Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Review: Ms. Monopoly

Tonight we cracked open Ms. Monopoly. It had its ups and downs, but was interesting enough to be worth what we paid for it. I probably wouldn't play it again, but I am happy to have tried it.

The box is well designed, with slots to hold the money. At first the new bills stuck together, but were easily freed and performed well after that. The game board is quarter-fold rather than half-fold; aside from cutting across more of the art, this poses no significant issues. The art is quite appealing and the game generally looks good. Considering we got it for $20, this is impressive.

Have you seen complaints that Elizabeth Magie, inventor of The Landlord's Game (original version of Monopoly) didn't get credit? She did. It's inside the box. So if you see that, either the reviewer didn't even open the game, or did not examine it closely. I know a lot of the people ranting about the game are feminists (or misogynists) but folks, please ... at least open the damn thing before throwing your tantrum.

Notably there are several blank cards for the Community Chest and Chance decks. My partner Doug put one on the bottom of each deck that read, "This game has gone on too fucking long. You win!" He did this after they had cycled both decks and the game was still going. That was long after I bailed out of it. I agree that it's an excellent addition, as many games have some sort of inherent time limit. I'm not sure I've ever seen any version of Monopoly played with no house rules.

Yes, I kept wanting to yell "Prosperity!" Who wouldn't?

The tokens are well chosen, but not so well designed: a notebook and pen, a jet, a glass, a watch, a barbell, or Ms. Monopoly's white hat. They're not all similar sizes, which is not inherently an issue, but some of them are difficult to pick up. The glass and watch are easiest to lift, but both tippy. The jet and barbell are relatively easy to pick up, but you have to focus a little. The hat stands tall and doesn't tip, but the roundness makes it a bit of a challenge to grip. The notebook is downright difficult to pick up unless you have fingernails, because it's flat; but if you put it facedown it's not flat and you can grab the edge better. Note that my dexterity is quite good, which means anyone with dexterity issues -- including young children -- is probably screwed. For anyone with dexterity issues, I recommend replacing the furnished tokens with whatever you find easier to grasp. Small metal figurines would be thematic, but jumbo pawns are fine too. For those of you with different cape politics, feel free to add a gray hat and a black one.

Of course, before we could play the game, we had to have the discussion that I mentioned as soon as I saw the thing: what is the house rule for gender-variant people? The whole thing is designed in gender binary, which plays a major role in game mechanics. The options include:

Play the game as written in gender binary:
* sorted by crotch shape
* sorted by sex guessed at birth
* sorted by presentation
* sorted by scientifically read chromosomes.

Change the binary to "men" and "nonmen." Transfolk, enbies, etc. get paid the same higher rates as women.

Change the game from binary to trinary: women, genderqueer, men. Conveniently the numbers split evenly to a middle point. Women start the game with $1,900, genderqueer with $1,700, and men with $1,500. When passing Go, women collect $240, genderqueer $220, and men receive $200.

We decided to set our house rule as trinary. Other people may prefer a different option, which is fine, but I recommend that you settle it in advance and openly, rather than assume everyone is binary. We did not get around to addressing the issue of divergent values in some of the cards (e.g. men get rewarded for supporting women). For reference, the players spanned the categories of woman, man, and genderqueer.

We all enjoyed the properties as women's inventions, and we read off the details on the deed cards. Some of us already knew some of the inventors and inventions -- including details not printed on the cards. \o/ Amusingly, I as the gender scholar was not the only person adding to the notes. Other people drew from their own spheres of expertise. We did agree that a majority of the inventions were quintessentially feminine: things that men would be unlikely to have cared enough about to bother inventing, like leakproof diapers. This makes the game very useful for exploring lived experience and worldview as influences on career and creativity. Do men and women (and other sex/gender identities) think differently? Discuss. I would bet that in societies that broadly support 3+ genders, the different roles would produce another cluster of inventions. It makes me wonder, for example, how many shamanic tools and techniques were invented by genderqueer people.

The game play itself is often frustrating. This is a feature, not a bug! The Landlord's Game, on which Monopoly is based, is fundamentally designed to show how obnoxious a system capitalism is. An interesting discussion is here. Attempts to "fix" this, while popular, actually go against its original goals. In this regard, the economic imbalance of Ms. Monopoly and its illuminating aspects reflect directly on the original.

There are rule changes compared to standard Monopoly, whatever the hell version it's on by now, so do read the rules carefully. I found the random factor of the utility bills interesting -- and certainly accurate in today's energy market.

I haven't been a fan of Monopoly in general since I was little and ran my own experiments trying to make it more playable. It's a long-ass game with a lot of pesky elements. After a considerable amount of time, my butt was going to sleep in the chair, my brain was getting less and less good at math (which I'm not good at in general) due to overuse, and my temper was running out too. So I bailed. This doesn't mean the game is bad, necessarily, but you need a long attention span, a good head for numbers, and preferably a comfy chair to really enjoy it.

My playmates who actually finished out the game reported that it has a different end condition than standard Monopoly, which ends when one person bankrupts everyone else. This version ends when the last property gets sold. That means more players will tend to end it faster.

My partner Doug, who is much better at math, thought that the rules of Ms. Monopoly would not facilitate the original endgame on account of the rents being too low. I had been thinking that the ways of losing money greatly exceeded the ways of making money, and that it was imbalanced in the opposite direction. The exact solution of this argument lies in a great deal of complicated game-design math and whether or not you adhere to the original goal or would prefer a game that is more equitable and thus more fun to play.

So as a game, I consider Ms. Monopoly more a collector's piece than a family game. But as a discussion starter, it's fantastic. Gender scholars and hobbyists should at least give it a look. Monopoly fans will probably get a kick out of it. Try not to start a fight with it: the gender dynamics in this version are already doing that all over the internet. Though to be fair, standard Monopoly starts a different set of fights pretty often too. Ya pays ya money, ya takes ya chances.
Tags: economics, entertainment, gaming, gender studies, review
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