. First, you must purchase all of the properties in a color group (that is, you must have a monopoly in that color) before you can buy houses for any of those properties. Second, when you do buy houses, they must be distributed evenly among the properties: You must erect one house on each property in a set before you can put a second house on any of them, and so on. Third, you must put four houses on a property before you can erect a hotel, and in doing so you must return the houses to the bank. Fourth, only one hotel is allowed per property.
Several house rules can override these four, but we think the most egregious is the one that allows players to build more than one hotel on a property, increasing that property's earning potential exponentially. When multiple hotels can be built on a single property, a dominating player can create a building shortage that will not only inhibit competitors' progress, but will bankrupt them in the process -- ending the game before it becomes the battle of wits and wiles that it was intended to be [source: Davenport].
No Housing Shortages
While reading the previous page, it perhaps occurred to you that another house rule might take care of that pesky potential for building shortages: Simply don't limit the number of houses and hotels that can be built to the amount provided with the game.
With this unofficial rule, any agreed-upon token can stand in for a house or hotel after the game's supply has run out. This allows players who were slower to build their monopolies a fair chance to develop those properties and earn more rent on them. However, it also creates an economic bubble similar to those made by the Free Parking jackpot and double salary rules -- except this bubble is made of stainless steel, not bubble gum.
When every player can max out his earning potential, only the players with the very worst dice luck will be in danger of bankruptcy within the first few hours of the game. A shorter game may be a harsher one, but when you get right down to it, the game of Monopoly wasn't meant to be all that fair.
A balance of fortune and strategy is built into the game. If you have more fun playing with these or any other house rules, keep them. Just be aware of how they affect that balance, and don't be afraid to shirk family tradition to make the game more manageable.
Get comfy and let's test your knowledge of weird castles, crazy large numbers and embargoed snack foods.
- Associated Press. "19-Year-Old Norwegian takes Monopoly World Title." USA Today. Oct. 23, 2009. (Jan. 27, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2009-10-23-monopoly_N.htm
- Davenport, Jacob. "Monopoly Home Rules." (Feb. 7, 2012) http://www.playagaingames.com/games/monopoly/home_rules/
- Hasbro. "75 Years Young." (Jan. 27, 2012) http://www.hasbro.com/monopoly/en_US/discover/75-Years-Young.cfm
- Hasbro. "Monopoly." (Jan. 28, 2012) http://www.hasbro.com/common/instruct/monins.pdf
- Horton, Matthew J. "Monopoly History: Rules 1933-1935." (Feb. 7, 2012) http://www.playagaingames.com/games/monopoly/home_rules/
- Lindsey, Lawrence. "High Anxiety." The Weekly Standard. Sept. 29, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2012) http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/590meujj.asp
- Mikkelson, Barbara. "War Games." (Jan. 27, 2012) http://www.snopes.com/military/monopoly.asp
- Monopoly Man. "Official Monopoly Rules." (Jan. 27, 2012) http://www.monopoly-man.com/rules/