Building games: alternatives to Monopoly

What Christmas is complete without family arguments over property development? Monopoly, it seems, has its roots in more left wing aspirations about generating public wealth rather than land-grabbing: a recent book credits Elizabeth Magie from Washington DC as the originator, in her creation The Landlord’s Game. It had two alternative sets of rules for gaming: the monopolist game where the winner takes all, and the anti-monopolist set where public wealth is created and everyone wins.

Just a little too late for this Christmas, urban planners of a collectivist stripe might want to have a look at Alfred Twu’s Bay Area Regional Planner currently raising cash on Kickstarter, and highlighted on Next City

The name could do with a little marketing work, but this educational game addresses the housing crisis familiar in cities across the world. Twu writes on Kickstarter, “Building new housing isn’t easy, with concerns about traffic, views, gentrification, and open space, to name just a few.  Still, the problem can be solved, though not by San Francisco alone. You’ll have to plan and build regionally. In Bay Area Regional Planner, you'll be given some policy goals to fulfill.  On each round, you’ll negotiate with the other players to decide where to zone for more housing.”

Though not yet released, the debate about the game is already heating up, as comments on webzine Curbed SF reveal. “Is eliminating rent control part of the game? It should be. If not, this game will be won over time. As owners get sick of subsidising people who don't need it they will eventually get their properties back. Repeal the crazy rent laws, and let the middle class & lower income folks back in,” commented member 'SF Resident'. It suggests that unlike Monopoly, family strops during game play will be driven by policy issues rather than Uncle Joe’s embezzling cash and hiding it under the board. The game will also be released to print-and-play in a Creative Commons PDF form. Funding closes on 25th December.

If you can’t wait, you might consider The Modern Architecture Game, created by a real architecture company Next Architects – trivial pursuits with black roll-neck sweaters.

Or, if architectural history isn't your thing, try Blueprints, where players are architects using different materials – wood, glass, stone and recycled – to construct buildings, winning awards and prizes along the way. Just like the real thing. The plaudits from the gaming community admire its sophistication, simplicity of form and arrangement of materials.Those for whom Christmas is a kind of domestic apocalypse punctuated by bouts of alcohol and digestive carnage might be tempted by role-playing video game Fallout 4.

Set in the post-apocalyptic Boston of 2287, settlement building is a major feature of the game. I’m imagining there’s no annoying building regulations or health and safety inspectors and if you’re stuck for ideas, the gameplay includes a magazine called Picket Fences – imagine the Ideal Homes Exhibition crossed with Make magazine for nuclear war survivors (note to self: always pack a 3D printer). 

In a detailed review in The Guardian, Jordan Erica Webber notes that in some respects it resembles previous versions – “you’re still wandering a ruined US shooting mutants and collecting stuff.” However, the “significant improvement is the ability to tidy up parts of this disorderly wasteland and make them liveable.” Just like the morning after New Year’s Eve then...

John O'Reilly

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