Monopoly Empire is Not Evil

Monopoly EmpireCall this a rant if you will; I prefer to think of it as an editorial. In either case, the problem I want to talk to you about is the way some people have responded to Monopoly Empire, a recently released variation on the classic board game from Hasbro.

For those of you not familiar with it, the primary distinguishing feature of Monopoly Empire compared to the original Monopoly is that instead of buying and selling real property, players in the new game accumulate well-known brands, such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Intel, Xbox, and Nestle. Other differences include a single rent rate that applies to all of a player’s brands (properties) and the game ending when a player has collected a certain number of brands (rather than when bankrupting everyone else).

At first, complaints circulated through many media outlets about Hasbro eliminating the jail space from the game. While I could spend time defending this as a design choice, the simple fact is it turned out not to be true.

More recently, I’ve read criticism of the game’s focus on corporate brands. In fact, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has just nominated Monopoly Empire for a TOADY, that organization’s award for worst toy of the year.

For more than 60 years, Monopoly was almost the perfect board game. But one thing was missing: ads! Fortunately, the good people at Hasbro rectified that with Monopoly Empire, where “Every space on the board is an iconic brand.” Goodbye to the boring old hat and shoe. Hello to “cool brand tokens” like McDonald’s fries or an xBox controller. Instead of buying properties, players race around the board collecting brands—Boardwalk and Park Place are now Coca-Cola and Samsung—and build towers out of billboards. Is there a better way to teach kids that whoever owns the most brands, wins?

And it’s this nomination that finally set me off ranting editorializing to you, because with regard to Monopoly Empire, CCFC got it completely wrong.

First of all, original Monopoly isn’t even close to a “perfect game.” While not as bad as many hard-core gamers will suggest, among other problems, Monopoly depends a lot on luck and not much on strategic decision-making. Yet it’s the new version that CCFC nominates as a “toy oppressive and destructive to young children.”

Second, while the game’s precursor, the Landlord’s Game, was designed to teach the evils of capitalism, Monopoly itself became popular for the opposite reason. It gave people the opportunity to play at becoming wealthy and bankrupting their opponents. Is that the type of activity and lesson the CCFC is trying to protect?

Third, Monopoly is a game that has players building business empires. In the original version, those businesses were based on the real-estate industry in Atlantic City. All this new version does is update the game to industries and businesses with which modern players are more familiar.

So, chill CCFC! I get that Monopoly Empire triggers feelings of nostalgia for the original. But a game that’s “oppressive” to young children. Not even close.

Toy Fair 2013 Logo

Robert and I had a blast playing with the Transformers, KRE-O, and Nerf toys in Hasbro’s showroom. There may still be some Nerf darts stuck up in the rafters!

In terms of Hasbro’s games, though…

Magic Jinn is an interactive, electronic, guessing game. The magical-cat-like device asks the questions and you answer “yes”, “no”, or “it depends.” One version will guess Animals; another Food & Drinks.

Part of the Elefun line for preschoolers, Chasin’ Cheeky is a monkey figure that scrambles around the floor while the kids try to toss rings over its tail. Or if someone is able to grab the banana from its mouth, Cheeky will shake his rear end.

For 2013, Hasbro plans a series of Twister-branded dance and activity games. One is Twister Rave Skip-It, which spins around the ankle. Another is Twister Dance Rave, which includes colored pads and a device that lights up to music, indicating where to put your left and right feet. (Thank goodness they didn’t make me try either of those!)

The Bejeweled Classic and Bejeweled Frenzy games, which we’ve mentioned before, were on display.

As were two additions to the Angry Birds Star Wars Jenga series: Angry Birds Star Wars Jenga Rise of Darth Vader and Angry Birds Star Wars Jenga Tie Fighter. The former includes Sith pigs.

Tetris Jenga adds quite a bit of challenge to the original Jenga game. Instead of straight blocks, they’re shaped like Tetris pieces.

To coincide with the release of the Despicable Me 2 movie this summer, Hasbro is planning Despicable Me 2 Monopoly and Despicable Me 2 Operation. Each comes with a set of miniature Minion figures. Additional Minions, to complete the full set of 50, can be purchased separately.

World Series of Yahtzee is a frantic game of simultaneous dice rolling. The first player to match a pattern on one of the cards takes it and presses a button. Then the rest of the players have seconds to roll better.

Scheduled for release in the fall is the Game of Life Fame Edition. In this version of Life, instead of building a family, players are gathering an entourage. Instead of a nice four-passenger sedan, players travel the board in a limousine. Also, the board is pentagonal and made of five sections, each of which can be flipped over to vary play.

Another fall board game release planned is Monopoly Empire. While no prototype was on display, Hasbro explained that the basic concept is buying and selling iconic brands instead of real-estate—a better fit, I think, for the modern business environment.

A prototype of the new Monopoly cat token, though, was on display.

And a whole range of Transformers Bot Shots Battle Game products. The Transformers Bot Shots Battle Game Dragon Track especially looked fun! Two bot shots race in from opposite sides while the center pit spins.

Beyblade had a stronger showing than expected with a new Beyblade Shogun Steel line. Shogun Steel is Hasbro’s version of the Zero-G series from Japan. These Beys come to the United States with little-to-no modification, except some really nice recolors. The new stadium, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. Takara Tomy’s Zero G Beystadium features a rounder bowl and three holes for ring outs. Hasbro’s Beyblade Cyclone Stadium has a flatter bottom, so it rocks less, and has 2 pockets near the top for ring outs. This also can affect the rocking motion of the stadium if they hit the table.

Last but not least, Hasbro’s plans for 2013 include a major push for a new product line, B-DAMAN. It’s a competitive marble-shooting toy with collectible shooters and an online game tie-in.

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