Since it first hit store shelves in 1935, the board game Monopoly has sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. Over five billion little green houses have been produced. Over a billion people across the world have played the game. And the longest game every played went on for seventy straight days. The ubiquity of Monopoly need not be debated. Yet, despite its worldwide reach there is much about the game that is not widely known. The following are four interesting facts that you might not have known about the classic board game, as well as four proven strategies that will help you win the next time you play.
1. An Anti-Monopolist Created the Game
James Magie was a newspaper publisher who traveled with Abraham Lincoln around Illinois in the late 1850’s. The year after Lincoln was assassinated, Magie had a daughter named Elizabeth. “Lizzie” as she came to be known was very much her father’s daughter, which is to say she was outspoken and political. Much like her father she subscribed to the Progressive Era beliefs of economist Henry George. George’s book Progress and Poverty is an American Economic classic that expounds an anti-monopolist point of view. George discovered that where technological progress occurred poverty became more widespread. A town gets a railroad station, and suddenly it becomes more expensive to live there. Rents increase with progress.
Lizzie Magie incorporated her Georgist Economic beliefs in a board game she invented in 1903 called “The Landlord’s Game.” There were two different sets of rules for the game. One where players tried to gain total control of all the property and money in order to defeat their opponent(s), and the other where the players are ALL rewarded whenever wealth is created. Magie was trying to show the evils of the former and the benefits of the latter. The former, however, is the one that caught on. That is to say, the first set of rules is essentially the same rules as the game Monopoly we know today.
Unfortunately for Magie, even though her game was patented, she never received the credit she deserved for her invention. She spent more to make the game than she ever earned for it. A man named Charles Darrow was credited with inventing the game Monopoly in 1933. And Darrow sold his “invention” to the Parker Brothers in 1935.
2. The Parker Brothers Originally Rejected the Game
The Parker Brother’s originally rejected the game. They told Darrow that the game was much too long and complex. Nevertheless local popularity of the game began to sway the game makers’ opinion in the other direction. The Parker Brothers made a deal with Darrow in 1935 and at that time more than 35,000 copies were being played each week. Monopoly originally sold for $2, which today is equivalent to about $25. Today it sells for about $35. So, as one might have predicted, Monopoly is more expensive today than it was 85 years ago (by nearly 30 percent ~ if we are counting).
3. The Monopoly Man Was Real
The Monopoly man is based on a real person. In the late 19th and early 20th century, this man was without a doubt the king of the capitalists. So much so in fact that when he died Wall Street closed down for two hours in order to pay respects as his body passed through the city. The Monopoly man was based on (none other than) J.P. Morgan. The resemblance is obvious. Morgan ran railroads, spearheaded General Electric, and saved the American economy from the brink of disaster during the panic of 1907.
What did Morgan say when asked about monopolies? “I like a little competition.” The emphasis is definitely on the word “little.”
4. The Street Names Are Based On Atlantic City
Although you might have played one of the thousands of licensed Monopoly versions, in which the streets are named after places and things associated with that particular game version’s theme. The spaces on the original Monopoly board are named after real places in Atlantic City. People in that area are very proud of the game’s heritage. So much so in fact that when the Commissioner of Public Works in Atlantic City wanted to change the names of Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue the public stopped him.
It is now time to shift our focus from interesting Monopoly facts to proven strategies for winning the game.
1. Buy Railroads
As J.P. Morgan understood, railroads are the key. On average there is a 64 percent chance of you landing on at least one railroad every time you go around the board. Therefore, if you can buy these properties first (increasing the rent with the quantity) then you can rest assured that more often than not your opponent will be owing you money each time around the board.
2. Don’t Buy Hotels
According to a Monopoly champion, you should not buy hotels. The reason is two fold. First, the increase in rent collected versus the amount spent to upgrade to hotel is often not financially worth it. The second (and more important) reason for never upgrading to hotels is that buying up all the green houses in the game leaves your opponent with fewer houses to use against you.
3. Buy Red Spaces
By understanding the most landed on spots on the Monopoly board, you can use the odds in your favor. The most landed on property on the entire board is Illinois Avenue. After Illinois Avenue, B&O Railroad and New York Avenue are next. We have already discussed the likelihood of the former when we discussed the railroad probability, but as for the latter: two main factors raise the likelihood of landing on New York Avenue. People rolling a nine coming out of prison, and a "Go Back Three Spaces" Chance card. So by understanding these odds, you can rest assured that your investment in the red (and orange) spaces is financially and statistically sound.
4. Go To Jail
The fourth winning strategy is to go to jail. This one may sound difficult, but the odds are heavily in your favor. Illinois Avenue is the most landed on property in the game but in jail is the most common spot in the game. At the end of the game, it is best to go to jail if you can. And do your best to avoid the three ways of getting yourself out: paying $50, rolling doubles, or using a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. By staying in jail later in the game, you avoid possibly landing on your opponent’s properties, while at the same time you are able to collect rent when they land on yours. After three turns, however, you will be forced to pay $50 to get yourself out of prison, but sometimes those three turns are enough to change the momentum of the game.
The game Monopoly has been around for over 85 years (or over 100 years if we consider Magie’s "Landlord’s Game" as the original version – as we should.) One must understand that the age of J.P. Morgan was also the age of antitrust laws. It was the Progressive Era, and along with much social change, a renewed fight against large corporations was underway. In this way, one can see that Magie, a follower of economist Henry George, was of the same mindset as the likes of Teddy Roosevelt. She, too, had a trust-busting, anti-monopolist mentality.
The point of Monopoly is obvious: by the end of the game one person has everything, and everyone else has nothing.
The game is meant to be a lesson to us all.