Tom Witherow: Advance to Mayfair? I wouldn’t risk it.

Ruthless capitalism and cheating bankers: our columnist plays the most vicious board game of them all

Monopoly is vicious. Like no other board game it brings out tempers, shouting, cheating. Casually unpack the box and you are tossed into a moral oblivion of deception and cheating. “Fancy a cheeky game of Monopoly anyone?” a friend of mine said casually at about half past nine this Sunday.

Oh what an error she had committed.

Play Scrabble, perhaps with your mother, and peace and harmony will ensue. You’ll apologise when you close the board off with an awkward Q, or if you use up the triple letter score. In the Settlers of Catan you will openly admire your geeky younger brother’s foresight in constructing an empire of such magnitude and complexity (having made worthwhile investments in the ‘expansion pack’, of course).

But play Monopoly and you’re more likely to call your mother a ‘poof’ (yes this happened once) or end up in A&E (friend cracked his head open wrestling over Piccadilly) than have some quiet and relaxing after-supper fun.

The Cheat knew what he was about. While others shunned responsibility he stepped up as the banker.

In this most heated of games people become caricatured extremes of their everyday selves. This weekend’s game set up to divert the boredom of January brought out all the classics. One player insisted on calling his money ‘capital’ and his houses ‘real estate’, as though he’d actually forgotten that what they actually were, namely ‘paper’ and ‘card’. This was The Economist.

At the other end of the scale was The Apathetic. She lay back sipping her wine, nonchalantly tossing the dice across the table like that piece of waste paper flicked vaguely in the direction of the bin, before muttering that it’s only a game as she crashed out in Bow Street’s luxurious hotels.

But oh how smug our next competitor was as he lectured those around the board on the worth of the oranges – “statistically Jail is the most landed on space, and if you allow for the ‘go back 3 spaces chance card’ Vine Street is the most landed on space”. The Geek was scorned, but those around the board knew he was right and really their frustration was directed at…

The Sell-Out. This guy had a 9am to get to on Monday morning. He dived in early going on a mad spending spree, buying properties he knew he couldn’t afford, until he threw a double six, bounced through the oranges, the reds and the yellows to hit the Water Works bankrupting himself with a monstrous multiplier. But what’s this? He can’t be bothered to calculate mortgage values, pay his debts and stay in the game? “Ah, just have it all, I’d better get to bed anyway.”

NO. Disbelief haunted the table as The Geek muttered some tripe about utilities, probabilities and rising electricity prices. The Sell-Out, his job complete, exited the room, leaving the remaining players three hours of doom as the completed orange and yellow sets loom over their cash stocks. Nothing could be done now – the game was afoot, only one player could end it: The Cheat.

The Cheat knew what he was about. While others shunned responsibility he stepped up as the banker. He took control of the rulebook and while The Geek rubbed his grubby hands together he was hatching a plan. Some sneaky exchanging with the bank made him cash-strong. His next step opened up a monopolized conglomerate of property encompassing the greens, purples and browns. Rent shares, help-to-buys, fixed rate mortgages and cash-back guarantees, surveys with prize-draws. He had it all. The Economist was astounded – “is this… in… the rules” he spluttered. “Well technically, yes” The Cheat slyly replied, knowing full well of his elaborate deception.

Two hours on and all but The Cheat and The Geek had long lost interest, reading books, or performing other tasks with actual use to humanity. Money was tossed backwards and forwards until The Geek finally gave out. “I can’t win, ad infinitum, your higher property value will eek me out over approximately the next 74 goes.” The game was up.

I would reveal where I was in the heat of this fierce competition, broken dreams and ill-sought alliances… But hey, it is just a game.

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