So being a board game store, it’s not surprising that Monopoly is one of the most popular terms searched on here. However it’s not something we stock. Monopoly has a bit of a reputation for giving board gaming a bad name, for reasons eloquently described by DanQ.
It takes too long to play, people get knocked out early and have to sit around watching everyone else, there’s very little strategy involved, it’s a poor financial model, the rules are unclear and lead to many house rules being required, it encourages bullying playing styles, and many more reasons.
Next time you are heading to a place where there is a chance someone will say “anyone fancy a game of Monopoly”, do a bit of pre-planning, and arm yourself with a copy of one of the alternative games below. You should find – even if none of your party has played them before – that they are quick to pick up and more enjoyable than watching Uncle Tony building endless hotels on Park Lane and disappearing behind his piles of cash.
Catan (formerly known as Settlers of Catan) is still a game where you are trying to be the person with the best pile of resources to win the game, however this is not in terms of cash, but victory points, which are earned from building settlements and cities, and having the longest road or largest army. This is done by earning wood, ore, brick, wool or grain from the hexagonal land tiles of the playing area, and where necessary, trading with other players. Because some of the scoring is secret in terms of hidden victory points you may have earned by pulling a card from the Catan version of the “Community Chest”, it is often not always certain that the person who is apparently only one or two points away from winning, will actually do so. Potentially anyone could steam out of the chasing pack to nab the win by a short head, if they play their cards right. There are extensions such as the Seafarers one shown here, so lots of options for mixing things up if you find it getting stale.
Ticket to Ride
If you like the geographical aspect of Monopoly, rather than building houses on Regent Street, why not build a railway line to Smolensk instead. We play the European version and also the UK expansion, but there are maps for several other countries too. Here, you and your opponents are all trying to build railway connections between various cities, it’s first-come-first-served on any given route, so you may have to divert your route if another player gets in your way. Again there is some secrecy in that when you complete a route assigned to you, you only declare it at the game end (the UK expansion plays differently in this regard), and there are extra points available for the longest route on the board. So an apparent leader who has been laying tracks and picking up odd points here and there without completing their whole route, can easily be overtaken in the final reckoning.
Sheriff of Nottingham
So if you are a group who prefers something a bit “nastier”, shall we say, rather than trying to knock everyone out of a game of Monopoly by grabbing all the cash and property, try Sheriff of Nottingham. Here, everyone gets two goes per game at playing the Sheriff, and trying to second-guess which opponent is trying to smuggle contraband into the marketplace. Everyone stays in the game to the end. When you are playing the Sheriff, you can inspect your opponents’ bags of produce to make sure only legal goods are being sold. After the Sheriff has decided to inspect or not inspect, players take their goods to market, scoring points for standard fare like bread and chickens (and scoring considerably more points for any contraband that the Sheriff did not spot). And of course when it’s your turn to be a merchant, you may find yourself slipping the odd crossbow into your bag of cheese!
Maybe you are not comfortable with the idea of one person ending up being the winner of the game? If so then look at co-operative games such as Pandemic. Played on a world map, you are a team of players trying to combat various virus outbreaks that develop around the globe. However, like Whac-a-Mole, they just keep popping up. Every time you sort out one outbreak in India, another one starts in South America, which is just where your team aren’t. Fortunately your team has specialist roles, and the Dispatcher can help get people to where they need to be quickly, while the Scientist is much quicker at finding cures. The longer the game goes on, the more potential there is for epidemics to occur, so time is of the essence and combined team thinking is the order of the day. If you find all the cures, the team wins as a whole, but if mankind is overrun with diseases… well at least you won’t be around too long to be disappointed!
There are many more games that work well in the sort of Christmas / holiday / birthday scenarios where people get together for board games, so do look through the tag cloud in the margin for more ideas. You may also find this video by Scott Nicholson enlightening (it’s from 2010 though and things have moved on a bit since). Dice Tower produced a video on a similar theme in 2014, providing alternatives to mainstream board game titles.