Sunday, 10 March 2013

The development of games is not always linear

I recently played a new edition of the one of the few board games that is of global importance in the games industry, Monopoly.
The actual version played was the Cornwall edition. For those who have not played this classic, in essence it consists of rolling 2 dice, moving around a square board trying to acquire sets of three streets of the same colour. Once three adjacent streets of the same colour are acquired, the player invests in houses as they can afford them. Eventually, other players land on your streets and you slowly bankrupt them with the fine they pay for landing on property you own. Often the game becomes very exciting as two players each get sets and slowly add houses as they save enough money. Eventually, someone becomes bankrupt and loses.

The new version of the game has two rule changes that dramatically reduce the decision making in the game and reduce the fun value considerably.
In the old version of the game, you could only buy a property by landing on it and paying the set fee. While often it was sound strategy to buy up properties which your opponents want (to stop them getting a set), sometimes it is better not to. In the mid game, players often need to save money to buy the properties they need to complete their sets or to make sure they have enough money to build houses when they get sets. The new rules mean that if a player does not want the property, it is automatically put up for auction. i.e. if a player does not buy it, the player who does need it to complete their set will be able to. Therefore, players have no option except to buy up most of what they land on.

The second rule change is about mortgages. Under the old rules, a player’s can mortgage the properties they have bought for half their value if they need cash, but not when they still have houses anywhere on the board. The new rules allow players to mortgage anytime they want. So as soon as player gets a set and so is eligible to build houses, they simply need to mortgage every other property they own and get the maximum number of houses in one turn. This is a killer strategy that normally means who ever gets a set first will win within three circuits of the players moving around the board.
The story of the development of Monopoly is an example that has a general lesson for wargaming. As I go through the History of Wargaming, I find there are numbers of sets of rules where later editions are clearly inferior to the earlier versions. Some of these later editions introduce less player decisions, introduce potential ‘killer strategies’ or otherwise deemed inadequate by their player base.

The development of games is clearly not linear.
Has anyone got any examples of games where the later editions were not improvements?


  1. I remember the second edition of Space Hulk was inferior IMO to the first after the removal of a single rule. The rule being one which allowed the Space Marine player to reserve action points to be spent in the Genestealer (Aliens) Player's turn. Removed a lot of tactical options and game play in one swoop. I can't comment on the 3rd edition as I've never seen it.



  2. Bizarre - I was going to refer to space hulk as well.

    The removal of the clock from the 1st edition was a mistake.

  3. Other suggestions I have just had include Space Hulk (which has already been mentioned), AK47 (the 2nd edition had a lot of opposition)and WRG 6th edition Ancients (the move to the 7th edition changed the nature of the game so much it seemed like a new rule set). Any other suggestions?

  4. Peter Perla added the following comment

    Much as I like all the versions of Columbia Games Napoleon, the most recently published version, third edition I believe, seemed a step--if not backwards, in the wrong direction. It added many additional units and some new rules that seemed to change the game into something more complicated without being more compelling. I'm glad to see that a fourth edition is in the works to try to hit the middle ground sweet spot between Version's two and three.

    Other examples I have heard about but not experienced myself include the Decision Games updates of the SPI classics USN and Empires of the Middle Ages. Anyone have personal experience of those?

  5. John, I don't know who's been messing with your Monopoly rules on your side of the pond but auctioning a property that someone declines to buy after landing on it has been around here since the beginning. Furthermore, you could always mortgage any unimproved property to buy houses or hotels for other properties. You definitely can't mortgage an improved property (without selling the houses or hotels on it first). More to the point, it is a shame when games take a step backward in design. Imperium: 3rd Millenium is a classic offender in this regard (so I'm told).

  6. John,

    With wargaming rules, as with films, it does not always follow that the sequel is inferior to the original, but there does seem to be a tendency to 'milk' the product to the point of ruining it. Two examples that I can think of are "Empire", which had a truly revolutionary game mechanic and genuinely innovative thinking, and our own favoured set "Shako" (an 'Empire successor' set).

    The former peaked at version III and then produced two further versions which ruined what they had done and left players of the rules feeling ripped off. "Shako" are the set that we have settled on as they work best for us. Knowing that there are things we'd like to tweak, we purchased Shako II. These have some really good ideas, but are, overall and in our opinion, a retrograde step on the original. They seem to have tried to introduce more fast play elements, which are certainly not to our liking. Our solution is to use a hybrid of the original plus the 'best bits' of version II and our own specific rules and edits.

    On Monopoly, I am pretty sure in our version that mortgaging a property was the 'last resort' to pay rent when no other sources were available, not merely a means to increase 'cashflow' to buy houses and/or property. Did you play the rule where fines went in the middle of the board to be claimed by the first person to land on 'Free Parking'.

    Great blog, by the way, thanks,


  7. Most useful to see your comments re. Empire.

    I have heard of the Monopoly fines being claimed by landing on free parking, but it is not in the edition I looked at. I can see it would add to the game.

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