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Board games have come a long way since Monopoly

Board games have come a long way since Monopoly

Board games have come a long way since Monopoly
October 21
02:00 2021

The childhood memory of slogging through a game of Monopoly has instilled in many of us a sharp aversion to board games in general. They are often seen as a relic of the 20th century, something to be replaced by video games and the internet. We don’t understand how scraps of cardboard and plastic can provide a fun way to engage with ourselves and our friends.

In reality, the 2010s have seen a true renaissance in board gaming. Countless new titles are being pitched, funded and produced every single day. In 2018, the tabletop industry had an estimated value of more than $12 billion, according to a study by Grand View Research. That number is predicted to surpass $21 billion by 2025. Asmodee, one of the largest publishers of tabletop games, has acquired 21 subsidiary studios. Smaller, independent designers dot the kickstarter landscape with fresh, new ideas.

To explain how board games have gotten so entertaining, it is important to examine why they used to be bad. Despite being a staple of American culture since its 1935 debut, Monopoly serves as a notorious example of terrible design. For players, the decision space is nearly nonexistent. In theory, you have to decide whether you want to buy the property you just landed on or not. In practice, however, the auction rule removes even that one question, forcing players to gobble up every property they can possibly afford, lest someone else swoops in on it for a steal.

Your fate is ultimately in the hands of the unforgiving dice. Going to jail is not a mistake you could have avoided — it was just an unfortunate roll of the bones. You were only one space away from that property you desperately needed, but now must pay the richest player another $700? Too bad, roll better next time. This is not fun. This is Monopoly.

Of course, not all board games need to be serious bouts of wit and strategy. Silly games of chance can be perfectly entertaining as well, provided they do not require a large investment. Many lightweight games can wrap up within 30 minutes to an hour, while Monopoly has the audacity to stretch into the three-hour mark. Even Yahtzee! manages to provide meaningful choice to players, despite being a dice-based game of chance. Monopoly unfortunately demands way too much for way too little.

Instead, players are better off choosing a more fleshed-out game to play. If you feel indignant at my harsh treatment of Monopoly, check out games like Catan, Chinatown or For Sale. These titles expand on the idea of buying and trading property/resources in a way that actually feels fair and rewarding to the players. To those who also wake up screaming from Monopoly-induced night terrors, rejoice that we live in a time of such great opportunity.

Board games now run the gambit from heavyweight epics like Scythe and Twilight Imperium, which emphasize careful planning and tactics, down to simple games of dexterity like Kabuto Sumo, in which players push little wooden discs around to simulate a sumo match between beetles. Don’t like the feeling of demolishing your friends? Try a cooperative game like Pandemic! Solitaire games such as Hostage Negotiator also offer an almost meditative, puzzle-like experience one can complete by themselves. 

Designers are constantly exploring new concepts, themes and mechanics in order to ensure there is something for everyone. If you are interested in board gaming, but unsure where to start, there are plenty of resources available to you. Whole internet communities have now cropped up, dedicating themselves to compiling and ranking the ever-growing lists of titles. YouTubers regularly pull hundreds of thousands of viewers to their reviews and playthroughs. Despite the rough start, board gaming has never been this big, and it is only growing bigger! Check out BoardGameGeek.com or Shut Up & Sit Down’s YouTube channel to find the perfect game for you, and see how fun it can truly be.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Tanner Woods

Tanner Woods

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