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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Game Play: Monopoly (iPhone)

It should be noted before going to far into this - I've played a lot of Monopoly in my day. We played it as kids with our parents, The Girl's family plays it, I've played multiple digital versions of the game and so on. Monopoly occupies an interesting space for people who finally dive headfirst into being true board game geeks (probably best quantified as when you purchase a game most people have never heard of). That space is usually one near the intersection of derision and scorn.

This mostly because it is an incredibly popular game with, honestly, subpar mechanics. Most of the game is luck, a little bit of strategy and a great deal of abusing players who haven't played as much. Don't even get them started about the free parking or rent related rules.

While I agree with most board game geeks on this - the game also works because it doesn't take long to learn, the strategies are easily understood and people like playing with fake money.

Most digital versions of the game have been a mixed bag. Some have lacked AI, some have had such bad AI that it might as well not have had AI in the first place. This is something of a big deal because if you have three other humans to play with - you might as well play the board game version.

Monopoly for the iPhone picks up the "Here and Now" edition, which ups the dollar value so the game doesn't feel so quaint, uses cities instead of streets (which, oddly, makes a couple million seem like a bargain for Rome) and updates some of the random chance cards. It offers a decent number of house rules and the AI can occasionally give you a run for your money.

In short - it actually kinda rocks. The interface is very well designed, easy to play and the graphics and sounds work very well for the game. It has managed to take over Lux for my favorite game to play on the bus at this point.

My only real complaint is that the AI is a bit mechanical. There's no attempt to put in fuzzy logic or quirks that I can see - like having one player be stingy and protective while another risks and builds more. It's rather easy to make deals, even if you want to make an "inside monopoly" when you have only one card of a set, for instance. This goes for the AI dealing with itself, too, so you can bet that monopolies start cropping up rather quickly during the midgame.

Still, this is better than a totally stingy AI and a game that never produces monopolies. Some varation would be nice, but what they have is pretty solid.

The game also sports WiFi, spouts statistics and gives you a variety of backdrops to play in. If they'd stop trying to upsell EA games every time a game ends, I'd be even happier.

Solidly recommend, at least until someone ports Settlers of Catan to the iPhone.

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