Campfire meets an old nemesis in a new guise and a truce is declared.
If we are but Warhammer pieces moved by vast and smelly gods then this is my battlefield. Green-painted polystyrene squeaks beneath my heels. An eggbox denoting a small set of foothills protrudes from the landscape to my right. All around, the dull clangour of lead-on-lead battle rings out; amid it, the sound ringing a funereal toll in their ears, my squadmates are dying.
Old warhorse Major Acquire stumbles and falls, a spear stuck through his heavy Space Marine armour. Lieutenant Descent already lies defeated on the ground, a smoking hole in his forehead. Even Private Alien Frontiers – a new recruit, freshly promoted – can’t wage war against enemies such as this. “Fall back, fall ba-” he cries, and is silenced.
The enemy closes in on me. Not orks, not eldars, but something worse, something grinning. My old, bitter rival leading an army of his variants. There’s nothing I can do to fight back. There’s nothing I can do, but surrender.
The war for the games shop floor has been lost. Reich Admiral Monopoly has won.
Our rivalry goes back years, but there’s only so long a person can keep flipping boards. No, I don’t like Monopoly. Nobody I know likes Monopoly. But I’ve heard rumblings that beyond the variants – The Simpsons Monopoly, European Monopoly, Spongebob Squarepants Monopoly, In the Mouth of Madness Monopoly – there might actually be a version of Monopoly worth playing. Rumour central states there’s a Monopoly that’s fun, that can be played in fifteen minutes, and that can never be board-flipped because it has no board.
Monopoly, the bane of our existence, the game that’s conquered every game shop floor and toy store gaming shelf, the game everyone assumes you’re talking about when you mention you like board games . . . without a board? This I had to see.
So I bought this strange new version of Monopoly at the supermarket, picked up Harriet the bus depot harlot and a rather confused French student by the name of Patrice (who, thanks to an intercontinental miscommunication thought I was taking him out for lunch), and brought everybody home to my gaff for a few rounds of Monopoly Deal.
“This is not – ‘ow you say – ‘the shop of the chips and fish’,” said Patrice, looking timidly about my front room.
“Ta gueule, Patrice.” I said. “Ta gueule and play your damned hand.”
At first glance Monopoly Deal is suspiciously un-Monopoly-like. There’s no board, no pieces – no Little Metal Dog. All the cards are shuffled together into one towering pile, and not dealt individually as Chance cards and Community Chest. There’s no money either – or at least, there’s lots of money, but it all comes in card form and is shuffled in with the properties, the houses, the hotels, and the game’s ‘action cards’. Everything’s a card in Monopoly Deal. You might even call it a ‘card game’.
“Ah!” said Patrice “Monopoly! Rue De Paradis! Boulevard Saint-Michel!”
Well, quite. Thumb through the cards and the Monopoly we all know and loathe rears its patience-gobbling face. All the familiar locations are here – the streets, the utilities, the stations – and the iconic artwork is instantly recognisable to anyone with a passing familiarity with the game. Even Harriet recognised the game as Monopoly, and she only has partial vision in one eye thanks to an over-eager client who once accidentally stuck his –
But I digress.
After Harriet shuffled the cards in an unconventional way neither myself nor Patrice are ever likely to forget, we each took our starting hand and started playing cards. Gameplay moves in three phases. In the first, you draw two cards (unless you start the turn with no cards, in which case you draw a new hand of five), in the second you play up to three card, and in the third, you discard your hand back down to five. It took us a few goes to get things straight as Patrice kept insisting he was hungry and Harriet has difficulties understanding numbers that aren’t ‘sixty-nine’ but once we’d sorted it out we discovered something rather marvelous.
Monopoly Deal is a lot of fun.
The game’s all about collecting sets. You collect sets of two, three or four cards that all have the same colour, and try to amass three full sets before some spotty idiot with a bumbag steals them from you. You do this by playing properties from your hand or – preferably – by stealing them from other players.
“Mais, ou est l’argent?” I hear you ask. ‘Where is the money?’ indeed. Money cards in Monopoly Deal are actually your buffer against enemy attacks. By playing the appropriate ‘rent’ cards (no, Harriet – I said rent cards) players can demand money from their opponents. They can also take money through other actions – visits from the taxman, birthdays and other Monopoly staples – and if you don’t have enough money to pay them off, you pay with your properties. Rent escalates according to the number of properties in each set, and can be adjusted even further by playing houses and hotels onto your sets. And, just when you think things can’t get any worse, there’s the Double Rent card. A well-placed Double Rent card can wipe out an opponent’s entire game – but it and any other attack action can be blocked with a ‘JUST SAY NO’ card. Which is something I’m sure Nancy Reagan and the cast of Grange Hill would be happy about.
Monopoly Deal mightn’t have the board or the bits, but it does have the bloodthirsty, back-stabbing black heart of its franchise ancestor. As soon as this became evident I was rather glad I’d picked a wimpy, specky student and an aging call girl with a bronchial cough as my first opponents. Still, I could see the fire in their eyes as the game heated up, and although I won the first round, the second round proved a little more difficult.
I’d played what I thought was a blinder. I’d racked up a massive amount of properties that I’d piled fortress-like around me. I already had two full sets – two blue cards, three pinks – and between the properties on the table and the properties in my hand it seemed I was one card shy of completing just about every other set in the game. On my last turn I’d obliterated Harriet’s stash by charging her double rent on the blues – sixteen million Monopoly dollars, or ‘MMonos’. I was winning, Charlie Sheen style.
Patrice picked through his hand. He only had a few cards on the table. Two complete sets, two singles. Nothing to be frightened of. Finally he tapped his hand on the table and played a ‘Pass Go’ card, allowing him to draw two more cards from the deck. Still, no big deal. As his second action he played a ‘Sly Deal’ card, an action that would allow him to steal any of my cards so long as it wasn’t part of an already completed set. “I will have your bleu,” he said, reaching over the table to take it.
Not so fast! “I’ve got a complete set of blues,” I said, guarding them with my hands. “You can’t have them.”
“Oh,” he said, looking sad. Then, brightening: “Then I will have your orange,”
And like that, he took my orange card – my St. James’s Place – placed it on top of his innocuous orange single, and for his third action dealt a rainbow card that could attach to any set from his hand.
Suddenly, in a single turn, I’d lost, Charlie Sheen style.
“I am the winner,” said Patrice, flashing a piece sign. “C’est magnifique, non?”
I flashed my own sign back at him. It looked a lot like a peace sign, but only from my perspective.
There are other, crueler depths to Monopoly Deal – like an action that steals full sets of properties, houses, hotels and all – and we explored most of them that afternoon. And even though I never paid Harriet the tenner she usually demands for an evening’s services and Patrice never did get his chips and fish, they must have enjoyed themselves because both of them have since called to ask when they can come over for more card-slinging fun.
I never thought I’d like anything to do with Monopoiy. It turns out I was wrong. This is a great, short, cutthroat game, and for just under a fiver there’s nothing on the market to rival it. But – and I want to make this abundantly clear – just because I like Monopoly Deal doesn’t mean I like Monopoly itself. If you come near me with one of those poxy boards I’ll smack you over the bloody head with it.
You have been warned.
Fancy challenging Campfire to a game yourself? Perhaps you’d like to finally get Patrice some fish and chips? Whatever you need, email him: firstname.lastname@example.org. Monopoly Deal is available now in good toy shops and – yes – even supermarkets for around £5. Seriously, it’s a bargain.