Ever see those Milton Bradley commercials that suggest family game nights to help bring the homestead closer together? Parents, got a rebellious teenage son who insists on wearing black nail polish out food shopping and who likes to take derogatory pictures in front of churches? Play Boggle with him! Problem solved!
Seriously though, I've gone deep into the trenches of these family game nights while I was growing up. I'm the last of seven kids, and even though most of them had moved out of the house when I was still really young, they'd always be back whenever one of our birthdays or a holiday came up. These gatherings were pretty pedestrian in the early goings...buncha hungry Italians sitting around stuffing their faces till they couldn't move for four hours. But these little events usually went for six hours. That left two unaccounted for. So what better way to fill the time than a fun, old-fashioned and totally friendly and cherubic game of Monopoly?!
Ah! Monopoly! From my point of view, the greatest board game of all time. At least you knew the rules in Monopoly. Scrabble seems like a good time up until someone starts pulling ridiculous words starring the letters 'Q' and 'Z' which everyone in the world knows doesn't exist...everyone except the opposing player and their suspicious dictionary from Hell. No, Monopoly was where its at. Straightforward rulebook, lots of fake money, and free parking! What could go wrong? Unfortunately...everything...could go wrong. So with that, I proudly present to you: The Things People Argue About While Playing Monopoly!
1) Choice of player piece: It didn't take long for my family to run into problems with the game. First, I have to make something very clear. Something that'll make your basement parties a helluva lot easier for the rest of time: there is no 'lucky' piece. It doesn't matter if you're the car, the dog, the stupid cannon, whatever...you're still subject to the same dice rolls and unfair opponent team-ups no matter what. No matter who I played with, everybody always wanted to be the car. Or better put - anyone who couldn't be the car would refuse to play the game. Now I'm not gonna sit here and theorize the car's alleged magical powers, but on the same token, I can't deny them either. I was the same way. I would only agree on playing if I could literally race to victory with that stupid little metal car. This was kinda like playing checkers with someone and ya both want to be the red side. Fortunately, Monopoly provided a solution.
Our family was ultimately so torn apart over who got to be the fucking car that we had to institute the most painful but altogether necessary rule of all time: the car was BANNED from all Monopoly games. That's right. NO ONE was allowed to be the car. It was the only option...nobody could complain about someone having the unfair advantage of the automobile gods on their side if the car was thrown safely into the kitchen junk drawer. Course, this led to other problems. We knew the car was tops, but that steamship...that steamship wasn't so bad either.
The piece-choosing ceremony set the stage for the rest of the torment. This was only the beginning.
2) The Banker, invariably, is a lying, cheating demon: its true. It doesn't have to be correct, but as far as every player who isn't the banker is concerned...its true. The person who got to be the banker was being done no favor - it was by far the most annoying and thankless job in the game. I've been the banker before. Oh yes, I've been there. How many times have you had to sit there while the other players tried to decide whether they, for some reason, needed to cash all of their thirty 100 dollar bills in for 50s and 20s? How many times have you had to sit there and recount all the money given to you by a player with less-than-high moral virtues? All in all, the banker already wasn't in for much fun.
But that's not the half of it. As the banker, you are prone to be called every nasty, horrible thing imaginable. By law, you're one evil son of a bitch who steals money at every given opportunity. Your hands are watched by every person playing. Every time you touch the money bank, you're doing something illegal. It doesn't matter if you're getting change for another player, putting your own money in the bank, or gently petting the 500 dollar bills: YOU ARE WRONG AND EVIL. Even if you're not stealing money, you're accused of shortchanging the other players, as if that missing 20 dollar bill was going to sway the powers of victory to your direction.
Our family's solution? We literally had to make my mother sit and the far end of the table with the money and serve as the non-playing banker. I want you to picture this. No one was allowed to go near her or the bank. We had to slide the money to her in a box, let her count it, and return the change and property pieces. In effect, Monopoly had turned us into the most paranoid, delusional creatures on the planet. But the bank wasn't nearly as damaging to our souls as the next point of interest...
3) Free Parking Rules: Ugh. Free Parking was one of the most hideously misunderstood phenomenons of all time. I really can't remember what the rules stated, but it didn't really matter, since most groups made up their own rules. And since we played with so many people at once, the rules could never be agreed upon. I was always of the mind that you stuck a few hundred dollars in the pot initially, and added any income tax/fee money to it as you went along. Others felt that you should stick a thousand dollars in there to start, adding 500 each time all the players crossed the board.
In the end, our rules for Free Parking turned into a insidious amalgam of all our personal beliefs, leaving it with one peculiar power: whomever landed on Free Parking received more money than any Monopoly player could ever need to win the game. I'm serious, the pile of paper money that crowded the center of the board ended up being 4" high. It was Hell. We all sat there, biting our fingertips, awaiting for that one all-star player to make the diamond roll once they hit St. Charles Place. And if they did? Well, the game was pretty much over. You can have all the Park Places you want...if some guy has 40,000 dollars to throw around, you ain't gonna be him. This became our quickest way to end the game. We were pretty patient with these games as long as there was some chance of us weaseling our way to victory. In every instance, we'd announce the person who landed on Free Parking as the winner immediately, throw our money down in disgust, and refuse to look each other in the eyes for weeks.
4) Secret Teams!: Another way for Monopoly to bastardize our family's holy union was the players rumored implementation of an unfair cooperative advantage. We played the 'anything goes' way of things, meaning you pretty much had the freedom to do anything you wanted except take money from my mother six miles down the road. Because of this, players who were winning were always assumed to have conjured up some secret, special agreement prior to the start of the game, stating that they annihilate the rest of us before battling each other. If someone let another player slide on a rent charge, the rest of us didn't just complain. We'd go ballistic.
5) ANYTHING GOES?!: Our ultimate downfall. The rule that led to more fistfights and arguments than any wedding plan or overcrowded Christmas celebration could possibly bring. The chief-of-state, king of all rules that caused mass genocide. The worst rule. See, our family had this thing with rulebooks. We never read 'em. It took us about 50 games to understand the semantics of the triple-roll to get out of jail. We preferred to play it our way. 'Our way' consisted of this: players were allowed to trade with each other, in any way they wanted. Players could distribute their money, in any way they wanted. PLAYERS COULD ESSENTIALLY GO AGAINST EVERY CLEARLY-WRITTEN RULE IN THE MONOPOLY GUIDEBOOK IN THE HOPES TO WIN THE GAME.
Take this as for an example: we usually played with 4-6 people. When you're playing a hours-long board game with that many people, most of whom are already feeling the effects of eating and drinking too much, chances are good that a few of them are gonna seek to drop out early. Under our agreed upon rules, when a player decided to quit, he or she could literally give all his property and money to another player. Obviously, the guidebook says nothing about this being legal. But I don't remember the guidebook ever saying we couldn't do this. Then again, the guidebook never said we could put 40,000 dollars on Free Parking, so we've already established the hopelessness of that little pamphlet a long time ago.
Or how about this: players could bankrupt another player, but instead of taking their money away, they'd just take all their property away. My brother was a mastermind at this trick. He'd somehow manage to keep all of the players in the game until the very end, despite the fact that he now owned every fucking monopoly on there, including the stupid Water Works and Electric Company duo. It took the rest of us awhile to realize what he'd done, but once we did: hell to pay.
And what was the grand prize? What did the winner receive? Bragging rights? Nuh uh...by the time a game was finished, it'd be a good two months before any of us could even stomach mentioning the game Monopoly. It was understood that we weren't to talk about or reference the game after it was over - that's how bad it was. So what'd the winner get? What was all this trouble about? The winner was the only person who didn't have to help put the pieces away after the game. Yes, two or three hours of sheer, unadulterated family mayhem and fighting with the sole goal to not help put the fives in the correct drawer. Why'd we even play the game to begin with? We'd been at each other's throats for hours just so we wouldn't have to help put the game back inside the box? What was wrong with us? WHY WAS PARKER BROTHERS RUINING OUR HAPPY FAMILY?
Unfortunately, everything I've mentioned so far is mere child's play. We were much more cutthroat than this. This game turned us all into vultures. Vultures that used the words 'shithead' and 'asshole' like they were getting paid to do it. Vultures who'd divorce their own family over which little metal piece they chose to represent themselves. Vultures who wouldn't speak to other vultures for months if those certain vultures were thought to have one too many 10s. But what was the end-all, be-all example of how bad things could get? The infamous, dastardly board-flip.
For this example, I've got to drag my father into the mix. My dad's an odd guy. Too odd to talk about here in any length, but I can't leave him out of this article if I want to prove just how evil and maniacal Monopoly causes people to be. After reading what we've gone through playing this game already, you should realize that we were all pretty frustrated. This wasn't a game of fun. We played it like our lives depended on winning. If we lost Monopoly, it was the end of us. Most of you have seen the show Survivor. That is nothing - NOTHING - compared to what we would do to win this game. How far would my father go to keep from losing? He'd literally shake the very foundations of reality itself.
When things got too tough...my father would flip. Whether he was noticing something he felt was illegal or if he was under some scrutiny himself, my dad simply could not deal with the pressures of the Monopoly game. Throughout my life, I'd say I've played around 50 games of Monopoly with my family. And of those 50, I'd say 45 of them ended with my father screaming 'FUCK!', standing up, and proceeding to pick up and THROW the entire game board against the wall. To solidify his intentions, he'd point in the general direction of the rest of us, tell us how horrible we were, and announce that he was sleeping outside in the screenhouse. Invariably, Monopoly tore our family apart.
Secretly, we were all happy about my father losing his mind over a board game. It saved us the trouble of doing it ourselves and being labeled 'psychotic,' something my father was already well-known for long before he started indulging in family board games. And besides, now that we didn't have to save our lives by winning the game...the pressure was off!
I'm sure a lot of you have been in this position before. Most of us have played Monopoly at least a few times. I'm hoping that most of you didn't have to go through the wars that I did, but don't think you're forever safe because of it. I'm telling you, the Ouija board gets a bad rep. That's not the game people should be worried about. If Monopoly doesn't tear your family apart, it'll certainly turn your hair white and knock ten years off your life.
Meanwhile, my mother, still sitting at the ass end of the table with her stupid Monopoly money bank, gloated to the rest of us about her suggestion prior to the game: 'Why not play bingo instead?'
Right Mom, we're sure my brother didn't rig the Bingo game to only give out his numbers weeks ago. Do yourself a favor, readers. Stop trying to do these family activities. We're all stuck together anyway. We don't need to interact. Just watch television with 'em instead. You'll probably go home from gatherings with much fewer bruises.
PS - Stay away from Boardwalk and Park Place. They're overrated. Dark green is where its at. And there's way more problems with this game than I've discussed. Would you ever take someone's word at face value as to the directions of their Community Chest card? No way. We ain't stupid.
Now, here's some other games that will drive you insane...
Mouse Trap: In theory, a giant, plastic obstacle course placed on top of the standard cardboard game board sounds cool. In reality, a game that falls apart if you even look at it the wrong way flat-out sucks. Mouse Trap is tough to resist with all its plastic bathtubs, red ladders, and crazy mouse marbles, but trust me on this one: stay away. I've never read the rulebook, but I'm pretty sure the only way to win is to successfully play the game without having it collapse into your lap.
Jenga: Playing these kinds of games is supposed to be fun. So if you consider putting yourself into the position of a guy trying to diffuse a bomb without it blowing up in his face, Jenga is right up your alley. Maybe its just me. Maybe not everyone puts their soul into their board games. But I'm banking on a lot of you being the exact same way, and in that case, Jenga is absolutely maddening. It tilts back and forth, tempting fate...and its all on your head. One wrong move...you lose. Like Monopoly, Jenga also suffers from the board-flip syndrome. One out of every three games I play ends up with one of us purposely knocking the tower down. People, we get enough pressure from work, school, and Pepsi bottle-top contests. We don't need it during our leisurely activities.
Pictionary: ARGH! Lives there a person who hasn't gotten stuck with the poor idiot who couldn't draw a circle to save his grandmother's life? Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes your partner isn't a blind, retarded sufferer of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But most of the time, you're stuck trying to figure out how three triangles and a little bluebird are supposed to signify a 'swimming pool' or 'clock'. Hey, at least its better than Charades. A movie? Three words. First word... Uhh... Spinning? Fighting? Oh. First syllable. The first syllable is fighting? I hate this game.
Correction: I hate all games. At least in the casinos, you can play alone, and you expect to lose. In fact, the rules pretty much state that you're going to lose. No surprises. No false hope. No money. Works out so much better. Don't ruin your lives. Only play board games with people you're looking to oust from the daily routine. Don't chance your real friendships with the trials and tribulations of Monopoly.
Check out something. Something...awful.