Unfair Monopoly

by | Oct 24, 2023 | Artwork #2: Appropriate

^ The initial setup of the game

^ The board after a short and quick playthrough

Unfair Monopoly is a version of Monopoly with modified rules:

  • The player order is decided by a dice roll. (Highest roll = Player 1)
  • Player 1 starts with $5000, Player 2 and 3 start with $500, and Player 4 starts with $2.
  • Player 1 starts off owning every property on 2 sides of the board (of their choice).
  • Players 2 and 3 start off owning 1 property of their choice.
  • Player 1 starts off with 20 houses of their choice (5 houses can become a hotel).
  • Players 2 and 3 start off with 1 house of their choice.
  • Player 1 “has connections” and so can get a new property for free every turn.

I’ve always thought it was interesting how much some people hate Monopoly. I’ve always enjoyed it, but it feels like you can’t bring it up without getting some groans. I think that’s for a few reasons (its length, the jail system, the fact it keeps on going after the winner is almost guaranteed…), but ultimately, all these issues–to some extent–derive from the fact that losing at this game is painful. It’s awful to have almost no spaces, and almost no money, and just sit by as you spiral into bankruptcy. The thing is, this is–in a way–the most “realistic” aspect of the game. When you’re subject to the will of much richer, more powerful players, there are few tools at your disposal to recover from that. The fact that the original version of Monopoly was created as a statement (rather than being a game for the sake of a game) says it all.

Because of that, I figured it’d be fun to ramp up the most frustrating–and most realistic–aspects of the game. What if, instead of starting off on equal footing, the characters were split into classes (Player 1 being upper-class, Players 2 and 3 being the middle class, and Player 4 being poor)? Additionally, what if Player 1–on top of having far more property and money than anyone else–also had “connections” which let them gain properties without doing any work or spending any money? That’s realistic, too. Ultimately, these changes make the game nearly unplayable, especially for Player 4, but really for anyone who isn’t Player 1.

Making this game was a weirdly cathartic experience, despite how frustrating and hopeless it’s built to be. I think that’s because I’ve always been annoyed in particular by the concept of “connections” in getting people up corporate ladders, whether or not they have the skill/ability to warrant reaching the top. Because of that, it was satisfying to “vent” about it through this game.

In a way, this game’s style of appropriation derives from the way Dada artists took pictures and corrupted/distorted them to convey the violence of World War I and the shifting of culture in the early 1900s. In the same way their collages would cut up and combine their original photos in uncanny ways, this game takes Monopoly and distorts it into something unpleasant but realistic, while being fascinating in its own way.

The core of this game has generally stayed the same throughout development, but a couple things have changed. First, Player 1 used to select 20 separate properties at the start, but that dragged on for a while during the first playtest, so now they simply select 2 full sides of the board to own. Additionally, the game now uses a proper Monopoly board (with slight visual modifications) instead of a printed piece of paper, which was originally used for proving the concept.

Ultimately, I hope this game can serve as a quirky conversation starter for people who love, or hate, the Monopoly game we’re all familiar with.