It's hard to find good books about games. I look for them nearly every time I enter a book store, but I'm usually disappointed—particularly if you don't count Bridge books, a significant portion of my collection but of rather limited general interest. So when a book is recommended to me, I tend to listen. Upon reviewing three Monopoly books back in April, John Kaufeld recommended a fourth—The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle. So I tracked down a copy—not a particularly difficult task—and gave it a read.
What I discovered was an interesting book. Unfortunately, it's not the book the author (and designer of Anti-Monopoly) intended to write, but rather a book detailing the history of Monopoly. While some of the history makes it in—enough to support the story Anspach wishes to tell, that of his long struggle with Parker Brothers—it is not an organized collection of all the data he uncovered.
The story of Anspach's struggle with Parker Brothers is, in my opinion, rather dull. He talks about his original Anti-Monopoly game—but gives nothing in the way of details. He talks of people quite a bit, but of so many people and with so little context that it's hard to keep track of the various players. He spends a lot of time on details of the various trials, which I didn't find compelling reading—there's simply not enough going on to really engage the reader. And Anspach comes off as a "typical" game designer—one who is certain he's created the best game ever.
But hidden among this story is an unclear but fascinating attempt at a history of Monopoly—far and away the most interesting element of the book. Anspach only spends about 4 of the 27 chapters in the book on the subject, but they stand out among the rest of the material. The details offered are fascinating—there seems to be more than enough material behind what is included for a full book. But because Anspach's agenda is promoting his Anti-Monopoly game, the history is provided only to the extent necessary to make his point, and allow him to make the necessary allegations about Parker Brothers.
Even the history, however, is marred by being cast primarily using the timeline of its discovery instead of the progress of the game up until the point it reached Parker Brothers. What Anspach does cover is interesting—the ties between The Landlord Game and Monopoly, and the significant steps taken along the way. Some paths are covered only briefly—the use of The Landlord Game as a teaching tool at the University of Pennsylvania would be interesting to hear more about, for instance—and often motivations are presumed, but on the whole the data collected is both fascinating and compelling.
On the whole, I must recommend The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle on the strength of the historical Monopoly data, even though I wouldn't blame a reader in the least for putting the book down when that history has been completed. Anspach has a number of legitimate points, but doesn't come off particularly well as the protagonist even in his own book. When he's suing Parker Brothers or being sued by Parker Brothers or speculating about the writing of the Monopoly Companion, I found it annoying. When he's uncovering history, however, the history carries the book. I would love to see him write a full book on the history of Monopoly—he clearly has enough data for the job, and written with that goal I believe he'd write a superior book.
- Joe Huber