Few board games are as divisive as Monopoly. It’s a game loved by winners, and hated by losers. The “fast-dealing property trading game”, which has sold more more than 250 million sets, typically leaves one winner claiming victory, and several others skulking away in frustration.
In recent years manufacturer Hasbro has created dozens of new iterations and spinoffs. The game also has a long history with South Africa - the first localised version of the game appeared sometime in the 1980s. It featured streets in Durban, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, and Johannesburg.
Newer commercialised versions in South Africa have done away with traditional street names, and instead feature tourist attractions and other corporate establishments. Perhaps ironically, Cape Town’s top tourist attractions and businesses appear to have banded together to scoop several of the prime spots on the board.
The game revolves around the throw of dice, and is largely one of luck. Players move the number they throw, and if the property they land on is owned by another player they must pay up. Chance and Community Chest cards, which reward or fine players, add another element of unpredictability into the mix.
The chance factor means there’s no surefire way to win every game. But if you take your capitalism seriously and are hellbent on winning, the are some strategies you can employ to give you an edge.
Buy the transport blocks
Most studies suggest buying what on many versions around the world are the railway stations. Understandably these are seldom all railway stations in South African versions. Instead, the new local versions they are a mix of airports, harbours, train stations, rickshaws, and, suspiciously, a City Sightseeing bus.
One comprehensive online study suggests that although buying these won’t make you millions, they are a reliable source of decent income.
These transport blocks are particularly good investments if you own all four, when the payout increases. And if you can only buy one, it’ll serve as a good way to block or bargain with the others who own more.
Aim for the oranges
The original gamers in South Africa may remember that the orange squares belonged to Bloemfontein, and included President Brand Street, Hoffmann Square, and Voortrekker Road.
On the modern Cape Town, Durban and South Africa boards these squares were snapped up by various businesses. They include places like Table Mountain Cableway, Kirstenbosch, Pavilion Shopping Centre and Ushaka.
It’s not much of a secret that these orange properties are the best money spinners in Monopoly. With jail the most visited square on the board, and the orange properties just one roll away, they’re hot property. Statistically, jail leavers will land on them 35% of the time.
If you can get a monopoly of the oranges and build houses on them early on, the odds of making some cash are in your favour.
If you buy one hotel, make it red
Aside from jail, the third red property on the board is the one most players will land on in the course of a game.
In the American version of the game this is Illinois Avenue. In South Africa, it’s Chapman’s Peak, Durban ICC, or Vilakazi Street.
If you’re able to buy all three, and develop a hotel on this square, you’ll generate more returns on your investment than anywhere else with a hotel, other than the lavish blue square adjacent to Begin.
If you skip one property, make it brown
There are a few reasons to snap up the budget properties. It is Groot Constantia on the Cape Town version after all. But if you’re after the best return on your investment rather than showing solidarity with the country’s oldest wine estate, calculations suggests you’re better off skipping the very first property on the board.
If you happen to own both the cheap properties then you’ll be slightly better off. If you want to see any kind of return similar to the higher priced properties, though, you’ll need to invest a lot in houses and hotels.
Spend your cash and build three houses
Even if you don’t land on the prime properties like the oranges, or you can’t get your own monopoly going, experts suggest buying up as many properties as you possibly can.
The quickest way to make money, and bankrupt your fellow competitors, is to snap up a row of streets and start building away.
The golden number of houses to build is three - there’s a big jump between the rent required for two and three houses. Building three houses is also usually a better investment than forking up for a hotel.
Buy to block
If you’re not able to snap up three properties and start building houses, you might need to change tack. Although it’s not a great strategy to buy individual properties, they might block another player’s monopoly, or serve as a decent bargaining chip.
Use cheap properties to create a housing shortage
Don’t despair if all that you land on, or can afford, are the cheap properties.
One of the most popular defensive strategies you can employ is to scoop up all the properties on the cheaper land, and build four houses on each.
Stop short of converting these to hotels, and you’ll create a housing shortage that’ll keep your better-propertied competitors from causing pain with their own housing developments.
Take a breather in jail
Your goal early on should be to get yourself out there and snap up properties. If you land up in jail during the first few rounds, then fork up for the bail money and get back out there.
As the board gets congested, though, a trip to jail might just be the lucky break that you need. One study of some 32 billion dice rolls shows that if you have to go directly to jail you’re better off feigning annoyance, and then savouring the three risk-free rolls while behind bars.
Monopoly is a game notorious for family feuds. If you want to take it a few steps further, some players suggest employing a range of dark tactics.
They moot suggestions like choosing the smallest playing pieces to go undetected, electing to play banker to pocket the odd bonus, and remaining quiet when landing on another’s property. But most dismiss these as cynical tricks, and are a surefire way to create even bigger rifts.
As Harper's Magazine pointed out in 2012, the game actually has its roots in trying to spread word of the evils of landlords and monopolies. So to that end, perhaps the best way to play Monopoly is to ignore playing to a desperate strategy that’ll have you become the resented oligarch, and instead find solace in being a player of the people. Or in Monopoly terms, the losers.
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