House, rules


monopoly house

Charlotte’s into Monopoly now.  I don’t know how it started, but I came home from work one day and there it was on the coffee table.  I didn’t why or how, but the impulse to ask quickly got washed away with a flood of memories from when I played it 35 years ago.

Taxes and mortgages and fines and jail and an ultimate goal of BANKRUPTING others like Henry F. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”…


Maybe playing is a bad idea.  All of a sudden, sex education or cell phones or dating boys seemed trivial topics.  It was more like, wow, am I really ready as a Dad to play *Monopoly* with my little girl?!?  Am I ready for her childhood to end when I see her having to mortgage everything to pay me for her Boardwalk hotel bill? What kind of Dad am I anyway?

But she wanted to play, and it’s my duty to play.

I set up the board and caught sight of the other artifacts of her home schooling — crafts and posters and games and books and scissors and tape and her laptop with headphones…

This Monopoly board, the pieces, the tokens, the Chance cards were materials, same as the popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners in the rotating craft caddy.  The “rules” are simply the way those materials are combined.  What came out of this would be part Rorschach test and part time-machine for each of us — me seeing who she’s become, she seeing a new dimension of me, and both of us adapting and improvising to maximize the fun in what the game throws at us.

This home, this board, the time right now, is our SCHOOL. Come what may, it has to be about learning and the SAFETY of learning, even if what happens is conflict. Suddenly, it was not just a game, it was a chance for me to see Charlotte as a thinker, a tactician, and a citizen of a real-estate-based economy.  What does she do with her money, her debts, and how does she handle the Chances life throws at her?

As we started, though, I was still a bit nervous.

I mean, when you break it down, Monopoly is really 4 introductory college classes — economics, politics, ethics, psychology.

But wait… no… this is unschooling, darnit, and that means that we are not bound by rules! Learning doesn’t have to happen any one way.  It can happen whatever way we want to make it happen.

I remembered when I last played and the how “house rules” made it more fun.  I told Charlotte some of the basic premises, but that she was free to improvise. She said “I know”, but I think she meant “ok-whatever-Dad-let’s-play-already.”

I learned it was not conflict or adult life themes that were the problem.  It was boredom.  Dice roll, property, buy, pay rent, dice roll, property, buy, pay rent, dice roll, property, buy, etc.  Improv naturally came as a simple matter of making the game more interesting.

I was going to write some of the rules we came up with as the game progressed, but I decided to do some research instead. I suspected I’d find sites on the ‘net about other “house rules” and variations — and I did — but what was first and foremost in the search results was a pleasant surprise:

Earlier this year in March, Alison Griswold from Slate magazine wrote a piece titled “The Surprisingly Realistic Economics of Monopoly’s “House Rules” where she writes about how Hasbro has recently crowdsourced its rules, culling the top ten rule variations from us, the playing public.

For example, it’s a common “house rule” to have a bounty if you land on Free Parking.  But in the variation I play with Charlotte — any and all payments (real estate, taxes, etc) go to the middle.  It adds up quickly. And since the game ends when someone runs out of money and real estate, the balance gets tipped fast.  Yes, it winds up to be luck more often than not, and it was a test for me when I landed on that space first (Charlotte took it well, and even cheered for me).

I was in awe to find that Charlotte has an amazing grace and sense of fairness as she played.  When I landed on a spot with her hotel, she told me the rent, but she also asked if I had pets.  I played along and said I did — “two dogs and a kitten.”  She said, “then you can stay free.”  Another time, I landed on her property and owed her $18.  I rounded up to $20 because I didn’t have ones, and neither did she.  Instead of getting change from the bank, she said, I’ll remember next time I have ones… and she did!

Today, Charlotte came up with another great variation.  The game now starts with all of the real estate cards dealt out to each player randomly and each player gets $1000, so you get right to the action.

Fun, fun, fun.  I am so proud to be her Dad, and I intend to nurture her spirit as much as I’m able, even if the game was meant to show a depressing nature of capitalism.

Don’t be scared, dads.  Monopoly may have intended you to act like adults when you play, but the materials Hasbro included in the box can be repurposed to help both of you keep your childhood alive.