The Monopolists

9781608199655_p0_v4_s192x300I love playing board games. My daughter and I love playing Feed the Kitty and Eye Found It! together, and my husband and I love Yahtzee.  My love for board games however, does not include Monopoly. Something about it brings out the worst in people. Maybe I have been playing with the wrong people, but I don’t think I’ve ever won playing against my husband. It’s very competitive, and I think it can bring out the worst in someone.  It’s one of the most successful and popular board games of all time though, so probably not many share my opinion. That’s okay. I want games to be fun, not cutthroat. I saw The Monopolists at the bookstore not too long ago, and was immediately interested. It examines the “obsession, fury, and the scandal behind the world’s favorite board game”.

Mary Pilon turns the history of a board game into something very interesting, much more than properties, hotels, and get out of jail free cards.  I have always loved playing board games, and I think that love was passed down to me by my parents. They met while working at Parker Brothers, the company that actually made Monopoly, in Salem, Massachusetts. Or, after reading this, I whould say one of the companies that made Monopoly. It turns out that Parker Brothers turned the game Monopoly into an actual monopoly.

Before reading the book, I really didn’t know anything about the game’s history. It’s not something I’ve ever thought about, but I knew that the game had been played for years before the first time I’d ever played.  I knew the names of the properties, railroads, and utilities were named after places in Atlantic City, but I knew nothing beyond that.  Charles Darrow was given credit for creating the game, and was the one who actually sold the game to Parker Brothers. He claims to have invented the game during the 1930s, during the Great Depression. He was unemployed and was inspired by his family’s recent trip to Atlantic City.  The game he made for his family quickly grew in popularity in their circle of friends and family.

This popular story that the board game company had promoted (and seemed to have created) turns out not be true. Monopoly, in a similar form though with a different name, seems to have been played for years before Darrow claimed to have invented it. Therefore, the game was in the public domain, and a copyright was impossible.

Two versions of the game are the focus of the story. One woman seems to have been the original inventor of the game – Lizzie Magie, who introduced the game in 1904. That was the year she filed for a patent for what she called the Landlord’s Game. That was years before Darrow could have possibly “invented” the game. Another individual featured in this history is Ralph Anspach, who had been a college professor, and had developed a game he called Anti-Monopoly. He fought almost his entire adult life against Parker Brothers for the right to sell this game.

This was such an interesting story – and was kind of ironic considering the manufacturers of the game Monopoly were themselves created a monopoly themselves.  This was one of the most popular games that Parker Brothers made, but not the only instance in which the company put competitors out of business.  This is a great read for board game fans.  It’s a fascinating story, not only about Monopoly, but also about the evolution of board games.



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