Monopoly's most-hated rule is the best one
July 27, 2011
There’s a rule that most Monopoly players don’t know about, which we remember a cousin telling us about when we were but a wee lad. The rule states that if someone opts not to purchase an available property after landing on it, then it is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Not having ever played with the rule, it came as a shock to us, but once accustomed to it, it becomes immediately evident just how much the rule adds to an otherwise straightforward game. Critical Miss talks about the rule and why early Monopoly players chose not to keep using it, resulting in a Monopoly rule-set passed down verbally that doesn’t even acknowledge the rule’s still right there in the instructions.
We, gamers as we are, might think a game featuring lots of inter-player shafting is superior to one without. But Monopoly is, and always was, played not by gamers, but by families; and inter-player shafting is liable to cause all sorts of upset… Somewhere along the line someone said, “Let’s just leave out that stupid auction rule; we’ll have much more fun that way.” …parents want to play a crippled game of Monopoly because they’re too scared to teach their children how to deal with interpersonal conflict…
It’s a solid theory of why the auction rule vanished from the Monopoly hive-mind, but if it’s accurate, it says a lot more about American parenting and culture than it does about protecting fragile young emotions from the evils of board game strategy. That’s because the kind of inter-player shafting that can result from something like Monopoly’s auction rule is highly prevalent in European board games, which unlike their American counterparts, are based less on chance and more on player skill and strategy. The reason board-game enthusiasts love games like Settlers of Catan, for example, is because European board games almost always have some degree of player interaction, while typical games of Monopoly are mostly about rolling dice hoping to get lucky. There’s no skill in the latter, whereas the former requires haggling, player manipulation, and in most games, a degree of bluffing.
The dumbing down of American board games may make little children less apt to cry because they can quicker learn to understand how chance screwed them versus getting screwed by their own family, but how much of that attitude results in American children growing up with incredibly thin skin? Much like how Europeans don’t put up metal guard rails on the side of every mountain road, European board games don’t coddle their players, and instead teach them how to survive in a world of danger. Even if a few crying sessions happen at an early age due to being screwed out of some play-money in a board game, Nietzsche’s rule is apt, here. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
There’s a difference between protecting our children and teaching them how to survive, let alone teaching them the difference between friendly competition and familial loyalty. Suffice to say, if removing Monopoly’s auction rule was an intentional dumbing down of the game just to keep a bunch of whiny youngsters happy, then it seems we’ve been on a slippery slop of poor parenting for quite a long time, considering the game is over 100 years old.1
It’d be interesting to know when exactly the auction rule fell out of fashion in the 20th century. We suspect it wasn’t in the early years of the game, and probably didn’t happen until sometime in the second-half of the century. ↩