I'm not sure if it's just me but it certainly seems that there's been a deluge of themed Monopoly games released these last few years. Star Wars, Harley Davidson and Pokemon to name but a few. Other than new graphics and pieces they offer nothing new and I find it a shame that so much effort is put into these when so many superior games and ideas are virtually unavailable on North American shelves. In the midst of all this come Monopoly: The Card Game which at the very least does offer new gameplay. So what do you get? 60 cards, a stack of money and a short rulebook all in a small box.
Cards come in several varieties:
Property Cards: Just as in the boardgame, there are two or three cards in each of eight colours. Acquiring all of a particular colour is called gaining a monopoly and will score points at the end of a round. Having an incomplete set is worthless.
Houses/Hotels: The mechanic here is rather interesting. All the house cards are marked from 1-4. Houses can be played with any completed monopoly but they must be in order. So a "2" house is worthless until you acquire a "1" house. Likewise you'll need both the "1" & "2" before adding a "3". Getting a hotel requires getting a completed monopoly, a set of "1" through "4" houses and the Hotel card itself. A difficult achievement as there are only two "4" houses and two Hotel cards.
Railroads: Holding two, three or four of these pay off at the end of a round.
Mr. Monopoly: The player who has the most of these at the end of a round gains $1000.
Chance: These cards are wild cards with a twist. They can be used as almost any card in the deck but only to the player who "goes out". If anyone else has these in their hand at the end of a round their entire hand is worthless! So they're powerful but dangerous—a clever mechanism.
Tokens: These count as the value of any of your completed monopolies. Essentially multipliers, they can allow for huge scores.
Go: Every card is worth a straight $200.
The game is fairly straightforward; each player has a hand of ten cards and the goal of a round is to "go out" by having all the cards in your hand organized into monopolies or bonus cards. On a turn a player has three options:
- Draw a card and then discard a card. This discarding is handled a little differently than most games. Each player has a separate discard pile called their "trade pile". This is used in the next option...
- Trade cards. A player can take any of the top cards in his trade pile (ie. his discards), and give them to any other player. He then takes an equal number from that player's trade pile and adds them to his hand. He then discards down to 10 cards. (The other player will thus start her turn with more than 10 cards in hand. This is alright, she'll simply have to discard down to 10 at the end of her turn.)
- Go out. If all your cards are either completed monopolies or bonus cards you may then lay them down declaring "Monopoly!". As a bonus you're allowed to draw five cards from the top of the deck and if they help you, you can use them; if they don't, you simply toss them away. All other players then lay their cards down and score as many points as their hands allow.
So what we have is more or less a rummy variant albeit one with fairly complicated set building rules. (Although they don't actually come across all that complicated due to the familiarity of the Monopoly heritage.) The game proceeds along similar rummy lines, with players quietly taking their turns and seeing if any trades can be made to their advantage. You do want to keep track of what other players are looking for but for the most part you're left playing your own game.
The trading mechanism feels a little overcomplicated and it takes several plays before it becomes second nature. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, the problem is that it feels so non-interactive. The deals are forced so you don't get a feeling that you've actually made a trade or been at all involved with the other player. This is mainly a result of the fact that you rarely know what another player is looking for. Generally you'll try your best to give the other player garbage but you really don't know whether you're helping her or not. Granted there is some scope for strategy and clever play, but not much.
The biggest problem is that your hand is often mostly complete the moment it's dealt. You're given ten cards and the object is to make every card in your hand useful (ie. scoring something either as part of a monopoly or as a bonus). More often than not seven or (so) of these starting cards will be useful so you only need to trade the few remaining worthless ones. Sometimes this can be difficult or challenging but other times it's relatively easy. The feeling one gets is of watching the last few minutes of a race rather than the whole thing. Furthermore, you're often cheated of the sense of accomplishment of a really good hand if it was, well, just handed to you.
Another fault (as I see it) is how the properties and houses pay off. These are lifted straight from the board game values so Mayfair pays $400 but Whitechapel only $50 (I played with the UK set). Each house adds this value again to the total value of that property. The problem is that this means the cheap properties are worth so much less than the expensive ones. "But that's how it is in the board game!" you might say. Yes, but in the board game you pay less for those cheap properties. Here, the cards have no cost per se and so are equally easy (or difficult) to acquire. In practice what ends up happening is that a player who collects the brown properties and four houses (an impressive and difficult feat) is paid only $250 whereas someone who collects the yellow properties alone receives $300.
Finally, (and related to the above point) the scoring system is a little out of whack. Normally you play to $10,000. The top player in each round will often have ~$3,000 and so the game seems artificially short. (In our third game one player managed to score the maximum $10,000 in a single round!) The easiest solution is simply to play to a greater sum. If you enjoy the game and don't mind stretching it out to 2 hours or so this will work wonderful. Unfortunately, if you don't like the game you'll hardly be inclined to make the game even longer.
Now the above might seem as though I didn't enjoy Monopoly: The Card Game but that's not really the case. Yes, it's light and it's true that forming a valuable set is not as satisfying as one might hope but there was a certain enjoyment in playing none-the-less. If nothing else, it evokes feelings of the boardgame quite well and I think it would be very easy to introduce to new gamers. Certainly the familiarity of terms and concepts will make it easier to grasp for newcomers.
Coming up with a final opinion of the game therefore depends a great deal on the audience. For the light family game player I think it works fairly well. As stated the theme is probably an advantage (that is, if you're not totally repulsed by the idea of Monopoly) and it's relatively simple. Despite this there is scope for some strategic play and so won't totally bore the "heavier thinkers". However, there's no way that this should be mistaken for a "gamer's game", if you want an involved trading game, you're better off sticking with Bohnanza. If you're in the mood for a light, casual game, I can recommend Monopoly: The Card Game.
- Greg Aleknevicus