Looking Outward (Freestyle): The New Monopoly

by sbisker @ 11:52 pm 8 February 2010

So, for publicity (the 75th anniversary of Monopoly), Parker Brothers has come out with a new version of Monopoly.

And for the first time ever, for unknown reasons (publicity I assume), it’s round.

It never occurred to me that the Monopoly game board *could* still be played if projected onto a circle. So much of my mental model about that game feels tied to the square. “I can’t find St. Charles, which side is that on?” “That’s the expensive side.” “That’s the side with the Luxury Tax.” “Oh I hate going through this section.”
But when I really think about it (and clearly Parker Brothers realized this too), the groupings that come from what’s on what edge of a square are not part of any of the rules at all. No rules or cards that I can think of ever explicitly refer to the board being square; it is totally possible to play this exact same game on a round board. However, the square shape was reinforced by the placement of special items on the corners and having one railroad on each side. In the new design, they try to maintain that “four anchors” metaphor by making the four special squares larger wedges at 90 degrees from each other – but the circle shape winds up making the four special “wedges” just look sort of arbitrary.

I bring this up because the mere existence of this new version gives me a chance to totally reconsider my mental model of this game, and figure out just how much of the game’s “feel” is structured around the physical shape of the board itself, as opposed to the rules. At least for me, quite a bit of the game’s *experience* is tied to its shape – even though in terms of strict game theory, it’s the exact same game with the exact same optimal strategies. And yet, we’re all human, imperfect economic actors – so I suspect people would unconsciously play with different strategies on a round board than on a square one, despite there being absolutely no reason to. I assume Parker Brothers is smart enough to know that this is just an interesting thought experiment they have here, and is still planning on producing square versions in the future.

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