This week’s entry: Monopoly (game)
What it’s about: Since the 1930s, Monopoly has reigned as one of the world’s most popular board games, despite a playing time that can stretch past four hours, and the fact that success or failure is usually determined in the opening turns when properties are snapped up. Nonetheless, the game captured the public’s imagination during the Great Depression and has been a stalwart of rainy days and family get-togethers ever since. The game now exists in 103 countries and 37 languages, with customized editions that replace the familiar Atlantic City streets of the original game with street names from cities all over the world, not to mention a slew of licensed theme editions that, somewhat nonsensically, allow you to build a house on Derek Jeter or Doctor Octopus.
Strangest fact: As part of Hollywood’s recent mania for universally familiar brand names that shouldn’t be made into films, Ridley Scott was hired in 2008 to direct a film based on Monopoly for Universal Pictures. The production got as far as a script—courtesy of Corpse Bride and Monster House screenwriter Pamela Pettler, and Boardwalk Empire camera production assistant Alex Hyner (or more likely someone with the same name and some screenwriting experience). However, Universal eventually canceled the project when after realizing it was a really stupid idea. Not so stupid, however, that the idea wasn’t revived in 2012, with Scott still onboard as a producer. Hasbro also hopes to make movies out of Action Man and Hungry Hungry Hippos, which is surely leading to a Hasbro Cinematic Universe Avengers-style team-up, where Action Man is eaten by a Hungry Hippo while building a hotel on St. James Place.
Biggest controversy: Most people know that Charles Darrow created Monopoly in the 1930s, and based it his (adopted) hometown of Atlantic City, NJ. What Wikipedia supposes is… maybe he didn’t? The story begins with Elizabeth Magie, who invented a board game in 1903 called The Landlord’s Game. The purpose of the game was to demonstrate the evils of landowners’ monopolies, and propose the land value tax—Magie was a follower of economist Henry George, who was a strong proponent of such a tax—as the ideal solution. Magie published several games for Parker Brothers, although she self-published two iterations of The Landlord’s Game before Parker’s official release in 1939. Even while self-published, the game was popular, especially on college campuses, and numerous players began making their own versions, which gradually evolved into what we know as Monopoly. Wikipedia credits “several people” with the game’s design, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that Parker Brothers began giving sole credit to Darrow, who brought the game to the company’s attention, although it was passed on to him by his friends Charles and Olive Todd.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Even the 1 percent like Monopoly. Several economic crashes ago, FAO Schwarz sold a custom-made “One-Of-A-Kind Monopoly” for a cool $100,000. It came in a leather attaché case, with tokens, houses, and hotels made of real gold. The rosewood board was inlaid with emeralds, rubies, and sapphires as part of the artwork (the rubies were the brake lights in the Free Parking car; the other two gems surrounded the Chance and Community Chest icons), and the money was actual American currency. ($15,140, as was standard before a 2008 revamp upped the total to $20,580) That game, however, is for the bottom half of the 1 percent. For the truly elite, artist Sidney Mobell created a 50th anniversary edition in 1985, made of 23-carat gold, with rubies and sapphires topping the chimneys of every house and hotel, priced at a cool $2 million. A much more accessible, tastier custom edition came out in 1978, when Neiman Marcus produced an edible Monopoly made entirely of chocolate, including the money, dice, and the board.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Not having learned the lesson of New Coke, in 2008, Hasbro decided to screw with a classic. They redesigned Monopoly, changing Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues from dark purple to brown, thus ending innumerable “not those purples, the cheap ones!” conversations forever. The classic line drawings of its mascot, Rich Uncle Pennybags (i.e. Mr. Monopoly), which appear throughout the game have been replaced by 3-D renderings. Odd figures like the $75 Luxury Tax and the $45 players receive from sale of stock have been rounded up to $100 and $50, respectively. School tax was cut from $150 to $50, to cheers from the Tea Party (although don’t blame Hasbro when test scores are down on every street from Oriental to New York—we can’t all afford some ritzy Pacific Avenue private school for our kids). Several Chance and Community Chest cards were also rewritten, so that “grand opera opening” has become “It’s your birthday,” because in our declining nation, wealthy real estate moguls would rather go to a 50 Cent concert than absorb some high culture.
Also noteworthy: While the classic edition of Monopoly still uses street names from Atlantic City, the real Atlantic City no longer contains all the Monopoly streets. Illinois Avenue was renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard in the 1980s. St. Charles Place was torn up to build the Showboat Casino Hotel. Marvin Gardens was misspelled by the friends who passed Monopoly onto Charles Darrow, and has remained so ever since (the real street is Marven Gardens). The Todds also changed Quakers’ Arctic Avenue to Mediterranean, and the Shore Fast streetcar line to Short Line Railroad.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Parker Brothers has occasionally duplicated pieces from one game to another, usually to save money. Early foreign editions replaced the metal game tokens with the wooden pawns from Sorry! To re-use dies for the tokens, the battleship and the cannon were also used in the failed Parkers war game Conflict, and the classic war game Diplomacy, said to be a favorite of both John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger.
Further down the wormhole: Most Monopoly editions have included eight choices of tokens to represent the player on the board. While the race car, the wheelbarrow, and the thimble have been familiar to players through the decades, some tokens have been retired and replaced. Wikipedia doesn’t have a firm handle on which pieces came and went when—the lantern, the purse, and the rocking horse were retired in the 1950s; the man on horseback and the howitzer were also replaced at some point. The only change with a definite date is the humble iron, which has been part of the game since 1935, but was retired in 2013 when fans were asked to choose between a guitar, a diamond ring, a helicopter, a robot, and a cat. Fans chose the least idiotic on the list, and the cat has been part of Monopoly ever since. One token that seems to have lasted through the ages is the top hat, an eternal symbol of wealth, worn by important folks from Abraham Lincoln to Scrooge McDuck to Rich Uncle Pennybags himself. Polish your monocles, because we look at the top hat next week.