I am brilliant at Monopoly. This is my burden. If you and I were to play a quick game - and it would be a quick game - I would not just win, I would make you cry. This is because of the way I play, employing a strategy in which the real game takes place off the board. The real game is about what nicer people than me might term the negotiation, and in Monopoly I have given myself the leeway to negotiate in any way I please. If we have a personal history together, I will dredge that history, sifting any past misdeeds and suggesting that I might share them with the rest of the group if I don't get the oranges on highly favourable terms. If we don't have a personal history, I will just be a massive jerk to you - and very, very occasionally I will be inexplicably lovely. This will wrongfoot you and you will become confused. You will start to lose hope. Eventually, you will cave, and I will get the oranges on highly favourable terms.
There's a problem with this, of course, the same problem that an evil military commander might encounter after razing his own territory to foil an advancing foe. The problem is scarcity. Because of my behaviour, I have not been invited to a game of Monopoly in many, many years. Family members have grown canny and cold-hearted. Friends remember the stunts I pull if you don't hand over the railroads. Even distant acquaintances have heard stories of the wounds I inflict on anyone stupid enough to admit a preference for the utilities. It is lonely at the top. It is so very lonely.
Luckily, I have one friend who is just as brilliant at Monopoly as I am, and for all the same reasons. Even more luckily, my friend introduced me to Monopoly Deal recently. It's a card game that rejigs the rules of Monopoly so that you can play a match in 10 minutes. 10 minutes! We met at a coffee shop across the street from the Eurogamer offices to play. The place was filled with families and pushchairs and people on lunch breaks. Nobody knew what was really taking place. Forget military commanders, this was like that scene in the old horror film where Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, both venerable and enormously deadly wizards, finally face each other in a battle of thermonuclear magic. It's astonishing the place is still standing - and charging so much for a mocha. (Maybe it wasn't Peter Lorre, incidentally.)
I digress. Monopoly Deal is a couple of years old by this point, but you can still get a pack on Amazon fairly cheaply. It's kind of a Rummy variant in that you're trying to build sets of cards - in this case sets of extremely familiar properties - and complete three of these before your foes.
It's more complicated than that, of course. Alongside properties, the cards you deal each turn may stand for money or actions. Money's always handy to have in play - rather than in your hand where you can't use it in emergencies - as you never know when you're going to need to give it to another player. The reason you might need to give it to another player is because of action cards. These might include old chestnuts like passing Go and picking up a few extra cards for your trouble, but they might enforce sudden rents. As in standard Monopoly, money's not just how you pick up properties - it's also a handy buffer against having to hand over those properties to someone who's suddenly sticking you for the best part of a grand.
Action cards also include deals, often enforced deals, and sometimes deals with nothing coming back the other way, which may sound a little like theft. Deal cards are totally overpowered, although deal-breaker cards do redress this a little. No matter: some people really hate Monopoly Deal's imbalance, but I love it. Monopoly's never really been about balance, anyway, and the skill of the whole thing generally lies in the mind-game element. Deals and deal-breakers make for very dynamic matches, where the outcome is never certain until everyone but the winner is dead. It keeps people who are down on their luck living in hope - living in hope so you can brutally crush that hope at just the right moment.
With this back-and-forth energy, Monopoly Deal actually operates at the heights of all-action brutality that standard Monopoly itself so often fails to reach: after all, too many games have a clear winner - me - from the first 20 minutes. This dynamism is part of a wider trend with the card game. Monopoly Deal may throw out the board and speed up the play time, but it's a reduction of Monopoly in which everything gets richer and nastier.
Is it a great card game? Only in the sense that Monopoly's a great board game. On paper it's kind of a plodding mess, but play it with the right people and it's totally transformative.
My friend won both our games, by the way, but this wizard's been in training over Christmas.
Monopoly Deal is also available digitally on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PS3.
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