I came home from work last Thursday afternoon, the day before Good Friday, staring down the barrel of a 4 day weekend, and knowing that I had an office party with plenty of free wheat-based drinks on deck that evening. My wife was sitting on the couch, a re-run of Mad About You playing on TV, and she turns to me and says “I want to play Monopoly.”

Paul and Jamie, y’see, were playing Monopoly, and since TV is exactly like real life, it was determined that Monopoly must be played post-haste. Of course, I live to make my bride happy, but the difficulty of living in a foreign country means that finding a Monopoly board we would be able to even vaguely comprehend could be… problematic. A quick spin around the Googles later, and lo! The gods at EA, bless their cottons, have bequeathed unto us not one, but TWO versions of Monopoly for the iPhone: MONOPOLY ($2.99) and MONOPOLY Here and Now: The World Edition ($4.99). Because I’m cheap, and had to buy two copies (more on that in a bit), I elected for the vanilla version. One quick download and like a true old married couple we found ourselves skipping a weekend party with free drinks to stay home and play board games.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll
Shake, Rattle, and Roll

At it’s core, Monopoly is, well, it’s the Monopoly you know, love, and have probably played a few hundred times over. All of the familiar bits are there: Thimble, Racecar, Dog (I always play as Dog) and the rest of their friends. Plastic-looking green Houses & red Hotels. Color-coded money, only now without the extra hassle of forcing the role of Banker onto one unlucky soul. All of the same properties and price values from the original game remain as well. $10 Beauty Contest prize? $15 Speeding Ticket? $50 Bail? You’ll feel like a high roller throwing all that cash around!

Of course, being digital, the old faithfuls have gotten a bit of a modern makeover. You actually shake your iPhone to roll the dice (and the sound effects are PERFECT). Player token movements and bankruptcy are accompanied by amusing animations (Battleship sinks, Racecar smokes out of the engine, Dog lies down and, uh, goes to sleep). Going to Jail is accompanied by police sirens and flashing red & blue lights.

Leashes and baggies not required
Leashes and baggies not required

Games can be played solo against AI opponents, against up to 3 other iPhone-equipped friends (WiFi or Bluetooth only, so sitting in the same room is pretty much a requirement), or a combination. Note that each human player requires their own purchased copy of the game, hence my dual purchase. There is also the option of playing with multiple humans on one device, passing the iPhone to each player as their turn comes around, but this is a bit inefficient in practice as only one person at a time can see the board, so games tend to move fairly slowly.

So at the end of the day, is it fun? Does it faithfully replicate the time-tested Monopoly formula? Is it worth my hard-earned scratch?

Like so many things in life, the answer is a resounding “it depends.” After a bunch of plays over the last week, both some real bright spots and stunning shortcomings have made themselves apparent.

Really? This is the best offer you can come up with? Huh.
Really? This is the best offer you can come up with? Huh.

Pros:

  • No Banker required. Having the computer do all of the math for you takes a lot of waiting out of the game
  • “House Rules”: at the beginning of any game you can alter certain rules, like how much money you start with, how much you earn for passing Go, how many Houses are required to build a Hotel, randomly-distributed properties to start out, etc.
  • Animations. I could watch Dog run around the board (complete with jingling leash sounds) all day.

Cons:

  • The AI players can charitably be referred to as “mouth-breathing troglodytes.” Even on the highest difficulty setting, I was able to engineer trades for highly-lucrative properties that would complete sets for me for peanuts. Some of the trades offered to me were so blindingly stupid that I wonder just what kind of logic was built into the game to allow it to happen.
  • I don’t have conclusive proof, but it seems like the higher difficulty setting is simply made more difficult by fixing dice rolls. One game was down to me and one AI player, I owned every single property on the board except one set, he had one Hotel, and I landed on it four times in a row while he kept skipping my properties to land on Chance or languishing in Jail.
  • Multiplayer games over Bluetooth had some syncing issues. One game my wife and I played, my iPhone showed me as having $76 to my name after landing on one of her properties and paying rent, while her iPhone showed me as Bankrupt and played the “You Win!” animation. We were also subject to the occasional dropped connection and app crash.
  • This game SHREDS your battery life. Single player games are bad enough, but if you’re going to play a Bluetooth game or two you’d better be close to a USB port.
That's right. 22 Hotels and they're ALL MINE. House Rules FTW!
That's right. I have a hotel on EVERY. SINGLE. PROPERTY.

Should you get it? Well, at $2.99, I definitely feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth, but the app still has somewhat of an “unfinished” feel to it. The obvious performance issues and occasionally-frustrating multiplayer hiccups can sometimes make playing with friends a drag, and after a couple of games against the AI, you’ll have figured out exactly what kind of early moves you need to make to outsmart them, heavily tilting the board in your direction. I’m now to the point where it would take some staggeringly terrible dice rolls for me to lose a game, simply because the AI is so predictable.

Final verdict: if you like Monopoly, you’ll enjoy the app for a bit, but until EA patches some of the flaws, don’t expect it to be taking a spot up on your iPhone’s Home screen for too long.

Photo Credit: matsuyuki

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