Friday, 15 November 2013

What to play instead of........Monopoly?

In this series of posts, I will take a look at some 'family favourite' games, and look at modern boardgames that you might want to play instead.

This has been inspired by Scott Nicholson, who produced a video which broke Monopoly into it's component parts, and suggested some games that use that particular aspect of Monopoly, but in more interesting ways. My list however will focus on games that are playable by young children.

Now why is this list important? Well, I've made my dislike of Monopoly clear (see my earlier blog post for details), but it goes slightly deeper than that. Monopoly was first developed in 1903 (when it was called The Landlord's Game) so it is now over 100 years old. Isn't it about time we explored more modern games? There have been some incredible advances in gaming design over the intervening years, but yet most people ignore that and stick with Monopoly.

Odd isn't it? I mean we don't ignore advances in music over the past 100 years do we? People aren't just listening to the early work of Al Jolson for example. For all the fault with modern pop (and without wanting to sound too much like my dad....) just think of the songs and artists you wouldn't have experienced. The Beatles, Elvis, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Queen, to name a few.

Now, do the same exercise with books, or with movies. No Gone with the Wind, Catcher in the Rye, Star Wars, Toy Story, Lord of the Rings and so on. Not many people would suggest that they are happy just reading Jane Austen novels, and ignore anything written after 1900, so why do we limit ourselves when it comes to games?

Anyway enough of the preamble and justification. Here are some games to look into if there are certain aspects of Monopoly you enjoy.

I really enjoy rolling a dice and moving!
'Roll and Move' is one of the simplest game mechanics out there and is usually derided by modern gamers. The reason being is that it takes your choice and decision making away. In Monopoly, you roll your dice and you move that number of spaces along the track.
However, it's an elegant, easy to understand mechanic, so it definitely appeals to some people. If only there was a way to make it more interesting. If only there was a game that young children could play which took this mechanic and still provided some opportunity for quality decision making.

Step forward, Formula D - a motor racing game that uses roll and move in an interesting way. The board features a typical track, split into spaces, and it features dice. So far, no difference. However, the dice are where the game shines. There are different sized dice depending on what gear your car is in. D4 for first gear, D6 for second gear, all the way up to .....for sixth gear. You can shift up or down one gear per turn without taking damage. Simple the - just shift up as far as possible, and roll the big dice, right?
Well, no, it's not that simple. Like most racing tracks, the board feature corners, and each corner has a number by it. Each player has to stop in the corner as many times as indicated by the number - therefore like real racing you cannot just keep speeding as quickly as possible (rolling the biggest dice).
Each turn then turns into an interesting decision - do you push your luck and stay in the higher gears, or play it safe, chose the smaller dice, but lose time getting back up to speed.
A great game for children, and it plays up to 10 players - perfect for birthday parties and family gatherings!
An example of a corner - players need to stop at least once!

I really enjoy collecting sets of things!
Set collection features in so many games, there's is a veritable feast of games to pick from here.
Ticket to Ride is worth looking into (see detailed review here:) A player needs to collect sets of cards in order to claim sections of the track, which will gain the player victory points.
Forbidden Island is another great co-operative game to play with young children. In it, players need to collect sets of treasure cards to be able to collect the four treasures in the game. It has a short play time, limited text and is a game that should be in every family's collection.
The cards in Forbidden Island

I enjoy crushing others!
So the main part of Monopoly is beating others - forcing them into bankruptcy and removing them from the game. This can be a difficult mechanic to deal with in a family environment, particularly when young children are involved, as not many people like destroying children.
However there is one family game that is just plain mean - and yet remains a really fun game in a family environment.
In Survive! Escape From Atlantis each player has 10 meeples that they place on the board - the board is made up of individual hexagonal tiles that are of three different thickness's. The coast tiles are the thinnest, than the forest tiles and finally the thick mountain tiles. A player's turn consists of 3 actions. Firstly they can spend three movement points, divided amongst their meeples as desired. Secondly they remove a tile from the board (simulating the sinking island), dumping any meeples that are on that tile into the sea. Finally they roll the dice and move a sea creature as directed. The object of the game is to try and get as many of your meeples safely to the mainland, whilst trying to get your opponents meeples eaten by the sharks or sea monsters. Definitely a worthy addition to any family's collection, it can be played by children as young as five, and still be enjoyed by adults.
It's not looking promising for the Yellows....

I like Trading!
Trading is a difficult mechanic for young children, as often they aren't really sure on the relative value of things. However there is an inexpensive game that you may wish to consider if it's the trading aspect that you really enjoy - and that is Jaipur. Jaipur is a game that has a trading theme, and there's also an element of trading, although you actually trade with the game, rather than the other player.
In Jaipur, the aim of the game is to become the Maharajah's personal trader, and you do this by having the most points at the end of the game. Each player has a hand of cards, and there is the marketplace in the middle, made up of 5 face up cards. On their turn a player can swap cards in their hand with cards from the marketplace, to try and get sets of goods that are worth more points. Because there are strict rules about how you trade, this is one of the more accessible trading games, so would be my recommendation for young children - although for this game I would probably not play with children under the age of 7 or so.
Note: this is a two-player game only, so not perfect for all family's, but it plays quickly enough that you could take turns playing.

I love the Auctions!
Like Trading, Auctions is another mechanic that doesn't really suit children, for much the same reason - children find it hard to value the worth of goods, and therefore auctions are a bit beyond them (we all know what happened when Jack took the cow to market....)
So, I've had to cheat a bit for this category, and will recommend SmallWorld. I will do a detailed review of this game soon, as my son really enjoys it, but the brief overview is as follows. SmallWorld is a game of map conquest, much like Risk - however unlike Risk a player is never eliminated, instead at any point they can chose a new race and come back onto the board.
Each player chooses a race and power combination face up from the offering, and this is the part of the game that is similar to an auction. The first player chooses first - they can take the top race / power combination for free - alternatively they can put a coin on that option and go to the next choice. Now they can take the second choice, or put another coin on that one and go to the third choice.
In this way, players give up coins in order to take more 'powerful' combinations - but as the game progresses these weaker options are worth taking as they have more and more coins put onto them.
So, it's not an auction in the true sense of the word, but it has the same idea of "how much is this worth to me" that players need to consider.
The 'auction' part is on the left

So hopefully that gives you an idea of modern game to play that provide certain aspects of Monopoly, but in a far more interesting and entertaining way.

If there are any games I've missed that could fit into these categories, I'd be interested in hearing about them


  1. Hi Neil, nice post :)

    The first game that came to mind for the trading category was Settlers of Catan. Although there are still value judgements to be made, I feel these are often easier than in Jaipur due to there being less hidden information involved (Jaipur is almost a total hidden-information game).
    The value of certain resources is also subject to less situational change than in Jaipur (a brick is always 1/4 of the way of a settlement, whereas in certain circumstances in Jaipur a goods card can be worth nothing).
    Finally, since offers and counter-offers are made openly, trading partners and other players can assist with those value judgements.
    Having said all that, Jaipur is still an excellent game. Possibly my favourite heads-up quick card game, and one I very much hope to introduce to my family in the future.

  2. The reasons I didn't pick Catan:

    1) it's fairly mainstream now and I'm trying to point people towards games they may not be familiar with.

    2) You trade with other players, and not convinced that works well with children.

    3) it works best with 4 players

    4) I don't enjoy it :-)

    But thanks for the comments, you make a good argument fir Catan

  3. No problem, always happy to contribute :)