New Year’s Eve 2007, Memphis TN – Visiting my big brother for the holiday, he dragged me to his friend’s New Year’s Eve party. I knew my brother, his friend, and that friend’s wife and that’s it. The other 20 people there were complete strangers and, apparently, gamers. After a solid hour of awkwardly mixing and mingling (a.k.a. standing as close to the food as possible so I looked engaged with the party, but not actually talking to anyone), I was relieved when I was invited to play a board game. After all, my family loved Scrabble, Life and Monopoly. And playing a board game would be a comfortable way to mingle without actually having to talk to people. So I sat down to my first game of The Settlers of Catan.

I hated it. I had never before in my life hated a game more than I hated that first game of Catan. Knowing nothing more than Hasbro and Milton Bradly, Catan overwhelmed me with it’s complexity, rules and length. My goodness, that game lasted forever. And I was unprepared. It would be another four years before I agreed to sit down and play Catan again.

Kelsey rocks at Catan

In 2011, I won my first game of Catan and now I rock at it. (Although I still think it takes too long and that’s why in my house we play without the robber.) Obviously I am now into hobby games and I am now the friend who is introducing my Monopoly-playing peeps to Catan. But looking back at that first night, I think we gamers can learn some lessons.

Why I hated Settlers of Catan

Coming from a family that enjoyed board games, but only on the scale of LIFE, it was unjust to throw me into Catan without help. I felt like I was drowning in sheep and brick and then all of a sudden someone moved the robber and told me I couldn’t collect ore – the only thing I wanted. Actually, that’s still how Catan feels, I just enjoy it more. I think it boils down to this:

I thought I was a gamer.

My family loved playing games. It was a social thing I was comfortable with and enjoyed. My expectation when sitting down to that game was that I would have fun. But, sitting down with little explanation and poorly taught rules, my night quickly derailed. It wasn’t long before I felt stupid, inept and was having no fun.

When introducing new people to hobby games, we must be very careful to read the room ad ensure they enjoy themselves. It may be the longest game of 7 Wonders you’ll ever play, but letting them ask questions, looking over their shoulder to, once again, tell them how much it costs to build that Altar, will pay off.

Why we should stop hating Monopoly

… or Life, or PayDay or any other “lame,” “basic,” “poorly designed” mainstream game. Games like Ticket to Ride are toted as being “gateway games.” And they are. But the original gateway game is Monopoly. Even if you hate Monopoly as a game, and plenty of people do (just check out the Facebook thread and the heat this article generated there) you have to acknowledge that any time board games, tabletop gaming or game night appears in the media, Monopoly is the poster child. 2015-03-12T22-58-06-233Z--1280x720.nbcnews-video-reststate-640Such as this image that fronted the report from NBC Nightly News titled, “Board Game Renaissance in Full Swing.”

In the USA, if you say, “board games,” people think, “Monopoly.” When we first met our friends Emma and Jesse and told them we design board games, they said, “Oh! We love board games! Have you ever heard of Monopoly Deal?” And so we played Monopoly Deal with them. Now their horizons are expanded and they’ll play anything we suggest. They’re even some of our best play-testers for our new designs. But they started playing Monopoly.

I think we gamers and game designers can jump too quickly to scoffing at mainstream games. But we owe a lot to them.Monopoly really is a bridge from the world of no games to the world of hobby games. If we are to grow our industry, we must be willing to sit down with people who love Monopoly and enjoy a game of Monopoly with them. When we start where they are comfortable and show them we can have fun on their turf, they will be more likely to try our “gateway games” and enter into the world of clever design and cool mechanics.

My experience may have been better if the hosts of that New Year’s party had read Christina Major’s FATFROG post about introducing your friends and family to games, or Chris Strain’s article about Teaching a Game, or Mike Domeny’s How to Craft the Perfect Game Night. But, alas, the League was not yet born, and so these gems of thought were not yet uncovered and my night sucked. If you have non-gaming friends and family though, you have no excuse and should read those articles. The League is with you now! So your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is: Go find a way to enjoy Monopoly with people who enjoy Monopoly.

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Kelsey Domeny

Game Designer at Two Penny Games

Kelsey is an actress, game designer, and co-conspirator in the company, Two Penny Games, which she started with her husband, Michael. Since 2012, she has been exploring the full-time role-playing game of Mommy, and so far the baby is winning.

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  1. Dennis Hoyle on August 14, 2015

    Thanks for the good reminder. While it can be painful for me to bring out our copy of Monopoly, I think its good to at least provide it as an option to people who are new to the hobby. Jenga is one in particular that I will regularly set out next to Ticket to Ride, Bohnanza and Catan. It’s something people are familiar with, its a good game in its own right, and its short enough that we can move on to something else before too long.

  2. Jasmine on August 14, 2015

    Kelsey. KELSEY!!! I felt this EXACT same way about Dominion! I’m only just now getting over my prejudice, having played just about every other deckbuilder out there. I’m going to bookmark this article and read it before I try to teach anybody anything ever again.

  3. GadgetDon on August 14, 2015

    Sorry, I’m going to hold to my hatred of Monopoly. It’s ridiculously long, and there’s very little strategy involved.

    My preferred gateway game these days is Takenoko (or as my friends call it, “The Panda Game”).

    • Kelsey Domeny Author on August 14, 2015

      I haven’t play Takenoko. I’d like to try it!

  4. on August 14, 2015

    Can’t say I hate Monopoly but I certainly don’t want to ever play it, ever. It just isn’t fun for me. I tried it about a year ago with the in-laws and their kids and maybe halfway through I got a “business call” that I simply had to take. I didn’t return to the table.

    • Kelsey Domeny Author on August 14, 2015

      “business call” – that’s funny. 🙂 And I would agree that I hope I’m never asked to play Monopoly because I truly don’t enjoy it either. But, for the hopes of having my friends try games that ARE fun, I am willing to take one for the team and lose at Monopoly.

  5. Artem Safarov on August 14, 2015

    Thank you for writing this and sharing your impressions. Very important things to consider here.

    I think there is nothing wrong with hating Monopoly. I have many objective gripes with it that I’m pretty confident are legitimate criticisms. What I think is extremely important is to never make a player feel bad if Monopoly (or Life or whatnot) has been their only exposure to games so far. In that case it is super important to focus on the fact that the person likes games and there are more games than ever now to scratch that itch.

    It is also widely recognized that Settlers is far from being a great gateway for all the reasons you listed – it is trending towards medium in complexity and it can go quite long. It just so happens that it was THE modern board game (much like Monopoly was THE classic board game). Its historic role earns it respect but not a free pass. Disliking Settlers is a pretty legitimate reaction when you have options like Carcassonne or Dixit that play in half the time with one fifth of the rules, yet are rewarding and fun.

    In short – no one should be judged or shamed for liking what they like but the fact that there are objectively better games to play now than in the past should be recognized.

    Also these are awesome links you shared – thanks so much.

  6. Reed Comire on August 14, 2015

    Most of the world plays NO board games so monopoly is at least something to build on. I too am guilty of being a game snob at times.

    • Kelsey Domeny Author on August 14, 2015

      Thank you, Reed, for grasping the spirit of the article!

  7. Seth Jaffee on August 14, 2015

    I had a similar experience with Puerto Rico, and it inspired thi geeklist on BGG:

    • Kelsey Domeny Author on August 14, 2015

      Excellent. I should add Catan to that list!

  8. John on August 14, 2015

    No strategy? Learn to dominate Monopoly using math:

  9. César Gómez on August 14, 2015

    Well, I’m not sure how a Catan game can last longer than a Monopoly game.

    Anyway we hate Monopoly cos is a 100 years old game, with tons of cons and very few pros. I’m ok with games like Catan not beeing light enough for everyone, but there are plenty of options out there of modern family games for ages 8+ that are perfect to serve as gateaway games, and they are all far better than the old and out of date Monopoly.

  10. Norv Brooks on August 14, 2015

    I would add “Uno” to your list that we should stop hating. Great article, Kelsey!

  11. Seth Jaffee on August 14, 2015

    In some of the FaceBook threads it seems many people are missing your point here entirely I don’t know if it’s a matter of people reading the comments and headline but not the content, or people just seeing the word “Monopoly” and frothing at the mouth due to some Pavlovian response, or what.

    I think the point of this article is this: rather than pooh-pooh Monopoly, we should understand that for many people, that’s what they’re familiar with. It’s not a good gateway game because it’s “good” or “easy to teach” or anything… it’s a good gateway game because people already know it and use it as their basis for what a “game” is.

    Kelsey didn’t say “let’s teach Monopoly to non-gamers to get them into the hobby.”

  12. Steven Tu on August 14, 2015

    I feel like people are more likely to never play another boardgame after playing Monopoly than to continue into “better games”. I’d much rather start people on better games. These days, there are SO MANY better, faster, lighter games to start people on:

    Love Letter
    One Night Ultimate Werewolf
    Mystery Rummy (a personal favourite)
    Carcassonne (I also don’t love it but it’s still better than Monopoly)

    etc etc etc.

  13. Kim on August 14, 2015

    Nice article. If a game has an audience that likes it, is a good game.

    Monopoly is a 2 edged sword. Every one knows it but many non gamers hate it too because of length or whatever.

    When I kept hearing that, I started using brief simple games as intros to real gaming. My top 3 in order are now:
    1. No thanks – because it has 1 simple but key decision every turn. PSYCHOLOGY
    2. Sushi go – because it is light set collection with a cute theme and no downtime. SET COLLECTION
    3. Splendour – because it is deluxe yet incredible simple ENGINE / TABLEAU with a little set collection and psychology too.

    See the trajectory here? Ease them in 30 minutes at a time and build on the fundamentals of gaming.

    if they havent enjoyed these games (or similar) its less likely they will enjoy catan or ticket to ride or whatever else. If they have they should be ready for any longer more complex gateway game.

    And if you use this strategy you are subtly schooling them that there are a whole world of games to explore. All in the space of one game of Catan.

  14. Kim on August 14, 2015

    I mean Splendour of course is engine / tableau BUILDING.

    Only thing I disagree with is that you should actually play monopoly with them. If you can teach and play these games each within 30 mins you dont really need to play monopoly with them. Unless of course you actually want to.

  15. Ian on August 15, 2015

    This article reminds me of a bad thing I did 20 years ago when I introduced/forced my girlfriend’s sister and her husband into a game of 1830 (as the next step from Monopoly). I still remember her plaintive cry of “All I want is a 6 Train”.

    In my defence I think my collection consisted of 1830, Risk and Monopoly at the time. Shortly after that I bought Modern Art.

    These days I tend to start people on No Thanks!, Trans America and things like that.

  16. Norv Brooks on August 15, 2015

    I feel, like Seth, a point is being missed by a lot of the comments. Kelsey’s article in place recommends that a person use Monopoly to start a non-gamer in gaming. She’s saying if they have already started with Monopoly or indicated an interest in starting with that game, don’t HATE it. In other words don’t discourage them from starting to play board games.

    • Norv Brooks on August 15, 2015

      I should have typed in “Kelsey’s article in ‘NO’ place recommends that a person use Monopoly to start…”

  17. kim on August 15, 2015

    She does end with this “So your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is: Go find a way to enjoy Monopoly with people who enjoy Monopoly.”

    Whatevs. Dont play if you have better short gateway games to play instead I reckon.

  18. David Mortimer on August 16, 2015

    I think Machi Koro is one of the best games that bridge the gap between Monopoly and modern games. After all your turn consists of rolling a die, collecting money & buying a building. All very familiar to a monopoly player. Also, and I think this is key, money is the only resource in the game. Sure it has dominant strategies but the expansion draft rules make it more balanced and the games take less than 30 minutes. The rule book is also very short & accessible. A perfect stepping stone for monopoly players into the modern world of gaming.

    • Scott Hooker on August 21, 2015

      I agree that Machi Koro is an excellent, light weight next step from Monopoly. The dominate strategy issue isn’t a noticeable problem for first time players and the rules and game play are simple and straight forward. I disagree on your recommendation to use the Harbor expansion, however. It’s red and purple cards are incredibly brutal, and unless you house rule the drafting mechanic, you can easily end up with a player that gets behind and can literally do nothing for a dozen turns in a row.

      • David Mortimer on August 23, 2015

        Just to clarify Scott I was recommending to introduce the alternative drafting set up suggested in the Harbour expansion, not the actual cards. Totally agree the base game cards are plenty for new players that enjoy.

  19. Scott Hooker on August 21, 2015

    I think the big take away here is to meet people where they are and not be an obnoxious game snob. If you belittle the only touchstone people have to your hobby, all you’re doing in burning bridges and losing their interest.

    My recommendation would be to ask people what their favorite part of Monopoly is, and show them a game that handles that mechanic better. That way you aren’t undermining the fun they’ve had in the past and you can better curate games they are likely to enjoy in the future. Rather than focusing on how bad Monopoly is, highlight how far the hobby has come, and spin your recommended game as Monopoly 2.0, that way you are encouraging, not scolding.

  20. Peggy on November 15, 2020

    My friend and I totally revamped the game of Settlers of Catan. We call our version the kinder, gentler version. We could never go back to playing by the original rules. We’ve turned many others on to it and they feel the same way!

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