Is there any game that brings a more negative reaction from seasoned fans of German games than Monopoly? Monopoly is, in many ways, the poster child for all that is wrong with American games—it's long, has a high dose of luck, and involves no decisions in movement. But at the same time, the game can shine, when played according to the rules; good trading can make up for much luck. While today's gamer may not see this appeal, to those who are aware of the games of the early twentieth century Monopoly stands out much more readily. And, unlike The Settlers of Catan or Euphrat & Tigris, Monopoly has decades of study, legends, and myth behind it. The Monopoly Book, The Monopoly Companion, and Monopoly, The Story Behind The World's Best-Selling Game collectively compile a great deal of this information into three very different books.
The Monopoly Book is the oldest of the books, and is divided into three primary sections. Monopolia Curiosa is probably the most interesting of the sections. Starting with a retelling of the Charles Darrow myth, it also details a plan to eliminate Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues from Atlantic City that nearly went through in 1973, various Monopoly records, and international editions. Understanding the Rules, the second section, is rather more mundane, providing a detailed explanation of the rules. The standard variations are listed at the end, and a warning is given about the potential negative effects of these variants, but no specific problems—such as the game lasting forever—are given. The Strategy and Tactics section was rather interesting when I first read it, many years ago, but seems rather dated now. Still, it's worth reading, and unlike some analysis-heavy advice, is a good read. The epilogue, How to Deal with Tantrums, is a rather bizarre postscript to the book. I suppose the book was written a couple of decades too early to suggest playing Settlers instead...
The Monopoly Companion kicks off with a correction of the Darrow myth, describing the history of The Landlord's Game. After a quick trip through the rules, the third chapter describes the properties on the board, both in terms of their strategic values and their place in Atlantic City. The strategy tips offered in the fourth chapter expand upon some of the better ideas in The Monopoly Book. Perhaps the single most interesting chapter is the fifth, A Monopoly Party - and Some New Ways to Play, offering a suggestion for an interesting mid-game situation for players to start in, as well as recipes for Monopoly-themed foods. The remainder of the book tends to be rather more pedestrian, covering such matters as tournaments, a planned computerized home version, and a quiz covering the earlier material.
Finally, Monopoly, the Story Behind the World's Best-Selling Game takes on the Monopoly legend in an entirely different fashion, focusing primarily on Atlantic City. The history of the game that opens the book is actually the most complete history of the game in any of the books, providing details behind the transformation of The Landlord's Game into Monopoly, and Darrow's role. Of particular interest are photographs of Darrow's editions of the game, and an ad from F.A.O. Schwarz for a pre-Parker Brothers edition. The remainder of the book is a history of those sections of Atlantic City represented in Monopoly. Property group by property group, the history of the city is described, with a large number of classic photographs and postcards included.
Each of these three books on Monopoly has something to recommend it. The Monopoly Book and The Monopoly Companion cover largely the same territory, and as such aren't both necessary save for the serious fan of the game; The Monopoly Companion is more up-to-date, and therefore the better choice for the casual fan. Monopoly, the Story Behind the World's Best-Selling Game is also recommended for those who love the game, but also for those who would enjoy reading of the history—particularly the early history—of Atlantic City.
- Joe Huber