Being Resourceful – Part I

Posted on Jan 8 2013 by pomomojo in Board Games

One thing I really enjoy is playing a game for the first time. There’s a mystery to be solved as the rules are first explained to you and your first game plays out. You see how all the different parts fit together and start to glimpse how certain strategies might work or not work. For others, though, this process is not so appealing since new games can seem overwhelming. Where do you start in your quest to master the game system?

One thing that works well for me is to start by figuring out what resources are available in the game and how you are allowed to manipulate them, accelerate them, or accumulate them. In a game like Monopoly, this is a fairly easy task. Just like in real life, your primary resource is money. This is why Monopoly works as a family game – the basic strategy is intuitive to those of us raised in a capitalist world. More money is better than less money. You want to collect money from your opponents and keep them from taking your money. Most children can grasp this right away.

So how do the players interact with the Monopoly economy? Well, you collect $200 for passing Go, so that is one means of adding to your bank. In this game, however, you have almost no control over how often you pass Go – the dice and cards take care of this for you. There is one choice in this area you do get to make: when to leave jail. Once you are sent to jail you can immediately pay a fine of $50 and continue playing, or you can try to roll doubles for two turns before paying your fine. The basic strategy consideration here, then, is when is it worth paying the $50 on turn one and when is it better to pay the money on turn 3?

Every turn you spend in jail is one less turn you are moving toward Go or landing on available properties. On the other hand, every turn in jail is one less turn you are landing on other players’ properties and paying rent. Your job is to calculate which option pays off better for you. Is passing Go and possibly buying a property worth maybe paying rent or is the “safety” of your jail cell well worth forgoing your $200 for another two turns?

The biggest strategic decision will be which properties to buy. The very first thing you learn is that a set of properties is worth more than individual ones since they allow you to build houses and hotels and charge more. You must also consider how much to pay should a property go to auction. How much return can you expect to get on your investment? Finally, you need to consider which properties on the board to actually collect, keeping in mind the likelihood of opponents landing there, as I discussed in a previous blog post.

Taken all together we see that Monopoly is not a highly complex game but one where your strategy slowly improves as you increase your mastery of the game’s primary resource – money. First you identify what the primary resource is and how it relates to victory. Next you catalog the ways you can acquire or spend the resource. Finally, you search for every strategy that allows you to maximize your rate of return on your investments while playing. How far you are willing to go during this last step usually determines how often you win.

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