Monopoly accessibility teardown

Monopoly (1933) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameMonopoly (1933)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [1.66]
BGG Rank18072 [4.37]
Player Count (recommended)2-8 (3-6)
Designer(s)Charles Darrow and Elizabeth J. Magie (Phillips)
Artist(s)Frantz Rey
Buy it!Amazon Link (Commisions earned)

Version Reviewed

Unlisted on BGG

Introduction

I feel it’s important for a site like this to offer occasional points of auditability – reviews that don’t get written because they were needed but rather because they let readers calibrate their tastes against the arguments made. For a long time now I have reflexively dismissed Monopoly in many of the posts on this site and I think it’s only fair that you get to see the reasons that underpin our view. For that reason, we now have our first one star review on the site. You know what games we think are The Best – Chinatown and Scrabble. Now you know what lies at the other ends of that scale.

However, accessibility always needs to be served and we don’t review anything on Meeple Like Us without also performing a teardown. There are accessible versions of Monopoly available, because there are an infinite variety of Monopoly sets that can be purchased. However, we’re looking at the standard set here – by which I mean the one centred in London because that’s standard where I come from.

Which is Scotland. Huh.

Anyway, let’s get started.

Colour Blindness

Monopoly gets a reasonably clean bill of health here. While it uses colour heavily on the board, every time a street is referenced it is done so along with its name. Positions of streets never changes and while it would be good to see the coloured bars being textured or accompanied with an icon there is never a point where someone is denied information on account of colour. The only area of concern is in the allocation of properties to sets, and while that is information that is conveyed by colour it’s also something easy to deduce on the board. Each side of the board has two sets and they are grouped by physical proximity and separated by a railroad. Where the colour of a set is likely to be ambiguous (and that’s only in a few circumstances) the board will still reveal the necessary information to a colour blind player.

Colour blindness and the board

Every player token in Monopoly is different too, and this is something I’d like to see in more games. A monopoly player isn’t ‘the red meeple’. They’re the dog, or the car, or the… dinosaur. When did a dinosaur make its way into Monopoly? Whatever they are it’s something absolutely unique and colour plays no role in identifying position.

Money is likewise indicated by large numbers in the centre, although identification of denominations if they’re presented as part of a wad of cash will be somewhat difficult for some players.

We recommend Monopoly in this category.

Visual Accessibility

There’s a lot of tactile information in Monopoly. Houses can be differentiated from hotels by touch, although their ownership is not similarly discernible. There’s relatively little state based information in the game though and all of its is safe to query because in the end it doesn’t really matter if gameplay intention leaks out for the most part – the dice determine the outcomes in any case.

Houses vs hotels

Each player token has its own distinctive tactile profile, and as such a player can determine where everyone is, approximately, on the board by touch. This won’t be sufficient to know exactly on which square they are located but that is deducible once familiarity with the board is built up. People will know the approximate location of Mayfair / Park Lane for example and where Old Kent Road is in relation to the corners of the board. This information likely won’t be available on the first play through but the board never changes and it has an iconic distribution of spaces that can serve as a proxy for a kind of local knowledge.

Tokens in Monopoly

Ownership of streets is indicated by having the necessary cards in hand, and while these have no tactile indicators they are very well structured for close inspection.

Cards

They do interleave icons and text with regards to house prices but in any case these follow a standard progression on every card and the correct value can be worked out by going down the appropriate column. The contrast on some streets however is very poor, with the background colour and uniform black text being an especial problem on the green properties.

Some location cards

Chance and community chest cards are black on white, with large distinctive text. The money symbol in this version of Monopoly has its own money icon which is unnecessarily easy to mistake for a capital M but it’s unlikely to be a factor in play.

Chance cards

However, there is no truly secret information in Monopoly and there is no risk that comes from playing with everything open and with narration. While there’s a fair amount of which a player needs to keep track there isn’t an awful lot that can be done with that state information to influence future decisions. You will go where the dice say you will go. Knowing that your two dice bring you within easy range of an opponents hotels does not influence what the outcome will be.

Money unfortunately is paper based, and that is a wall-to-wall accessibility problem in the games that use it. Normal methods for visually impaired people dealing with paper money (for example, the folding method) do not work in games with a rapid turn-around of cash except to the detriment of flow of play. That said, it’s easy enough to substitute the money in Monopoly for anything you like – the denominations might be something of a problem but a workable solution making a mix of different tokens and coins would be an appropriate solution.

We’ll recommend Monopoly in this category. There’s a lot of state but it’s all open to being queried and in any case you have very little impact on what’s going to happen regardless.

Cognitive Accessibility

The rules of Monopoly are simple and straightforward, and if played with the right people it does generate a reasonable facsimile of fun with no real cognitive overhead with regards to handling rules. There’s very little need for tactical thinking and absolutely no ability for players to enact strategy. Effective play can be handled with a small number of heuristics, and expert play with a few more.

However, Monopoly is a game that stresses numeracy in a number of ways. Rolling dice, handling rent and money, and evaluating the yield of investments. Were Monopoly to have a procedural setup this might even for the basis of an interesting game a-la Chinatown. However, the projected yields and such of properties are statistically set and as such it’s enough to know which properties are most likely to be landed upon without working it out, and that in turn permits players to reliably calculate expected income. This won’t necessarily shake out because dice are tricky, but all a player needs in order to play Monopoly well is to follow a series of simple rules as we outlined in the review.

This low skill ceiling also means that the difference between a player that knows all the tricks and one that is a novice is small enough that they can play easily together. Being able to take advantage of the situational knowledge inherent in understanding the Monopoly board is hindered by the fact that it’s the dice that give you the raw material with which you work. There’s no point putting all your hope in reaping the reward for owning Mayfair and Park Lane if you never see those properties come your way.

The only real times that are likely to be cognitively challenging in a game of Monopoly is when an auction is called, and when a trade is proposed. In these circumstances it becomes important to not overbid what a property is worth, and that depends on how close it brings you or another person to a set. Trades in turn will almost always involve players trading set for set and in that case one player will always end up with a comparatively underperforming result. Woe-betide the player that trades Old Kent Road for Mayfair without getting the pot sweetened considerably in the process.

There is some literacy required to play Monopoly due to the chance and community chest cards, and the fact the only link between a title deed and its property is via the name and colour. However, a literate player can handle reading out of card effects and the title deed can also be matched by visual similarity. There is otherwise no reading in the game.

The game flow is reliable for the most part, although players that are stuck in jail have a different makeup to their turn.

Monopoly makes heavy use of probability, but it’s a passive form of probability. It happens to you, you don’t really do anything with it. As such, there’s no real need to worry about it or remember anything that’s in any of the decks.

We’ll recommend Monopoly in both of our categories of cognitive accessibility.

Emotional Accessibility

You can’t ever control what happens to you. All you can control is your reaction. That’s true in life and it’s true in Monopoly, so how you deal with terrible things happening to you is a big indicator here as to whether this is likely to be an appropriate game to play. You can be eliminated from contention, even when in a relatively advantageous position, through nothing more than rolling poorly. The only advice that you can work with to prevent it in the future is ‘roll better’. It’s aggravating when you lose and unsatisfying when you win. The heavy emphasis on player elimination too is an emotional trigger point in play.

Part of the problem here is the massive difference that comes with the order in which things happen. Let’s say you’re player one, owning a third of the board. Player two owns a quarter of the board. Player three owns a quarter.

Player three lands on your property and pays almost all the money they have to you. They then land on player two’s property, and they don’t have enough to pay the bills. They have to mortgage all their properties, sell all their houses, and they still don’t have enough. So the player then hands over everything they have of value to player two, who now suddenly owns half of the board. If that had happened the other way around, you would have owned half the board. Now that board which was once in your favour is heavily slanted against you and it was only the luck of the dice that made it so. Player two can now unmortgage properties, build houses on new sets and gradually make sure that there are almost certainly in a position to win a long grudge match of rotating around the table. You might still win, but you’ll probably lose. The only thing that determined that was the dice.

That might not be bad in a quick game, but games of Monopoly, absent the tournament speed die, can drag on and on. The game itself now instantly, as soon as you open a new box, presents you with a list of warnings regarding house rules that will prolong the play time.

Monopoly house rules

I’ve never played with any of these house rules and I’ve still known games go on and on with players trading huge chunks of cash to each other while the ‘go’ square continually injects more cash into the economy. My uncle used to secretly cheat, but not in the way you might expect. He’d do an effective bank bailout, waiting until I wasn’t looking so he could slip money into the bank and get out of playing quicker.

Imagine then getting knocked out of play knowing that you have to watch everyone else slug it out for another hour at least.

We don’t recommend Monopoly in this category. The stories of rage-quitting and flipping the board should be taken at least a little seriously. Definitely think twice about playing it with someone likely to take losing badly.

Physical Accessibility

The little houses and hotels that are arrayed around the board are easy to upset, but they’re also reasonably easily reconstructed because the placement rules are relatively precise – they need to be evenly spread across the streets. Players might end up with a large number of cards in hand, but these can be played out in front of them in sets to ease in interpreting game state. There doesn’t need to be any secret information in the game and so there’s no danger associated with this.

In any case, verbalisation is extremely straightforward because there aren’t really ‘actions’ you take. Dice are rolled, you move those spaces, and unless an auction or a trade is proposed a thing happens to you. You don’t really need to issue instructions. You just react to them.

The paper money used in Monopoly is a major problem here, although it can be substituted for all kinds of other cash tracking regimes. I would recommend something like poker chips instead which are easier to work with, more robust when placed, and aren’t likely to be blown around the table when making use of a ventilator or other piece of apparatus.

We’ll recommend Monopoly in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The game of Monopoly as it is presented to players makes use of only one human character – Mr Monopoly himself. Or, as he used to be styled, ‘Rich Uncle Pennybags‘. The manual does not default to masculinity and uses second-person perspective throughout. However, before we give the game a clear pass in this category I will remind you that it is prominently associated with Charles Darrow and he effectively stole the game from Elizabeth Magie. Until that is prominently redressed in the packaging of the game, I don’t think we can be too complimentary here.

Monopoly box

In terms of cost though… well. Monopoly is a game that basically sets the frame of reference people have for board games, and it has a massive impact on the reaction people have when they see the price tags associated with hobbyist games. I got my copy of Monopoly for £13 and it comes with a range of little metal minis that would result in a massively over-funded kickstarter if attached to a mediocre wargame. Its RRP is £22 and even that is a bargain. Whenever I play board games with my mother one of the things she always asks is ‘How much did this one cost?’. It’s like she’s trying to innocently interrogate me on my financial incompetence. Every time I have to say something like £50, or £30 on sale I see fascinated horror play across her face. That’s because games like Monopoly and Scrabble are the context against which those answers are assessed. Monopoly is a tremendous value game and it’s a problem for this entire hobby that it should be so.

Overall, we’ll recommend Monopoly in this category.

Communication

There is some literacy required during play, but no other formal need for communication. What literacy is required can be handled by a single player.

We’ll recommend Monopoly in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The paper money is going to be a particular problem if there’s a combination of physical and visual impairment because the need there will be for a currency solution that is both easy to manipulate and distinct from a tactile perspective, as well as supporting the range of currency values that are routinely used in the game. Anything from a fiver to several thousand might change hands in a single turn.

Monopoly is a very long game… erratically. It might be over in a reasonable period of time but the win condition of Monopoly is a moving target. It doesn’t end in a particular number of rounds or when someone gets enough money. It ends when only one player is left standing and as such there can be a lot of trading rents until eventually someone is worn down through attrition. There’s a speed die that can be used to resolve this issue, but it doesn’t come with the standard version of the game – at least, that’s true of the UK edition. It’s easily a game that can exacerbate issues of discomfort or distress, but not often enough that you can necessarily guard against it. Some games will be over in half an hour. You only really find out half way through, when the various sets are collected and built up, how long you’re likely to be there. It’s a good idea as such to negotiate a secondary win condition that works for everyone at the table.

Conclusion

There’s an interesting feature of mainstream games – they have to be reasonably accessible. They don’t get to simply ignore disabled people or pander to a small hard-core group of die-hard fans. They get held to the same standards as all other popular products and that has an impact on how the game evolves over the years.

Monopoly, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessB
Visual AccessibilityB
Fluid IntelligenceB
MemoryB
Physical AccessibilityB
Emotional AccessibilityD
Socioeconomic AccessibilityB
CommunicationB

With Monopoly we can see that time has smoothed away a lot of accessibility problems, and benefited from some inspired decisions right from the start. The use of charm tokens as player markers in particular is one that solves a huge number of problems that we might otherwise see and I’d love to see modern game designers drawing inspiration from that.

I make no bones about it. I hate Monopoly. It’s our lowest scoring game on Meeple Like Us because it gives you precious few meaningful decisions and leaves you with nothing you can really do at the end except ‘Learn to roll the dice better’. As an accessible game though it does really well, and even without a special accessible set it can be effectively played by most people provided some support is available at the table. I might not be able to recommend it as a game, but I can certainly recommend it for most of our categories of accessibility.


A Disclaimer About Teardowns

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

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