How Monopoly Became a Monopoly

The history of a board game.


I knew that Monopoly—the board game, not the economic concept—had evolved from a game designed to promote the ideas of the 19th-century radical Henry George. Now, thanks to a link in Christopher Ketcham's Harper's feature on the game's history, I've seen this site, featuring photos of the boards used in different versions of the Landlord's Game, as the Georgist version and its early successors were often known. Here's the original, drawn in 1903:

The Landlord's here to visit / They're blasting disco down below
The Landlord's Game

And here's an attractive edition from 1906:


Click through to the site for more boards and for close-up views. And take a look at Ketcham's story, too. The original Landlord's Game was patented, but despite that it evolved freely, with no authority stopping anyone from revising the rules or board to his or her taste. Ketcham explains how the game became the fiercely protected intellectual property of a single company.

Elsewhere in Reason: Nick Gillespie reviews Philip Orbanes' history of the game.

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  1. I call dibs on the race car.

    1. Cannon.

      1. Shoe.

    2. Top Hat.

    3. Dammit, I don’t want to be the thimble again.

      1. They had a battleship in one of the expanded editions.

        1. Too bad I get the battleship.

          1. Damn it.

  2. I wonder how much credit this game deserves for perpetuating the myth that the economy is a zero sum game.

    1. How about the “non-partisan” CBO? Static assumptions; dynamic realities ignored.

    2. The economy in Monopoly isn’t a zero-sum game, though. $200 per turn.

  3. I haven’t followed Monopoly’s evolution. Does the newest version let you ruin a property you own so you can get the set of properties declared blighted so you can force someone owning a neighboring property to sell it to you?

    1. Eminent Domain!

      We have to make that game!

        1. Okay, its a game called Eminent Domain, its theme doesnt match your idea. Which could be a cool game.

      1. Agree, PHOD.

        One of the biggest weaknesses of the liberty movement is that we don’t do a very good job of communicating our ideas in a fashion accessible to average folks. A liberty friendly ED game would go a long way towards that.

        I’ve read downthread and agree that the 2011 Arclight doesnt seem to be very useful for educating people about libertarian ideas.

        1. What is a fashion accessible to average folks?

    2. There is always the dreaded YOU HAVE BEEN ASSESSED community chest card that is often the only hope to derail a front runner with houses on everything

  4. Byran Caplan’s take


    1. Also isn’t there a new varient which has one set of rules if you play the monopolist and another if you play the capitalist.

      1. isn’t there a new variant which has one set of rules if you play the monopolist and another if you play the capitalist

        That sounds like a game called Anti-Monopoly, which Ketcham’s story discusses. It was created in the 1970s and led to a big court battle (and also to my favorite quote in the Harper’s piece, in which Hasbro is accused of using “its monopoly power to monopolize the Monopoly market”).

  5. Netflix has a documentary available. Under the Boardwalk: The MONOPOLY Story

    Saw it a couple of months ago. It’s ok. IIRC it featured a few tournament players and deviated from the history a little too much for my liking.

    1. Thanks for mentioning my film! I’m curious how you think we deviated from the history? Or are you saying that we didn’t cover enough history in the film?

      We certainly do not credit Darrow for being the sole inventor of the game as Hasbro continues to do on their websites.

      1. Wow. I just meant that I liked the historical aspects and the cultural impact segments more than the tournament stuff.

        1. You’re certainly not alone in that. It was a very tough process for us to figure out what we felt was the proper balance between tournament footage and history.

      2. Behold the power of the Google News Alert.

  6. Monopoly is the #8315th ranked game on BoardGameGeek.com.

    So is someone tells you they are a boardgamer, dont make a monopoly comment. Its like assuming a craft beer drinker likes fancy beers, you know, like Bud Light Lime.

    Speaking of which, Ive recently enjoyed “Brass” (currently ranked #8) and Bayerischer Bahnhof Berliner Weisse (no syrup).

    Brass description from bgg.com:

    Your goal in Brass is to build cotton mills, coal mines, iron works, canals, railways, ports, and shipyards, and to have them be used so that they score points. Your choices will be limited by the cards you draw, but not as much as by the plans you make. Lots of interesting detail in the historical Lancashire setting.

    1. That’s only because the popularity of the base version is diluted by all the franchise favorites such as Star Wars Monopoly (8262) and Gay Monopoly (7966).

      1. My friend’s girlfriend got me “Beeropoly” after I got him into homebrewing.

      2. They still all beat out Tic-Tac-Toe (#8331).

        1. That’s because it’s a solved game.

      3. Monopoly is down on the list because Serious Boardgamers tend to look down on anything that they dismiss as “roll and move” … Board game geeks prefer games that reduce the role of luck.

        reason.com types would enjoy games like Medici, Puerto Rico, and my personal favorite, Imperial – where one buys the debt of corrupt 1900’s European monarchies, with the majority shareholder in charge of the country’s army!

        1. Even Ameritrashers dont like Monopoly.

          There are basically 3 large “types” of serious board game players. There are the wargamers, who everyone else looks at weirdly and they hang out by themselves.

          Then there are the eurogamers and the ameritrash. Eurogamers like games in which there is virtually no luck, lots of strategy, everyone is in the game until the end, usually something like Victory Points determines the winner, etc, etc. They deride Ameritrash as luck based.

          Ameritrash gamers like rolling dice and killing off other players and winning by meeting some condition or being last standing. They deride Eurogames as multi-player solitaire.

          I like both, but lean more Euro. But I do like interaction in my euros. I also like games with a high backstabbing factor, which tends to be Ameritrash.

          1. Oh that old debate… I think the most enlightened and successful designs today are skillful blends of both, ie Imperial (fighting armies but with finance, no luck or player elimination) or Twilight Struggle (area control with random cards, some dice)

          2. This reminds me…have to contact my Squad Leader buddy and arrange our game for this weekend.

            1. Squad leader! That leaves the world of board games and into the realm of “lifestyle choice” … ha

        2. Meh. I prefer Go and Scrabble. I have Groovus to thank for teaching me the useful Scrabble word TENESMUS. 🙂

  7. I **HATE** Monopoly and won’t play it.

    It is honestly one of the dumbest board games I have ever encountered with absolutely no element of thought or strategy involved.

    Finding out that Monopoly grew out of Georgism, one of the dumbest economic systems I have ever encountered, does not surprise me in the least.

    If I was going to play an economics based game I’d much rather play Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, or something from the Empire Builder series.

    1. I wouldn’t say there’s no strategy involved, particularly if you have enough people playing that anyone getting a natural monopoly is unlikely. Then it’s about winning the trades. Though if you’re playing with 2 or 3 people it probably comes down to the lucky guy who gets a natural monopoly then (wisely) refuses to trade or sell any thing else.


      *flips gameboard*
      *storms off*


      1. My daughter is 8. She, my son (11) and I all played once. I love getting control of all the railroads (don’t ask me why) and I traded her for the railroad she had (it was a better deal for her as far as I was concerned). Anyway, she proceeded to land on the railroads several times after the trade.

        She will no longer trade for the railroads.

        1. My wife, her brother and I enjoy a game of Monopoly occasionally. He takes the railroad strategy, which I had always considered a waste. But goddamn if that kid doesn’t win often because of it. Also, those utilities can really generate some revenues. Monopolizing both the RR’s and utilities could be the best strategy. Hmmmmm…. next time.

          1. It might be because the railroads are interspersed throughout the board and control of them gives monopoly power that benefits the owner owing to the randomness of the die rolls and the dispersion of the properties.

            If you have to control a closely congregated group of properties before enjoying monopoly power on them, you are at risk, as the owner, of not benefiting on die rolls that allow a plyer to skip over all your properties?

            As an occasional craps player I wondered if a strategy based on controlling properties on or within 1 of the die roll 7 would be a winning strategy, but I don’t play enough to actually figure this out.

            Any math whizzes out there to shed light on this?

            1. Its hard to be so focused… In Monopoly you don’t really control what properties you get from landing on them and buying – your other avenues are winning the occaisonal auction and trading.

              More than die rolls, the mechanics of the board influence the rate of people landing on this – the “Jail” space has the most pull since you can land on go to jail, roll doubles 3x, or pick
              Up a bad card (go to jail, go directly to jail) … Thus it is the properties that come after jail that are statistically proven to be the most landed on: The oranges, the reds, and then the light purples are the most frequently landed on.

            2. 2d6 will give you a 7, 1/6th of the time. Expand the set to {6, 7, 8} and 2d6 yields that result 16/36th of the time or 4/9th of the time. It would take you an awfully long time to purchase all of the properties within that set though, and I don’t know if you’d run out of money before you did. Or if you would be screwing yourself by avoiding the synergies of owning all of a group, by trying to adopt that strategy.

              I suck at Monopoly, FWIW.

      2. Lol screw that, I taught my kids how to play Magic the Gathering as soon as they were old enough to read.

    3. Oh my. A game based solely on luck? That’s just crazy!

      I like to play the kids version just because it helps my kid with her math skills.

      I prefer Life. But only the old school version with gambling and the poor house.

      1. One thing that would lower luck somewhat would be if people actually followed the rules and auctioned off properties when someone declined to buy it.

        1. The worst offense is the “free parking” jackpot money in the middle house rule that ensures the game will take days to play.

          1. I’ve never seen a game that didn’t involve both of these house rules (free parking and no auctions). Growing up I didn’t even know they were rules.

    4. Dude, if you hate Monopoly, you’d really hate Monopoly Jr. It literally is a pure chance game.

      Bought it when my son was four, and now that he’s almost six he’s kind of outgrown it, but he still loves it. The only upside is that it motivates little kids to count and add and subtract.

      1. The newer versions are electronic and it does all the work for you. Which kind of defeats the point. Then again maybe that means the game actually finishes instead of the board being flipped over after 6 hours from frustration.

    5. Monopoly is really not a very good game. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to play with modified rules that basically made it so that the game never ended. We would play for weeks. It was fun and more realistic that way.

    6. I’d seen some of the old boards, but never read about the old rules before. Seems like they took a game with some interest and dumbed it down to make Monopoly.

      Catan’s good and at first looks like its play possibilities are inexhaustible, but sooner than you think, you get to where you’ve seen it all before.

      1. The original even provided for sublets! And I don’t mean the miniature submarine sandwiches on David Letterman’s Octoberfest in New York.

  8. It would be hard to market a capitalist game where everybody keeps getting richer and richer–because the game would never end.

    How does a truly capitalist board game end?

    Maybe instead of being forced to play against each other as entrepreneurs, players play as either free banks/investment banks, entrepreneurs, foreign firms, or consumers, and the bad things that happen to you when you land on the wrong square or draw the wrong card is that the government does something to you.

    A trade barrier goes up, and that’s bad for the foreign firm, but it hurts the consumer, too. Inflation hurts consumers the worst, but it hurts everyone else, too. Maybe in the end, the more the government does, the more players it pushes out of the game. So, that way, instead of like in Monopoly, where the game is utterly futile in that it ends in a Monopoly the more people play, in “Capitalism, the game”, everyone is eventually squeezed out, the more the government gets involved. Whoever resist government intrusion the most wins.

    1. It would be hard to market a capitalist game where everybody keeps getting richer and richer–because the game would never end.

      How does a truly capitalist board game end?

      The winner is the person with the most money. I have played games like that. The ending condition is something else. See my comments above, most Eurogames dont eliminate players, the game ends when the “ending condition” is met, then you score to see who wins. That score can be “dollars”.

      Black Friday would be an example. Not necessarily a capitalist game, its a stock game with a built in bubble type situation. The market will crash, and you went to sell out before it happens.

      The winner is the player with the most gold and silver at the end of the game.

      1. Acquire is the obvious example I couldnt think of a minute ago. The goal of the game is “earn the most money”.

        1. Acquire, Brock, Acquire!

        2. Good game, and one where neither the tactics nor the strategies are obvious at first glance. Combines geometry y finance (hotel theme).

      2. I’d like to see additional criteria.

        I’m not sure consumers, for instance, want the most money. Maybe they want the most stuff!

        I think that’s a case for capitalism that’s really underemphasized and underappreciated by average Americans today.

        That the biggest beneficiaries of capitalism are average consumers, even if they’re not the ones getting the big paychecks.

        1. Plenty of games like that exist, whether capitalist or not. But Victory Points awarded for “stuff” is a common mechanism.

          Played Alhambra for the first time on Tuesday. In it, each player is competing to add buildings to their Alhambra-complex. Points are awarded to the player with the most of each type of building: most gardens, most towers, etc etc.

          Brass, as I mentioned above, has a definite capitalist theme, you are an industrialist in Lancashire in the canal/rail era. You get “points” for the different types of industries you build. In that game, leveraging with debt is very important.

        2. Wizards of the Coast made an excellent game a long time ago with this in mind.

          The game was called Filthy Rich it was basically a 3 ring binder with 4 card sheets in it. They represented the placement of advertisments on buildings along a mythical street. The players were ad agencies collecting money for placing ads for other companies in this space.

          Dice were rolled which determined which page was on top and which spots on the page produced revenue that turn and only ads which were visible could earn money.

          They key was however that the money was not the way to win the game, winning was done by buying luxuries with your money.

          So you had a choice during the game, buy more ad space to place ads, or buy luxuries like a sports car, mansion, or a trophy wife but the winner of the game was the guy with the most luxuries

          1. A trophy wife is a necessity, not a luxury.

            1. I keep telling my wife that but she just yells at me and tells me to get back in the kitchen and finish the dishes.

  9. The most libertarian game is Candyland. Drugs is why.

  10. How about a nice game of chess?

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