RE: Let's play a board game

Dustin (
Wed, 3 Sep 1997 13:12:44 -0700 (PDT)

More FoRK mail forwarded from Ernie, who knows my love of games and
gaming. Really I'm not a stealth member, guys. Really.

> So when you sent this message, you reminded me of the board game
> AntiMonopoly, which I actually had when I was a kid.

I also owned this game. I suspect my mother could still find it; at least
I hope I have her trained by now to NEVER NEVER NEVER throw away a game
without giving me a chance to take it off her hands first. :-) Guess it's
time to call home again--she always loves it when I offer to take more of
my junk off her hands.

I don't remember much about the game either, so I doubt it was very
interesting. It seemed pretty luck dominated, though, and I remember
being disappointed in the purchase.

The most telling point, I think, is the phrase Joe quotes:

> players do not play by the same rules, fairness is achieved by a
> patented technique of equalizing the win probabilities, a technique made
> possible only by the computer age."

The problem with this is that if the game allows such an analysis then it
is probably not worth playing. The claim here is that the game is
asymmetric (actually bilaterally symmetric but not fully symmetric). If
you cannot argue equal probabilities by symmetry as in most games but
still can make the above claim, then I think the game must have one or
more characteristics which are undesirable from the game point of view.

There web page is rather shrill in the Nader tradition, but after reading
it I'm willing to make a few guesses. If we take them literally, then it
seems that win probabilities are not affected significantly by player
choices, which means as a game it is equivalent to a longer and more
complicated version of craps. I don't really think the world needs that.
Even if it were somehow to be a good *simulation*, it would simply be an
automated simulation executed by hand instead of computer, and that
doesn't really sound like much fun.

If we assume that they didn't mean quite what they said, then they must
have chosen a particular (mixed or pure) strategy to do the analysis.
Now, AFAIK you can't meaningfully do such an analysis in a true
multiplayer game, so we must at least assume that coalitions are not
really possible (which is mostly true of Monopoly itself, of course,
except if you use the correct rules bidding and especially trading should
allow effective cooperation in the required sense).

Under this assumption, we must ask which strategy they used. The only
obvious choice is the optimal strategy--but if this strategy is known, the
game is solved. In this case the game could only be interesting if the
optimal strategy is too complex to be played correctly by hand. The
inventor was apparently an economics professor so he might well know the
required game theory, but my understanding is that even today
game-theoretic solutions all but the most trivial, idealized games are
difficult research topics. Given this, and given 1974 computer power, I'd
again guess that as a game it is trivial.

The truth is that the attempts I know of to design a better Monopoly all
fall flat on their face because the designers don't know what makes
Monopoly worth playing. As an example, the rent structure of Monopoly was
built empirically, by hand, and is basically so full of quirks that the
best investment strategy depends heavily on how much cash you and the
other players have on hand. Reinventions tend to have a regular structure
so that there is no difference in return among properties. I'd guess that
Anti-Monopoly rents tend to fall into this category.

Also telling is that I can't seem to find any reviews on the web except
those on the company site itself, even though good games tend to have a
cult following no matter how hard they are to find (or even if they never
were translated into English). This is probably a good indication that it
was a very missable game. I think I just might put out feelers on the
net, though.

Finally, the web page goes on at length about the original intent of the
game being to demonstrate the evils of monopolies. I find the concept of
the game-as-social-commentary interesting, but I doubt anyone has ever
made it work with much success.