Let’s face it – most of us are never going to be filthy rich. Most of us are never going to wheel and deal and build a gigantic real estate empire filled with hotels, railroads and entire city blocks. And yet, just about every person in the civilized world has an inkling into what it might feel like for there are few among us who have never spent a few hours feeling like a big shot.
We watched sweat form on the brow of our friends and family members as they picked up the dice and said a silent prayer, hoping that they might skip over Boardwalk and Park Place with those imposing little red hotels and land safely on Go – all the while, dreaming of how rich we were going to be if their number didn’t come up, if they had to start frantically start mortgaging everything in the hopes of a comeback. Such is the allure of Monopoly, a game that has been a favorite among all walks of life for over 70 years.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Monopoly was invented during the Depression of the 1930s. A man named Charles Darrow, living in Germantown, PA, was struggling to get by, scared and unemployed like many of his fellow citizens. To pass the time, he started toying with an idea for a board game that could make anyone feel successful. He devised a series of cards that represented the streets of his youth and started showing the game to his friends who loved it. From there, he was able to get the game placed in a few local department stores and was surprised to learn that they were selling. Apparently, his friends weren’t the only ones intrigued by the game.
Sensing that he was on to something, he approached the folks at Parker Brothers with his board game in 1934. Although they claimed to have an interest in the game, they had numerous reservations. First of all, they didn’t like the fact that the game didn’t have a well-determined end point. They also didn’t think that the public would be interested in a game that could take hours to play. As far as they were concerned, the average attention span for a game was somewhere around 45 minutes. Undaunted, Darrow set out to prove them wrong, pushing the game to as many stores as possible, including the famed F.A.O, Schwartz toy store in New York City. Parker Brothers paid attention to the growing popularity of the game and eventually bought the rights from Darrow. The future royalty checks would make him an extremely wealthy man.
And today, the game has sold well over 250 million copies and been played by an estimated 750 million people, making it the most successful board game of all time. Countless custom versions of the game are now marketed, including some that replace the street names with those from another locale such as London or Hollywood, and others that are themed to entities such as The Simpsons, Coca-Cola, Disney and Star Wars. There’s even a set made out of solid gold:
These aren’t the only variations to the game of Monopoly. There are also the rules. While every game contains a sheet with the official rules, they are rarely followed. In fact, one of the first thing to be discussed when people are playing a game together for the first time is which rules they are going to agree upon – the “house rules.” Do you put money in free parking? The rules say no but most people like to make things more interesting. Everyone knows that you earn $200 when you pass “Go” but what if you land directly on it? For some, that feat is worthy of a little more cash. Do you travel all the way around the board once before you can buy property? Some do and some don’t. Some only allow houses and hotels to be built when the owner lands on one of the spaces of the property he wants to build from. The variations are endless, and in some cases, quite elaborate. And now that the game has moved into the realm of computer games, many of these house rules are optionally available, thanks to their popularity.
The ability to personalize the game has certainly helped to keep Monopoly successful over the years, but really, the reason it remains a top-seller is the same reason that made it popular in the 1930’s. It’s the escapism it provides, the change to feel like Donald Trump for an evening. And perhaps, most importantly, It is one of the few opportunities that a kid can have his parents or older siblings beg for a little mercy, a little leniency “just this once”. And that’s a mighty nice feeling to have.
At Retroland, we want to hear about your own Monopoly experiences. Tell us about the special rules that you and your peers have concocted, the marathon games you’ve endured, and anything else you would like to share about this iconic game in our comments section – as we tip our hats to a true classic.