Game Review: Monopoly Gamer

It’s everything Monopoly isn’t: fast, silly, and fun

Oh, and it’s Nintendo themed.

“You bought a Monopoly game?” My wife’s question contained an incredulous tone that expressed perfectly how surprised she was at my purchase. We are not a Monopoly family. We play modern games. I laughed. I knew what I’d done.

I couldn’t believe I’d purchased a Monopoly game either.

Why do people hate Monopoly?

It’s worth starting this review with the reasons people aren’t keen on Monopoly. It is, after all, a game that helped to popularize the very idea of boardgames when it first arrived in stores back in 1903. In the intervening century, though, many of the mechanics that are Monopoly’s trademarks have been improved upon or jettisoned altogether by thousands of much better games. For instance:

Player Elimination: when you run out of money and property in Monopoly, you are out. Done. Finished. You don’t get to play anymore.
Roll to Move: why strategize? Why plan your turn? Just roll a die or two and go wherever. Let the fates determine your strategy.
Take that!: Monopoly is full of moments where chance allows you to screw your neighbor — your random die roll caused you to land on my space? Pay me a bunch of money! Go to jail! Lose your turn! Take that!

Add to those less-than-savory mechanics a play time that could easily stretch to three or four hours, and you start to see why all the vitriol exists against great-grandpa Monopoly.

That said… I loved Monopoly as a kid. I played it with my sisters a lot. When you know nothing better, Monopoly scratches some very particular itches. In fact, it’s the very mechanics we hate that I loved the most as a kid. It feels awesome rolling double sixes. I couldn’t wait to watch my sisters pay me piles of rent money for my hotel-encrusted Boardwalk that I’d cheated them out of in an earlier deal. Eliminating the other players was fantastic because they lost.

Something had to change, though, if Monopoly was going to be relevant again. Something, yes. But not too much. It should still feel like Monopoly.

Enter Monopoly Gamer.

Something is… different

I should mention that Monopoly Gamer is Nintendo themed. That would normally be a turn-off for me, as I really really don’t like games that have someone else’s intellectual property draped over them like an ill-fitting smock. The notable exception to this has been the extraordinarily wonderful Star Wars offerings from Fantasy Flight Games.

But this works! And it works well. The primarily Mario theme makes the game feel like a wonderful mashup of Mario Kart and Monopoly with a dash of Mario Party thrown in for good measure. The changes to the old Monopoly tropes are welcome, and the mechanics that used to out-stay their welcome actually fit better because of the expectations the theme brings.

What has changed? Plenty.

Player Elimination: This no longer exists. Everyone starts, everyone finishes, no one gets left behind. When you run out of money (or property to sell to get money), the rules are explicit: “If you have no coins or property to sell, do nothing. You’ve got it bad enough already. Hang in there!”

The two dice, which are large, chunky, and delightful.

Roll to Move: This is still there, but! You roll two dice, one regular six-sided die (d6), and one Power-up Die. You can “activate” the dice in any order you want, which provides some nice decision making opportunities after the randomness of the dice roll. For instance, if you hit Mario with a green shell now, he’ll drop three coins on the ground, which you can pick up when you move past him with that six you rolled. If you want to hit Peach, though, because she’s in the lead, you could first move past Mario and then activate the green shell to hit Peach. That’s tactical!

Take That!: This is where Hasbro decided not to mitigate the existing mechanic from the original Monopoly, and instead amplify it by cranking the volume to eleven. This game is absolutely vicious in a way that everyone who has played Mario Kart will recognize. It’s brutal and unforgiving, but hilarious and good-natured as well. You’ll laugh as your pile of coins is literally knocked away from you, because you know your turn is next and the player that did the hurting is about to be the player that hurts. Animosity is short-lived and friendships are preserved.

That’s it? It’s over?

Monopoly Gamer does not ask for much of your time. Boss Battles are a new mechanic that act as a timer for the game, and keep the play time to less than thirty minutes. Yes. Thirty minutes.

As you pass “GO” after circumnavigating the board, you’ll collect two coins and reveal the top card in deck of Boss Cards. This initiates a global Boss Battle that every player can elect to participate in, or not.

Ahh, the Koopa Kids. The bane of Mario’s existence for decades.

Each Boss Card depicts one of the Koopa Kids and includes the cost to fight them, the necessary die roll to defeat them, and the in-game effect if you beat them. Starting with the player that revealed the card, every player has an opportunity to pay the cost, roll the die, and attempt to win, until someone does win.

In a four player game, there are eight bosses, and thus, no game will last longer than it takes for each player to go around the board twice. Twice! You’re in, you’re out, you collect some coins, you go home. That’s amazingly quick for a Monopoly game.

A brief word about the manual

Read the following sentence carefully, and consider the full weight of it: I own nearly 125 games (which I know is either insanely high or low, depending on who you are), and Monopoly Gamer is — without question — the finest quality manual I’ve ever laid my hands on.

I would wear clothes made from this material.

It’s printed on a coated canvas-like material that is a pleasure to hold and touch. It’s laid out excellently, and the printing quality is sharp, with vibrant colors and clear text.

It feels like a premium product, and it raises the bar for what boardgame manuals can be. It’s that good.

Components, editions, and value

I purchased the Collector’s Edition at Gamestop (the exclusive retailer for this version), and at $40, it’s an incredible value. The box is hinged at the back, and reveals an effective insert with purpose-made slots for every included character and every extra character (available for separate purchase). The board is protected in its own slot under the main insert.

The more things change…

The miniatures are pre-painted, well detailed, colorful, and sturdy. You won’t be alarmed when a kid grabs them to move around the board. Of particular note are the characters’ eyes, which sparkle with infinitesimally small details. They’re not Games Workshop miniatures by any stretch, but for $40, they’re terrific.

The board is as bright and cartoony as you’d expect from a Mario game. It’s smaller than a standard Monopoly board, but it gets the job done, and is totally pleasant to stare at for a half hour.

…the more they stay the same.

In August, Hasbro is releasing a standard edition that lacks the fantastic box, unbelievable manual, plastic coins, and Bowser character. For the $15 difference in their MSRP (as of this writing), I’d say the Collector’s Edition is absolutely worth picking up if you’re interested in Monopoly Gamer at all.

“…for a Monopoly game.”

That’s the end of many statements of praise I’ve read for Monopoly Gamer as if its qualities are somehow lesser because they’re attached to a Monopoly game. For instance, I used that modifier just up there, a few paragraphs ago.

Here’s the thing, though. This game is fun. It’s not really strategic. It’s very luck-dependent. But it’s also silly and unpredictable and hilarious, and it feels like playing Mario Kart: The Boardgame.

My kids immediately gobbled it up. After two turns, my seven year-old said,

“This is the best game we have.”

And for him, it is. For a group of four adults, Monopoly Gamer could conceivably be played in twenty raucous, chaotic minutes. You’ll have a good time with this game, if you can set aside for a moment that it’s Monopoly.

I’d play it with you.

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