Monday, May 14, 2012


I couldn’t find a needle to push into my eye, and my wife’s Air Supply CDs had been totally, exhaustively ruined.
“I know!” I said. “Let’s play Monopoly, kids!”
When you sit in those pre-natal classes, grinning nervously while clutching your teddy bear with his ill-fitting nappy, and the serene woman in charge says the main thing you’ll need as a parent is patience, she’s talking about Monopoly.
It’s one the of the world’s great board games - one of the earliest when it was introduced in 1936 and for me, the best. Throw in a six- and a five-year-old, and a game of Monopoly can be both the most fun yet most excruciating few days you can spend, bittersweet as a mouthful of ice cream and roadkill.
I like to make an early start, so yesterday I had my morning shower and shave and we set up the board. Of course this must be on the floor. Using a table adds four-to-six hours to the average game, spent watching the kids get down and try to find their dice/token/card/cash/snack/drink/lucky toy et cetera. These things never just fall to the floor. They fall, bounce on their edge, and deflect off under the nearest cupboard. Then it’s an excuse to go find the torch, and so on until you find yourself looking skyward and counting to 100.

An original UK version of Monopoly, a game
with a rich history. It was brought out on both
sides of the Atlantic by Parker Brothers in a
brave move during the depths of the Great
Depression in the mid-1930s, and proved an
instant smash. In China the game was banned
soon after Mao Zedong's Communists took
charge in 1949. It was replaced with another
game called Socialist Utopia, which never
really took off since anyone purchasing
property was subjected to a struggle session
and beaten. 

Next, the money is doled out. The kids like to count it out themselves, all one thousand, five hundred dollars of it. I usually make a coffee while this is being perpetrated. Then I assess the cash grabs, sorting the honest mistake-makers from the mini-Madoffs (still the best name for a fraudster ever). 
The playing field leveled, we choose tokens. At least this is easy. Evie's always the dog, because she is one. This is a rough-sounding way of saying she was born in the Year of the Dog.
Lani is always the bag of money, because she was born in the Year of the Capitalist Pig. No, she’s a rooster, but one who seems to have embraced the concept of this competition, lock, stock and bankroll. When I asked why she chose the bag, she insisted it was merely because "I like its shape". I suggested the shape would be less appealing if there were less money in the bag. Remember this is the girl who, in the way some people find God, suddenly found the Tooth Fairy after months of denying her existence, having learned she left cash for teeth.
We used to roll dice to see who went first, but it often reduced the game to farce before it began. Someone would roll and make a move before I could explain why we we rolling, leaving me trying to prise Pall Mall out of their hands while they sat there screaming. Now it's youngest first.
We start. Evie rolls a six. It's The Angel Islington. I know it's the Angel Islington. I can recite the board easily. "Let's go - Angel," I call. "Wait I'll count it myself," says the five-year-old. 
With kids, you have to understand the fun is broken up as one part buying properties, one part collecting rent, and 99 per cent rolling dice and ‘walking’ tokens.
"One … two … three … four … five … six!" She's somehow on Pentonville Road. Or visiting jail. Or Mayfair. I always TRY to let her count it out again more carefully. But this time I recall it’s the very first move of the game, and a rough calculation of how much time will be required at this rate usually leads me to break out in hives. 
And on we went, the kids happily rolling and acquiring, me striving for that balance of helping, railroading, and maintaining our food and fluid intake.

This is a Paris version I found for sale in a Beijing market.
I'm not sure why it wasn't exported, but I shall be taking it
up with Paker Brothers immediately.

I have many Monopoly memories from my childhood, which I often drift into during lulls in current games: Of my older brother Graeme being conservative, astute and above all merciless. He ended up being a banker in real life. Of my sister Sandra always buying Old Kent Road because she felt sorry for it. Or of me, as the youngest, being told - and believing - that swapping my Mayfair for Graeme’s Whitechapel Road was a golden opportunity. Usually it was a golden opportunity to escape a punch in the arm. I was poor but I still had my health.

I was daydreaming about such things yesterday when the moment was shattered by Evie getting up, stumbling and sending the board and its many bit and pieces flying. Such seismic events are usually unintentional but equally inevitable. Add a bit more playing time while pieces are re-gathered, and everyone thinks back to who had what.

A drama ensued in one such moment in a game with two adults and four kids. I accept that when you play with four kids, you get what you deserve, but at any rate, one child grabbed a money pile which wasn’t her’s. It was a lot smaller than her old one, but she liked her new one more since it had more pink $5 notes than yellow hundreds. If you read the moves in the newspaper the next day it would have gone:

CAR rolls six.
CAR pays BATTLESHIP $14 rent.
CANNON goes to have her turn but says she can’t do so without her magic wand. Spends five minutes looking for wand.
WHEELBARROW moves eight squares and buys Bow Street, then realises she forgot to roll dice.
DOG gets up and kicks the board flying.
THIMBLE claims wrong pile of money.
RACECAR says THIMBLE should swap back the money and should listen to RACECAR because she is THIMBLE’s mother.
THIMBLE leaves and sits under the table, citing hurt feelings.

On the one hand it might seem folly to enter into such a game with people lacking fundamentals such as balance, the ability to add and subtract, and an understanding of the concept of money. Then again my wife loves it because it’s the only time in China that she’s able to bargain successfully.

“Evie – I’ll give you Euston Road for the three yellows and $200. Done? Thank you.”

China may now have a 'modern' version, but beside the
man's front foot you may notice that instead of "Super Tax"
or "Luxury Tax" as in the UK and US versions, it's just
a plain old responsible "Salary Tax". Still, the game remains
a good teacher about life here, particularly the part where
you can pay a bit of money to get out of jail.

Our children like to buy properties according to one golden rule of acquisition, known as “What’s my favourite colour?”*

I urge them to buy everything they land on. For one thing, all properties come in handy for trading. But more importantly, nothing sends shivers down my spine faster than hearing the word “Pass”. The kids then start shouting “Auction! AUCTION!” as I fall onto my back with my head in my hands.

This time it’s Bond Street, which normally goes for $320. Evie started the bidding with an “Uuuuuuuum” that was ominously long.

“Five dollars!”

Lani does what she can to end the auction then and there.

“Six dollars!” she says.

I go off, have another shave, then return.

“One hundred and eight!”

“One hundred and nine!”

The girls used to insist auctions must run their natural course without being expedited by intervention from the regulatory authorities, i.e. me, through mechanisms such as a $50 minimum bid. But lately they have acquiesced to my pleadings as they became more aware that I might kill myself.

If I ran the zoo, our games would look like this.

Things would be all nice and neat and
clearly understandable

If the kids were in charge ...

So on we’ll go, rolling, tapping, dealing, trading, collecting rents, laughing and crying, until someone wins. That someone is always Evie. For us, she’s the “lucky one” every family seems to have. She also cares the least about whether she wins or loses. God it's infuriating.

I’m told there are faster versions made especially for children, which take about half an hour. You can also speed up a standard game by dishing out some properties first. But where’s the fun in that? At least this way we all know we’ve been through something – something fairly demanding, quite exasperating, but overall very rewarding. We don’t do it that often, mind. I’m not completely mad.

* REAL Monopoly tip: Make sure your favourite colour is orange. For it’s not big bucks Mayfair and Park Lane (Boardwalk/Park Place in the US) that are necessarily the best. The oranges are statistically landed on most often, and so usually reap their owner the most money. This is because of players being sent to jail and having to start again from the purple and orange side of the board. Dice combinations mean they are then more likely to land on orange than pink.


  1. Hi Trevor,

    I don't usually follow anonymous links to blog - as a rule - but feeling somewhat petulant today, I decided to ignore my own rule, and I was glad I did!

    We love monopoly in our family and routinely play it mad-cap four kids, two adults style, though to save our own sanity, we have play 90 minute games with a timer (the last five minutes are the most fun as the kids finally start playing at a pace that wakes everyone up)... Our youngest player is three and many of your experiences made me smile in recognition! I'll be back!

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