Tradition Tinker: Brewster’s Monopoly

Salutations Everybody!

Today I want to continue my series on game design with components you have sitting around. Today I’ll be taking a new theme and applying it to a classic board game… Monopoly.

Most of you probably have a copy of Monopoly somewhere in the deep back of the game closet, usually unplayed for years. The reasons are pretty simple, it can suck sometimes. If players get too into trading the game slows way down (even though that’s what excites some players about the game). Worse, the game goes until everyone but one player is out… which can take up to 4-hours (longer is statistically rare even with 6+ players if you don’t use the optional Free Parking rule).

Before I go much further, I should mention that there are a variety of great monopoly versions out there that change the rules. Beyond simple re-skins, Monopoly Junior addressed many of these issues, and even added a credit card system in some releases.  This update by Hasbro serves to better teach young kids about money and spending (in the same way an allowance would). If you have kids, I recommend it.

But moving on, what do you do with that old box with Mr. Monopoly on the front? Well, here is Brewster’s Monopoly. Named after the 1985 classic staring Richard Pryor and John Candy, this game is all about being the first to run out of money. Here are the rules changes:

  • The first player to run out of money wins.
  • Players start with $2000.
  • If all of a property color is owned by a player (even another player) you may build houses and hotels on that property if you own at least one property of that color. The building player pays for the improvement (even if it is not on a space he owns).
  • Properties do not need to be improved at the same rate, one property may have a hotel, for instance, while other properties of the same color have no improvements.
  • Players may never sell houses or hotels, but they may mortgage un-improved properties as normal.
  • There is no optional free parking rule in effect.
  • If a player lands on an unowned property he cannot afford, he may not “pass” on purchasing it. Instead, if he cannot afford the property, it is free. The player claims the property and spends no money (he may not make a partial payment).

And that’s it. These little changes make for a very different game. The first rule simply ends the game when a player goes out, thus drastically shortening the play time (my tests have been about 45 minutes, but most of that was players grasping the idea).

The second rule simply adds a bit of oomph early on. We want properties being purchased and improved frequently. Building hotels is fun, and now doing so is an act of aggression!

The third and fourth rules are the tricky ones. This is what makes the game work, by allowing a new way to build improvements on an opponent’s space. You build hotels on an opponents space in hopes of landing on it yourself later. It’s a gamble, and properly managing those improvements is the subtle path to victory, as you need to watch board positions and time your improvements to maximize your chances of landing on them. However, you still have to own a property in that color (and all properties must be owned) so you open yourself up to buildings as well.

Rules five and six prevent the game from taking forever. Selling off hotels/houses just makes the game drag on. The other option would track who built each house and only allow players to remove those… it’s a nightmare best fixed by not allowing them to be sold at all. If I were creating this for print, I would consider testing a version that includes houses and hotels of various colors, so that we could track who built what. But for now, we simply don’t allow selling of improvements.

A lot of people play with the free parking rule. It’s fun for kids (it’s a bit like the lottery) but it is the primary culprit in games that take 6+ hours to play. If you’ve had a game go on for days, chances are that Free Parking was secretly to blame (although you might not notice). So we also got rid of that option.

Lastly, rule seven simply prevents game stalls. A strategy would be to buy nothing and waiting till the board costs more than $200 to circle… it’s a dull strategy we want to avoid. So if you land on it… you’re going to get it… so buy it if you can!

In the end, the game plays in about 45 minutes, although it can go up to an hour sometimes, depending on the player skill level and speed. I really enjoy this version, and when I break it out at holidays my friends and family don’t groan about Monopoly any more… it’s one of our go-to games.

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