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.
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.
A different type of game, Dixit gets players’ creative juices flowing by getting them to give semi-cryptic clues about some surreal images shown on the game’s playing cards. Don’t make the clue too obvious though, if everyone finds your card out of all those played in each round, you won’t score any points. Also if your clue is too obscure, and nobody gets it, the same thing happens. So each time you are the “storyteller”, you are trying to give a clue that connects with just a few of your competitors in each round, whilst at the same time they are playing cards from their hand to try and fool the others that their card is the correct card and pick up some bonus points. There are plenty of expansion packs available so if you do feel you have overplayed the original set there are many options to keep bringing in new images for players to describe.
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.