House and Hotel Rules

Monopoly is a game that it sometimes seems hardly anyone plays by the official rules, except in tournaments. I remember trying to play it in school and some kids arguing that you had to move all the way around the board before you could buy anything, which I’d never heard of before that, and certainly isn’t in the actual rules. What I find particularly interesting, though, is not that people play with different rules, but how common it is for people to play with, essentially, the same wrong rules. Getting money when you land on Free Parking, for instance.

Everyone seems to know about it, but nobody knows how it got started or how it spread. We played it that way in my family, even though I had read the rules and knew it wasn’t official. The way this works does vary a bit. The way we did it, all the money paid by players for cards and bail, but not for buying properties, went into the middle of the board; and the person who landed on Free Parking took all of it. I’ve read that other people just give anyone who lands there a set amount of money, or sometimes both that AND the collected fines. And while we never played this way, it’s apparently common for a player to get $400 instead of $200 if they land on Go, or for them to be able to move to any space on the board.

It seems like people have a real issue with spaces where you don’t actually do anything. When you think about it, why would you get money from a square called Free Parking? It’s not We Pay You to Park, after all. Not that there isn’t already a lot in the game that doesn’t make sense. Why should you have to pay rent on a place just because you stop there? Why is rolling doubles three times in a row against the law? Why demolish the houses you just had built so you can put up a hotel? Shouldn’t you have to give back the money that you received through a bank error in your favor? And who won FIRST prize in that beauty contest?

But the thing about the Free Parking or extra money on Go rules is that, at least according to what I’ve seen, they tend to slow down the game. If you win the jackpot, that’s generally enough to keep you going for a little while, but not enough to really build yourself up if you’re behind. Basically, you’re prolonging the inevitable.

Also, houses and hotels are supposed to be in limited supply. What I never understood was why, if you could build up to four houses on a property, the spaces were only wide enough for three. At least that’s how it was with our set. Hotels basically meant other players were doomed, but they were a relief in terms of making the board less cluttered.

It’s interesting that some house rules tend to make things easier for players (the Free Parking pot, allowing uneven building, letting people declare bankruptcy), while others make them harder (making you sell back properties instead of mortgaging them, not allowing someone in jail to collect rents, the thing about having to go around the board before buying anything). Of course, one player’s disadvantage is often another’s advantage, and I couldn’t really say which of these rules speed things up and which ones slow them down. When I was a kid, we had a book called Beyond Boardwalk and Park Place that suggested rules of both sorts, as well as some oddities I can’t recall coming across otherwise, like doubling the list price of properties, turning the utilities into additional railroads, and removing one-dollar bills from play. That latter one is probably actually a good idea, as all those singles get complicated. There were also Go cards that you could cut out and mount on cardboard, which provided another way to make landing on Go less of a bore (although getting $200 without having to spend it for a while can’t really be THAT boring).

I would occasionally try to invent my own rules, like letting a player buy the jail and collect bail money from other players. And I didn’t even know private prisons were an actual thing at that point!

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