Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Monopoly of the Third Third

Did your Monopoly game have wooden houses and hotels or plastic ones? And are they green and red?

Did your Monopoly have a cannon as a token piece to move around the board? Or an iron? A wheelbarrow? A thimble? And pewter ones, not golden?

Did your Monopoly have yellow Community Chest cards? Were Mediterranean and Baltic purple?

Alas, the Monopoly of our First Third is no more, and not just because of all those variations (Boston-opoly, Big Bang Theory Monopoly, National Parks Monopoly, etc etc etc). Not only is Monopoly now cashless – with plastic debit cards! – but the newest involves voice banking. You press your token’s button and say, “Buy Park Place,” and your bank account is adjusted.

So, I asked, “How do kids learn how to make change without paper money?”

No one uses cash anymore? Oh.

One sister may have the Monopoly game we grew up with, but the box fell apart after all the masking tape holding it together dried up and fell off. Now it’s somewhere in a giant Macy’s gift box.

My Monopoly is a “deluxe” edition: my tokens are golden-colored and I have a steam locomotive, but my houses and hotels are still wooden. I think I requested it as a birthday present one year, but it suffered from two-on-one-itis and fell out of favor. (two-on-one-itis: when the other two greedy, cackling players gang up, make a deal, and leave you with nothing but going round and round until eventual bankruptcy).

During my month in London, I discovered a whole museum exhibition on board games. Monopoly was created in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie as The Landlord’s Game and was designed to illustrate the evils of exploitative landowners (yes, the ones who cackle when you land on their property). It was produced in the U.S. beginning in 1935.

More recently, my friend Steve blogged about playing Monopoly with his granddaughter, and he discovered the cashless version. So that’s what sparked my latest Monopoly investigations.

For example, during World War II, MI6 made a special Monopoly for POWs held by the Nazis. It had maps and compasses and real money hidden inside to help with escape attempts. Wow! And Neiman Marcus once sold a completely chocolate Monopoly – even chocolate money and deeds – for $600.

You can really go down an Internet rabbit hole about Monopoly: “speed dies” and documentaries, world championships and strategic analyses of which properties to buy. Even Monopoly metaphors: Don’t we all know what a “Get Out of Jail Free card” means? Or “Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” It’s part of our language.

I once thought the most drastic change to Monopoly was when I first played with friends and they did that Free Parking jackpot thing: all the tax revenues get put there for the lucky lander. Well, the Free Parking jackpot has nothing on these variations:
  • Collecting $2 million at GO, not $200
  • Airports instead of railroads
  • Houses, hotels – and skyscrapers
  • Buying brands (not properties) 
I guess if you’ve been around since 1935 – not us! – you need a few makeovers now and then. Think of it this way: Monopoly is actually a great Third Third role model, creatively reinventing itself over and over again.

Yes, but the Monopoly my Third Third remembers will always be that Monopoly of my First Third. And yours?


  1. Barbara, Putin speaks of his hard years growing up on a Leningrad estate as what formed his core belief: When facing a fight, throw the first punch.

    Monopoly taught me something like that, too: When facing the neighbourhood champion in what were epic 10-16 hour matches, buy aggressively and seek every advantage. Use guile and strike.

    I changed my strategy as I grew up, but saw many who didn't, living with rules of acquisition & competition learned round that game board. I realised it was an America dream.

    In its small way, Monopoly taught us to be competitive players in life. I'm the kid who eventually became a democratic socialist. Everyone can do well, if we agree taking it all isn't the goal.

  2. I remember there would always be someone who pronounced Reading Railroad like "reed-ing" and I would argue and say it should be pronounced like "red-ding". I still argue with people about pronunciations.

  3. Yup, in England it's pronounced 'red', not 'read'; then add an 'ing as you please. As Barbara informed us, the gameboard was invented here, so start from that -- or not.

    All the world is local, after all, even with the internet.


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