A few months ago Hasbro and Nintendo announced a brand-new board game: Monopoly Gamer. After a first glance of the packaging we instantly thought it’d be yet another skinned Monopoly board. However, after watching a video of how the game works it's easy to be sold on the idea. Monopoly Gamer isn’t just a Super Mario-themed Monopoly board, but a fresh Mario Party-esque take on the classic property trading game with a splash of Nintendo's most iconic IP. Unfortunately, it was only announced for the US back then, but now that it’s been released in the UK we've recently picked up a copy and have enjoyed many games since. So, without further ado…
The aim of Monopoly Gamer does not share the traditional objective of Monopoly - that being bankrupting all of your opponents and being the last millionaire standing. Instead, the winner is determined by the player who holds the most points at the end of the game, which can be accumulated via three means.
First off is purchasing Properties. Like regular Monopoly, not only do they earn a player rent when opposing players land on them (with rent amount doubling if a complete set of two is owned - that's right, there are no sets of three anymore), but each Property also has a point value assigned to them, making them even more valuable to own. It's self-explanatory really - the more Properties a player owns at the end of the game, the higher chance they have of winning.
Defeating Bosses in Boss Battles is a second way to acquire points. How are Bosses fought? A Boss Battle commences once a player lands or passes the "GO" space. If a player does this, they must finish the remainder of their turn and then flip a card over from the deck of Boss cards. The Bosses consist of the 7 Koopalings and Bowser, making a total of 8 "fights", with each of them stating a Coin amount that a player must pay before challenging them. A battle is won if a player meets a Boss’ individual roll requirements (e.g. "Roll a 4 or higher to win.").
If a player wins, they carry out the reward stated on the card (e.g. "Force a Property trade between any two players, including yourself."), but more importantly, they keep the card and its assigned points. However, if a player fails to “defeat" a Boss, doesn’t have enough Coins to play them, or passes, the attempt goes to the next player, allowing them to pay the stated Coin value for their chance to nab that Boss card. This goes on until a player defeats the boss, everyone runs out of Coins, or everyone passes. If the latter two occurs, that specific Boss card is discarded and removed from play altogether, negating anyone the chance of netting some extra points.
Finally is the replacement for Monopoly’s traditional note currency, Coins. Coins come in 1 Coin and 5 Coin variants, and can be used to purchase Properties, enter Boss Battles and - of course - pay rent and other expenses throughout the game. However, like in some of the older Mario Party console games, holding onto as many Coins as possible until the end of the game can be a rewarding strategy. Every 5 Coins held equates to 10 points, so it can be a good idea for a player to curb unnecessary spending!
So those are the three avenues players have in acquiring points. It should be noted, however, that points acquired from Boss cards are the earner's forever - i.e. they cannot be traded, stolen, or used to pay debt owed. This makes obtaining Boss cards that much more important, as the other two mediums of gaining points are vulnerable to trades, theft and debts. And just in case you're a newbie to the world of Monopoly, if a player is in debt to a player and does not have enough Coins, they must sell their Property back to the Bank (meaning it's now available for all players to acquire again), and use that money to pay off the amount owed. The game ends as soon as the final Boss (Bowser) has been defeated, in which case players must tally up their total points to see who's crowned the victor.
What makes Monopoly Gamer that much more of an entertaining experience are three unique features. Firstly is the Power-up die that’s rolled with the regular numbered die. This makes every player’s turn unique, for the result on the Power-up die activates an Ability that affects either the player who just rolled, one or more other players, or everyone on the board, in addition to the effect of the space that player lands on, of course. What’s interesting here is that players get to decide whether they want to move first and then activate their rolled Power-up Ability, or vice-versa - it does make a difference! Here are the Power-up die Abilities:
- Red Shell: Choose any player to drop 3 Coins on their current space.
- Green Shell: The next player on the board, from your position, drops 3 Coins on their current space.
- Blooper: Steal 2 Coins from any player.
- POW: All other players drop 1 Coin on their current space.
- Coins: Collect 3 Coins from the Bank.
Secondly we have Character Token Abilities. Monopoly Gamer comes bundled with Mario, Princess Peach, Yoshi and Donkey Kong Character Tokens (board counters/figures), but there’s more to choosing a figure than simply who you roll with in Mario Kart or main in Super Smash Bros. Each Character possesses two unique traits, one being a Power-up Boost to one of the Power-up Abilities described above, and the other being their Super Star Ability. Each Character comes with a card that describes both of their Abilities that players can hold for a gentle reminder. For example, Mario’s Power-up Boost is Coins, so if a player using Mario rolls Coins on the Power-up die on their turn, they’ll receive 4 Coins from the Bank instead of the usual 3. They're basically Character-specific enhancements to the rewards the Power-up die yields players. Super Star Abilities are activated when a player lands on one of the 4 Super Star spaces on the board. So, using Mario again as an example, Mario gets to roll the numbered die, and collect that many Coins +5 from the Bank. Here are the Character Token Abilities of the 4 standard game pieces that come with Monopoly Gamer:
- Super Star Ability: Roll the numbered die. Collect that many Coins +5 from the Bank.
- Power-up Boost (Coins): Collect 4 Coins from the Bank.
- Super Star Ability: Collect rent from the Bank for each Property you own.
- Power-up Boost (Red Shell): Choose any player to drop 4 Coins.
- Super Star Ability: Collect all Coins on the board.
- Power-up Boost (Green Shell): Choose the next player in front of or behind you to drop 3 Coins.
- Super Star Ability: Steal 3 Coins from each player.
- Power-up Boost (POW): All other players drop 2 Coins.
So, as you may have gathered, no single roll is ever worth looking over. There's always some sort of formula that makes every turn interesting, due to the mechanics offered by both the Power-up die and each Character Token's individual Abilities, again in addition to the actual space a player lands on.
Thirdly is the game’s “DLC”. What we mean by this is that the game has more Character Tokens to collect via Monopoly Gamer Power Packs. Each Power Pack comes with a Character Token, a card outlining their two unique Abilities, and a sticker of that Mushroom Kingdom wanderer. Now to many this may seem like a scam for Hasbro and Nintendo to make some extra dosh, but from a collector’s standpoint this scribe personally loves it. The game is still fully playable without these additional game pieces, but purchasing these not only yields the owner more iconic pieces of plastic to marvel at, but also new Abilities to utilise within the game, making it that much more interesting.
The extra Characters are Wario, Luigi, Toad, Boo, Rosalina, Diddy Kong, Fire Mario and Tanooki Mario. There's Bowser too, but he's not available via regular Power Packs - more on that later. As a collector, I want them all, but could only find Fire Mario from the Forbidden Planet store where the game was purchased. Hopefully we don’t end up with another amiibo epidemic of limited availability, though from what we've seen online it seems to be heading that way. Here are the additional Power Pack Character Abilities:
- Super Star Ability: You may drop up to 8 Coins then move forward that many spaces.
- Power-up Boost (Blooper): You may steal 5 Coins from another player if you are both on the same space.
- Super Star Ability: All other players skip their next Power-up die roll.
- Power-up Boost (Red Shell): Choose any player to drop 3 Coins. That player skips their next Power-up die roll.
- Super Star Ability: Collect 5 Coins. Roll the numbered die, and move again.
- Power-up Boost (POW): After players drop 1 Coin, roll the numbered die, and move again.
- Super Star Ability: You may drop 3 Coins to use the Super Star Ability of any other Character on the board.
- Power-up Boost (POW): All other players drop 1 Coin. You may advance to the space directly behind the next player on the board. Follow the rule for that space.
- Super Star Ability: You may drop 5 Coins to steal another player's least expensive Property.
- Power-up Boost (Coins): You may collect rent from the Bank for any one of your Properties.
- Super Star Ability: Move up to three spaces forward of backwards.
- Power-up Boost (Blooper): You may steal 4 Coins from a player who is up to five spaces behind you.
- Super Star Ability: The next two players on the board each drop 4 Coins.
- Power-up Boost (Green Shell): If the next player on the board is four of more spaces ahead of you, they drop 5 Coins.
- Super Star Ability: Advance to the next unowned Property. You may buy it. If there are no unowned Properties, do nothing.
- Power-up Boost (Green Shell): If there is a player on the space in front of you, they drop 6 Coins.
The final unique feature of Monopoly Gamer is how Coins work. Coins add a whole new dynamic to the board, as they can be dropped and collected when passing spaces, adding more of an urgency to the game. Their visual aspect shows how much money is on the board, and this cranks up the competition between players as they race to grab the dropped loot or by hitting the jackpot via the "Free Parking" space. They also play an important role in deciding whether a player should move first and then activate their Power-up Ability, or vice-versa.
For example, we're playing as Princess Peach and roll a 6 on the numbered die and a Red Shell on the Power-up die. This means we get to choose a player to drop 4 Coins (enhanced by 1 Coin due to Peach's Power-up Boost) on their current space. The player we want to choose is a few spaces ahead and only has 3 Coins, and also owns the Property we're about to land on. If we were to move first and then activate the Ability, we'd end up missing out on 4 Coins as well as end up paying them rent (though that player would still need to drop 4 Coins on their current space). However, if we were to activate the Ability first, the player would have to drop Coins on their current space, but as they only have 3 Coins they'd need to sell their Property back to the Bank, collect as many Coins that Property is worth, and then drop the remaining amount needed. Now, because we chose to activate the Ability first, not only would we collect the 4 Coins the player dropped on our way past them, but also avoid paying them rent AND get to buy that same Property they just sold back to the Bank. The order of what you do first really counts, and Coins on the board emphasise that immensely!
Pros & Cons
So far we've basically summarised Monopoly Gamer in a Green Shell (we had to) and offered some insight into what we think of the game. Now it's time for a definitive list of the quirky board game's pros and cons. As follows:
- The simplicity of the game makes it extremely easy for newcomers to grasp.
- Games are shorter than traditional Monopoly rounds, totalling anywhere from 30-60 minutes as opposed to 2-4 hours. Therefore, more than one round can actually be completed in a single session.
- The combination of the Power-up die and Character Token Abilities makes every turn unique and interesting.
- The board is beautifully presented, featuring iconic locations from Mario's past adventures.
- Coins are a fun, tangible medium to use as the game's currency.
- Dropping Coins on spaces and collecting them when passing or landing on those spaces is a really fun and engaging mechanic that works well.
- Monopoly Gamer Power Packs provide extension to the game with new Abilities. Even if you don't want to spend more on these additional figures, you could always refer to their Abilities via this article or Google and "manually" swap them out with the Character Tokens you already own.
- The ending of a game can sometimes be a dramatic one. Just because a player earns 100 points by defeating Bowser, it doesn't mean they've necessarily won. The few minutes spent where players eagerly count up their points can be a great climax to the game - especially if it seems visibly close between players' assets.
- Boiling it all down, the game primarily comes down to chance and luck - there's no real strategy in playing the game to win. Nevertheless, it's still a boatload of fun.
- Some of the game's rules aren't clear and may require some discussion among players before starting a game.
- The Coins are made from cardboard, which you press-out from a sheet of cardboard to begin with.
- The cards are made from a flimsy and low quality material.
- Speaking of which, though they're pretty to look at, the game's Character Tokens seem cheaply made too.
- The lack of "Chance" or "Community Chest" cards is a missed opportunity. The game could get even crazier and deeper with these, and this is felt when playing the game despite the mechanics of the Power-up die and Character Token Abilities.
- As you may have seen from the image of the Fire Mario Character Token Power Pack earlier, the additional Power Pack Character Token cards aren't as aesthetically pleasing as the default ones (Mario, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong).
- The game is only playable by four players, though this amount could increase if more substitute Coins are added to the set.
- No Waluigi. *Sigh*
Optional House Rules
And to top this all off, here are some house rules we like to incorporate in our games:
For a longer game...
- If a player fails to defeat a Boss, doesn't have enough Coins to challenge it, or passes, that Boss can only be challenged again if the "GO" space is passed or landed on again. Basically, Boss Battles aren't automatically given to the next player should the previous player be unsuccessful in winning, unable to afford a battle, or passes. If you don't have that much extra time, you could apply this rule to Bowser only, making the game's finale that much more intense - and a literal race to the finish!
- In a similar vein, should a player be unsuccessful in defeating a Boss, unable to afford its challenge cost, or passes, the Boss Battle is only given to the next player(s) once. This means that if every player fails to defeat that Boss (or can't afford it or passes), it can no longer be challenged in that round as the card should be scrapped or returned to the top of the Boss deck (depending on how you wish to play).
- As just mentioned, if everyone fails or passes a Boss Battle (or doesn't have the Coins to challenge it), that card is returned to the Boss deck instead of being discarded and removed from the game altogether.
- If a player lands on an unowned Property but does not wish to buy it/doesn't have enough Coins, the Property does not automatically go up for auction and instead stays where it is until it's bought.
For a richer game...
- As houses and hotels are absent from the game, a player is rewarded if they land on their own Property by 1 Coin from the Bank, or 2 if a complete set is owned (this value can be amended to the group's desired amount).
- If a player lands on the "GO" space, they receive 4 Coins from the Bank instead of 2 (again, this value can be amended to the group's desired amount).
- If a 1 is rolled three times in a row by different players, the player who rolled the third 1 is awarded 5 Coins from the Bank.
For a more unpredictable and/or difficult game...
- Character Tokens are randomly distributed at the start of the game, instead of players getting to choose who they want. This is done by rolling the Power-up die, with the Ability rolled allocating players the Character who possesses a Power-up Boost specific to that Ability (or a pool of game pieces who share the same Power-up Boost specific to that Ability to randomly select from if players own additional Power Pack Character Tokens).
- The Boss cards within the deck are shuffled and randomised instead of in order. Bowser could be the first fought Boss!
- Boss cards are no longer immune to danger. They can be used for trades, negotiations, or as capital if a player is in debt and does not have any Coins and/or Properties remaining.
- Rewards on Boss cards can be invoked at any time for the rest of the game, instead of needing to be activated as soon as the card has been won.
- Instead of only dropping 2 Coins every time a player lands on the Thwomp space, they must roll the numbered die and drop the amount of Coins they just rolled - making it a "negative" version of the Coin Block space.
Earlier, we mentioned a Bowser Character Token. Monopoly Gamer also has a Collector's Edition, which basically contains some unique artwork on the box and board (instead of artwork from previous Mario Party entries - though fitting), an additional playable Bowser Character Token with its own card and Abilities, an exclusive Bowser Jr. Boss card to replace Bowser as the final Boss, stickers of Mario, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and Bowser, a 25-page game guide with Nintendo artwork, plastic Coins instead of cardboard ones, and a tray to store every Character Token (including the additional ones). Unfortunately we believe this isn't available anywhere apart from the US, at least in the UK and Europe anyway. So, if you do want to own a complete set of everything that Monopoly Gamer has to offer, or at least every Character Token and Boss card, you'll need to purchase both regular and Collector's editions of the game due to each possessing a different final Boss. Here's Bowser's Character Token Abilities:
- Super Star Ability: Collect 5 Coins from the Bank for each Boss you've defeated.
- Power-up Boost (Blooper): After you steal 2 Coins from one player, all players give you 1 Coin.
So, would we recommend Monopoly Gamer to board game fanatics? If you're a fan of the basic property trading mechanic Monopoly has to offer, but are looking for a fresh and quirky way to play the ancient game with a Mario Party twist, then most definitely yes. If you're someone who only enjoys board games that require much more depth, strategy, thinking and outmanoeuvring, then you probably won't enjoy this casual fusion of franchises. And if you don't really play board games but are looking for a casual bit of fun, then again we say go for it.
Of course, it's a neat bit of merchandise for collectors too, and who knows, perhaps more Power Packs will be released in the future. Despite it aiming for more casual bouts of play, Monopoly Gamer captures the core essence of the traditional Monopoly game, splats an element of Mario Party on top, and shakes up the rules just enough to make it a unique, fun and wacky experience that absolutely anyone can join in on the fun on. It's by no means a perfect board game, but with a bit of rule tweaking and imagination in general, it can instantly become an addictive and competitive past-time for you and your family and/or friends. Even if you're not one for adapting game rules, the game as it stands proves to bring both board game enthusiasts and novices alike together for a memorable hour of chaos.