Thursday, October 07, 2010

Training the property developers of tomorrow

We know China started to embrace capitalism again back at the end of the 1970s, at the prompting of Deng Xiaoping.  But I don't think those ideas really start to take a hold in the mass consciousness until you're indoctrinating it into your kids from the age of four.  Where is the Chinese version of Monopoly? I found myself asking when I first came here.  Well, now they have one.  Possibly several - I just happened to come across a picture of the Beijing version the other day.

The messing around with the colours is deeply discombobulating to someone who was introduced to the game at the age of four. WHY is the 'Park Lane' space now in the yucky light blue of 'The Angel Islington'??  And the choice of district names is very, very unimaginative.  'Mayfair' is the CBD?  Really?  Maybe dubbing it Zhongnanhai would have run the risk of incurring a ban for being "too political".

However many different versions of the game I play (and I've played a fair few of them now: New York and Toronto and Sydney versions, I'm sure, and a couple more besides), in my mind's eye I'm always going to see the 'classic' London board below - the one that I started playing on at the age of four.

Ah, this is me down here: always playing with the racing car (unless my elder brother bags-ed it first, as he often would; in which case I'd settle for the old boot), always focusing my game plan on getting that expensive hotel on Mayfair - to clobber my opponents with a massive 'rent' demand just before they reached 'GO'.  

I think nearly all players of the game develop set patterns of play - favoured groups of properties they always pursue.  With me, the deep purply blue pairing of Park Lane and Mayfair was my priority.  I would have liked to snaffle up the green set of properties (Regent Street et al) to go with them, but they were my brother's favoured turf.  Instead I'd usually settle for tying up the top side of the board: the yellow and red groups straddling the West End.  I also liked to try and collect all the railway stations, whereas my bro favoured the utilities.  As far as I recall, I usually WON in our family games.  But after the lapse of this many years, my memory may be becoming defective.

[My (much older) brother and his teenage mates used occasionally to play for money - penny-a-pound or something.  (Probably penny-per-ten-pounds, but even that could amount to a significant sum: the winner might take away £15 or £20 or so, a lot of money back in the late 1970s.)  I learned a lot from those sessions.  Particularly the ones in later years where I was allowed to particpate, and usually haemorrhaged hefty amounts of my pocket money.  Yes, I learned a lot - not just about the playing of Monopoly, but about the psychology of gambling.  And... perhaps... about the business of property investment too.  It is a great game.]

Postscript 1:  I'm sure I read a while ago that Hasbro (who, I think, bought out the original creators of the game, Waddington's, twenty or so years ago) was developing a 'World' version of the game with countries (or capital cities?) as the 'properties'.  I haven't been able to dig up anything online about that.

Postscript 2:  I can't help thinking that an up-to-date Beijing version of the game would have every space labelled 'SOHO'.....


The British Cowboy said...

I am not surprised he won. Your tactics suck. The orange and red are by far the best options, in billions upon billions of computerized experiments. Surround Free parking and you will almost invariably win. This is because people spend so much time in jail they ar ethe most landed upon squares. I think the light blues (just before jail) are the third best set - relatively cheap, and the number of cards which send you to Go leads to them being pretty commonly hit.

Froog said...

I would have thought the statistical blip in favour of the Orange and Light Blue properties would be fairly negligible. Maybe if you run 'billions' of simulations (not convinced how well the AI can mimic real-world player interactions!), the effect might become noticeable, but in a regular game?? I mean, what proportion of players/game turns is someone actually re-starting after a release from Jail? Maybe 4 or 5 percent, at most?

It's good to snaffle up two adjacent property sets because that effectively guarantees you a regular stream of income on each circuit of the board, practically on every single game turn. And the higher value properties are worth pursuing because they can inflict catastrophic damage on your opponents. I'm not sure if there might actually be a slight cost/return advantage for some of the higher value properties as well, but they're certainly a way more dangerous weapon. You can land on a hotel on Euston Road or Bow Street 3 or 4 times in quick succession and just shrug it off. An unlucky run like that along the second half of the board puts you out of the game.

Froog said...

What's more, there's only a 1-in-3 chance of hitting one of the Orange properties from Jail. With doubles in play, the chance of hitting the Red properties is not that much less, and the Yellow and Green properties are reachable.

The British Cowboy said...

Don't blame the messenger. The Orange are the best properties on a cost-expected return basis, with the Reds in second place.

It's just a fact. It is not a huge enough difference to make it impossible to win otherwise, but statistically they are the best choices.

Also tactically, hotels are often a bad idea. 4 houses is often significantly better, because you prevent your competitors being able to develop. This is a massive downside to the Mayfair/Park Lane combo, and even more so to the Dark Greens. By the time you have saved your shekels to develop them, your smarter, more nimble opponents have bagged all the available houses on Old Kent Road and the Angel.

Froog said...

What's all this stuff about "available" houses? Is there really an inadequate number of houses in the game set? I don't think I'd ever come across this as a practical consideration, because there are invariably some properties that remain undeveloped or fairly little developed, while others are ready to make the step up to a hotel - and won't be too bothered by some abstract notion that they might be able to frustrate their opponents by choking off the supply of houses.

Maybe the older sets (I think the one in my family had been around since at least the 1950s) had more houses in them (little wooden jobs, too; not this modern plastic shit). Or maybe we'd combined two sets to obviate any possible shortfall? (I think we did use a double set of money to facilitate those huge, brutal playing-for-real-cash games.) I suppose you'd need, what, 88, to provide for 4 houses on every property simultaneously; but that sort of situation just about NEVER arises in regular gameplay. And my recollection is that the standard set included at least 50 or 60 houses.

Also, you're speaking as though this would be an absolute block on further development. My understanding of the rules is that the cost of hotel is equated to the cost of 4-houses-plus-X, but there's no requirement to actually have four houses - or any houses - on a property before you buy a hotel. You can build a hotel on virgin property if you pay for the houses as well (and can afford to do it for all properties in the set at once). Maybe we grew up with different 'family rules'? (Or different actual rules? I'm sure they've been tweaked a number of times over the years.)

I think the more interesting tactical choice is whether to go for more properties or more houses on only one or two sets of properties. In practical terms, with a lot of players in the game, it's not usually possible to snaffle more than two sets of properties at the outset (that's why the stations or utilities can be such valuable additional sources of income). But I suspect that going for a slower pace of development spread over three sets rather than just two would give you a better chance of longevity.

Not that I should be giving away all my 'secrets' on a public forum (I might be playing this weekend!), but... in fact, my prime objective was always tobag the Orange and Red properties first (not sure if that was prompted by, or subsequently reinforced by, some subconscious intuition that you'd earn some 'extra' dosh off released felons; maybe I just liked the colours; and adjacent sets are always a good thing). I'd only pursue the Yellow Set to piss off my brother, because he always coveted them. And the hotel (or four houses, usually good enough to do the job) on Park Lane and Mayfair are the game's WMD: you have to buy these properties, even if you can't afford to develop them, just to stop your rivals from getting their hands on them.

The British Cowboy said...

From wiki...

Limited number of houses and hotels

To cap total development of property sets in the game, there are only 12 hotels and 32 houses. This limitation is in place to ensure that property sets cannot be developed unless there are houses or hotels available to purchase from the bank. This cap allows a certain amount of dominance to be developed by some players, because if every set of property were fully developed there would be enough rent collected between different players to allow the game to drag on for an extended period. This limitation on numbers of houses and hotels leads to an advantage for one player. Simply building each lot out to a maximum of 4 houses and then refusing to upgrade to hotels ensures that nearly the maximum amount of rent is collected for each property, and the monopolization of the houses from the game prevents opponents from developing their property. It is conceivable that a single player could end up owning all 32 houses near the end of the game, and the refusal to upgrade to hotels makes these houses unavailable for opponents to purchase for any property they may own.

The British Cowboy said...

And yes, you can go straight to a hotel. But to have enough cash on hand to buy two hotels for Park Lane & Mayfair in one go is likely to be difficult.

Using limited houses to block is a pretty hard core tactic. I haven't played in ages because I either win too easily, or I play with others who are all used to winning, and the game lasts 14 hours, and we all hate each other at the end.

Froog said...

32? Ouch - that is tight. Not even enough to have two houses on every property simultaneously?! I'm sure the old versions of the game used to have a lot more.

But, yes, that certainly does add an interesting kink to the tactics. Thanks for clueing me in to this. Now I shall be UNBEATABLE.