Saturday, May 5, 2012

Game Review: Monopoly for iPad and what it taught me about Occupy

I was never a big Monopoly fan as a kid. Maybe I was growing up on the cusp of video game dominance and couldn't stay focused. Perhaps it was the tedium of managing the bank that turned me off, or maybe I just didn't run in a board game crowd. For whatever reason I just didn't play it much.

Fast forward a few decades.

My wife got me an iPad last Christmas, which I love. Shortly thereafter, my Uncle Mike gave me an 'app of the week' coupon from Starbucks that allows you to download a featured weekly app for free. The app in question was 'Monopoly HD for iPad'. I never would have bought it, but for free? . . . Why not?

I know you technophobic purists will recoil in disgust at the idea of playing such a ubiquitous board game on an iPad, but I don't care. I am embracing the future here. The iPad sorts out all of the problems of the corporeal Monopoly. You are never short on players, you do not lose game pieces, the banking is done automatically, it all fits in your hand . . . I agree there is something to be said for cardboard, but the iPad is just a superb platform for Monopoly. It just is.

The awesomeness of iPad Monopoly, coupled with the long, boring hours I spend at work waiting for an emergency, has given rise to a level of Monopoly expertise that is unrivaled in it's sophistication. Simply put, I have come to know Monopoly in it's entirety. It holds no secrets from me. I have unlocked it.

One of the cool things about the iPad version is that it keeps stats. By reviewing my stats after each win I was able to narrow down the single, indisputable truth that leads to complete dominance of your electronic opponents.

Whomever buys Connecticut, Vermont and Oriental Avenues and builds hotels first, wins. That's it. There is no discussion. 

Don't talk to me about railroads and don't even mention those ridiculous 'high end' properties like Park Place and Boardwalk. Buy the light blue properties for any price, develop them fully, win the game. End of story.

The nifty stat feature showed me that there was a positive correlation between how early you are able to secure those properties and how quickly you win. I was tending to end each game in 130 to 145 dice rolls until I abandoned all tight-fisted reservations and sacrificed everything for Connecticut, Vermont and Oriental. I'd trade anything and everything for them, regardless of the value of what I was trading. Once I adopted that approach I started ending games in 90-95 rolls. The opposition was simply crushed under the weight of my real estate business acumen, and it was crushed rapidly. But then I noticed a problem . . .

There was another correlation; an inverse relationship between the speed at which I won the game and the amount of money I extracted from my opponents. I was wining games with just shy of $4000 and couldn't get past that level.

Buy up the majority of property, over develop it with dollar signs in your eyes and you wind up bankrupting the other players quickly. Sure you win, but you don't win much.

Then I realized. The way you truly win at Monopoly is to never let the game end.

As long as your opponents are alive and hold enough cash to survive one more trip around the board, they will continue to pass "Go" and collect their salary. Then you gradually soak them of their earnings as they sprint around the board yet again.

You crush the first guy and take his property just to give yourself the majority of the real estate, but then, instead of slapping hotels up everywhere and creating devastating hazards, you temper the construction.

If your opponents are getting wealthy enough to develop their own properties sufficiently as to hurt your cash holdings, you build a hotel or two and put them in debt. Force them to mortgage their properties just to stay alive. Then, go ahead and bulldoze some of your own hotels until your opponents have a chance to make some laps and collect their $200 a few more times. Of course they'll also have some good fortune now and then with "Chance" or "Community Chest" and that's good! You want that! You want them to keep trying, fighting to succeed.

You become the master. You are the ruling elite. You have the power to crush the struggling middle class at your whim, but you don't exercise it. Why would you?

Instead you hover over the board and manipulate the conditions to suit your goal. You goal is to accumulate unlimited wealth, and those little middle class electronic opponents are the source of your wealth. It is through their tireless pursuit of success (against insurmountable odds) that your own wealth grows exponentially.

When they do well, build. Take their money.

When they're broke, bulldoze. Keep them alive.

Promote the illusion that their success or failure is dictated by natural, free market conditions. Suggest that they too could achieve your level of wealth if they commit their entire existence to the pursuit of money and invest faithfully in the market. You need "Top Hat" and "Race-car" to believe that they can win as they just barely scrape by, turn after turn.

If you play this way, there is no limit to the amount of money you can collect.

One thing I do notice, as my millions slowly accumulate, is that "Top Hat" and "Racecar" start talking to one another.

"You know . . ." Race-car says. "It just seems like we just keep circling this board without end."

Top hat nodded, "Yeah I noticed that too."

"And no matter how many times we pass "Go" and collect $200, it seems to be gone by the time we loop back to 'Short Line'. What the hell is that about?" Racecar continued.

Well I don't like that kind of talk . . .

"Hey come on guys," I said. "You're starting to sound like a couple of commies. Are you dirty little reds or something?"

"Oh hell no!"

"No way man!" they replied.

Race-car revved his little engine.

"No it's just . . . I don't know. It just seems like you bust your ass circling these properties and you have good and bad days, sweet luck and crappy luck, but no matter what - you never really seem to get to where you can relax and start really thinking about retiring."

Top Hat chimed in, "Yeah I mean, don't get me wrong, I would gladly send my children to kill and die in defense of this game - but I'd also like them to be able to go to college. At this rate I have no idea how I would ever pay for it."

"Well aren't you both pathetic!" I said. "Why Top Hat, just look at some of the irresponsible decisions you've made. What made you think you had the expertise to run a railroad about 20 rolls ago?"

"Yeah I know" he replied sheepishly.

"You barely had any money and instead of holding on to it so you could pay me . . . uh, I mean bills, you decided to buy a railroad. Five rolls later you mortgaged it to pay rent on Illinois Avenue."

" . . . Well I thought things were looking up. The economy seemed strong . . . like it couldn't miss. I figured I needed to invest."

"And that's good, but there are risks associated. That's the nature of this game. When your investments don't pan out you have no one to blame but yourself."

Top Hat just sat there silently. Defeated.

"As for you Racecar. How can you justify building three houses on St. Charles Place when you've got a big fat mortgage on Kentucky Avenue? Is that your idea of fiscal responsibility?"

Race-car stared off into the distance and spoke in a whimper.

"I had to do something . . . I can't do this forever."

"What did you say?!!" I demanded.

"I said I CAN'T DO THIS FOREVER!!!!!!" he roared back, with smoke billowing from his little exhaust pipe.

"I just go round and round, busting my ass, passing "Go", landing in jail, getting taxed and paying YOU!!! I'm lucky if I can keep the same $1500 I started with for one whole lap around the board, while you sit there with millions!!!"

He was furious. I started to get a little scared.

"Hey buddy, relax. I'm in the same boat you're in! I land on Income Tax and Luxury Tax just like you. We're playing the same game! It's fair!"

"No it isn't fucking fair!" Top Hat sneered. "Your position is so dominant, that you are able to unfairly manipulate conditions to work in your favor. You technically land on all the same hardships we land on, but your wealth is so extreme, that any loss that would bankrupt me or Racecar doesn't even faze you."

"Well you just have to keep at it. That's the beauty of this game. With some ingenuity, elbow grease and a little luck you can . . ."


"Hold on, not so fast!" I protested, "What about the next game?"

They stopped and looked at each other.

"What do you mean 'next game'?" Race-car inquired.

"Oh yeah! You see this game right here is just temporary. It's like a preparatory phase."

"Go on . . ." Top Hat said. His interest piqued.

I started to breathe a little easier.

"See, this game will end eventually, and when it does, whichever players were the hardest working, most committed, most obedient, most accepting of the rules and least apt to complain, will be rewarded in the next game."

Racecar smiled, but Top Hat seemed uncertain.

"What kind of reward?" Top Hat asked.

"Oh, well for one thing, if you're good enough to qualify, nobody can lose the next game. Everyone wins."

"But how can this game work if no one loses?" Top Hat asked. "Risk and reward are necessary . . ."

Race-car interrupted. "Everyone wins?!?!?!?"

"That's right! No one loses. You go round and round and never make a lousy roll. It's just win, win, win, win."

"Well, until the game is over, right?" Race-car asked.

"No that's the best part!" I continued. "This game we're in now, it will end for sure. But the next game? . . . Get this. It goes on forever!!!"

Race-car squealed his tires like a happy schoolgirl.

"So let me get this straight . . . If I obey the rules and keep doing laps and keep playing this game faithfully despite the fact that it is obviously rigged in your favor, I'll be rewarded with an eternity of success and happiness in the next game?"

"That's right!" I said.

He honked his horn. "Well come on Top Hat! Let's get back to this game and earn our places in eternity!"

"Nah . . . I don't fuckin' think so." Top Hat replied flatly.

"What do you mean? Don't you want to get to the next game and enjoy unbridled eternal success?"

"Actually Race-car, that sounds like a load of bullshit that's designed to make us accept the patently unfair circumstances that we find ourselves in and suggest that there is virtue in our willingness to accept less than what we deserve in THIS game. I don't think I'm playing anymore. I think I'm gonna sit my ass down right here until that son of a bitch un-rigs THIS game so that I at least have a viable stake in my own future."

Then Race-car shot Top Hat in the face with pepper spray and dragged him off to jail.

So yeah . . . Monopoly HD for iPad. Fun!

Scrabble is pretty good too!

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