John-Michael Gariepy

Free Parking: Gazing into the Abyss

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche

While few people on the internet appear to have played more than five different board games in their life times, they have very strong opinions of those games they played. Let’s look in on one blurg I stole from

3) Free Parking Rules: Ugh. Free Parking was one of the most hideously misunderstood phenomenons of all time. I really can’t remember what the rules stated, but it didn’t really matter, since most groups made up their own rules. And since we played with so many people at once, the rules could never be agreed upon. I was always of the mind that you stuck a few hundred dollars in the pot initially, and added any income tax/fee money to it as you went along. Others felt that you should stick a thousand dollars in there to start, adding 500 each time all the players crossed the board.

There’s a reason why no one can remember what the Free Parking rule is, and that’s because there is none. Honestly. Peel open your copy of the rules for Monopoly and look for the ‘Free Parking’ rule. I’ll save you time; This is the entire entry for the ‘Free Parking’ space in the Official Monopoly Rules Page:

“A player landing on this place does not receive any money, property or reward of any kind. This is just a “free” resting-place.”

Weird, huh? But, whatever. Monopoly was made in 1934 and we’re closing in on a century worth of play. Most people put money in the center of the board when money would be given back to the bank, and when a player lands on Free Parking, that player takes all that money. It’s like a fun mini-game, and since everyone does it,

it should be fine. Anyhow, what’s wrong with people having a little fun winning back some of the money they lost?

As it turns out, it is very, very wrong.

Monopoly has a simple premise at heart: Players start with a bundle of money, land on random squares and buy property. When a player lands on a square they don’t own, they give money to the owner of the property. Various forces make the players gain and lose money, but when a player has no money, he loses. If only one person is left in the game, that player wins.

When we put lost money back into Free Parking, we’re messing with this formula. Now, the total amount of money in the system isn’t fluctuating, it’s constantly increasing. After all, players make $200 whenever they round ‘Go’ (which some players use as an excuse to put even more money in Free Parking). Eventually, some schlep down on his luck will land on Free Parking and claim all the money that had been lost in the game. Everyone will feel happy for him. He may not have much in the way of property, but at least he’s back in the game.

After hours of this back and forth between players, someone will pick up the box and read it out of boredom. “Man, this game says it takes 45 to 60 minutes! What a joke! I’ve never played a game that lasted less than three hours!” It’s their turn again, and they pick up the dice and pray they can dodge their opponent’s properties, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll be lucky and land on Free Parking.

So what happened in Matt’s game from Let’s let him finish his story:

In the end, our rules for Free Parking turned into a insidious amalgam of all our personal beliefs, leaving it with one peculiar power: whomever landed on Free Parking received more money than any Monopoly player could ever need to win the game. I’m serious, the pile of paper money that crowded the center of the board ended up being 4″ high. It was Hell. We all sat there, biting our fingertips, awaiting for that one all-star player to make the diamond roll once they hit St. Charles Place. And if they did? Well, the game was pretty much over. You can have all the Park Places you want…if some guy has 40,000 dollars to throw around, you ain’t gonna be him. This became our quickest way to end the game. We were pretty patient with these games as long as there was some chance of us weaseling our way to victory. In every instance, we’d announce the person who landed on Free Parking as the winner immediately, throw our money down in disgust, and refuse to look each other in the eyes for weeks.

Well, I suppose that’s one way to end a game with out of control Free Parking. Unfortunately, if there were stubborn players at the table, that game would have taken a monstrous amount of time to finish. Especially if the person with all that money had no properties, and everyone refused to sell him one.

But if the rule is so destructive, why do we keep fueling it? Let me show you a card from Magic: the Gathering.

Yes, that’s a real Magic: the Gathering card, and no, it is not legal to play in tournaments. Magic has two Un-sets whose goal is to add more fun. In Unhinged “Gotcha” is a major mechanic. It appears on a number of cards that will return from your graveyard to your hand if your opponent forgets and says the wrong thing, or touches their face or riffs their cards or laughs. Gotcha is a fun mechanic that gets people laughing and which Wizards concedes was a big mistake to print.

What? If it’s so much fun, why is it such a problem? Well, the first time you’re exposed to Deal Damage, you recognize the card and keep playing. Then you do the wrong thing, and laugh while your opponent gets his card back. Good show. Later, you goof again… you’re opponent got his card back, and you’re getting more cautious. The third time is a little aggravating. It seems you can’t stop saying either the word ‘Deal’ or ‘Damage’, and now your opponent has played another card by the name of ‘Creature Guy’ which does the same thing for those two words. You know what you do when you’re having a hard time not saying words, and those words are destroying your game position? You shut up. You may play it off as a spoof: Oh, look at me! I’m humming all my answers! Soon, you get quiet and play the rest of the game in silence. Games – fun games – aren’t supposed to be played in silence. The whole point of a game is to make people drop their guard and have fun. You can’t let your guard down if your guard is up!

Here’s one more example of what I’m talking about: The Toad card from Talisman.

Talisman, for those of you who don’t know, is a classic fantasy board game in which players run a wizard, or a warrior or a minstrel around the board until they gain enough experience and loot to challenge the toughest monsters and get to the center square. The box claims that this takes 90 minutes to play, but I’ve never been involved in a finished game that ran that short a time. It’s a slow process of making your character a little bit tougher and a little better prepared.

In Talisman, there’s a corner city square. If you land on it, you can visit the witch if you want. Roll a six-sided die. If you roll a six, you’re turned into a toad for three turns.

When you’re turned into a toad, your stats drop to one. You can only hop one square a turn, and you can’t cast spells, and you drop everything you’ve been holding onto. Every magical sword, mystic scrying glass and winged helmet drops to the ground for any other player to grab. Every last coin in your pocket spills to the earth. Every minion you lorded over and companion that you called friend walks away from you in disgust. You are a toad.

Admittedly, this is hilarious the first time it happens. This level of devastation comes out of nowhere and ruins a player. We’ve all been working so hard to make our characters the best they could be and one of the players is reduced to worse than when they started, hopping around in desperation. Soon that toad launches himself at Trolls and Demons, hopping to receive a quick death so he can start from the beginning as a new character. But that player is far behind; what can they do to bridge the tremendous gap between themselves and the other players? Well, there is that witch that turned them into a toad the first time. If they get lucky, she offers nice rewards. If they get unlucky, they turn into a toad and begin the pattern over.

This wouldn’t be so bad if players could refrain and only seek the witch’s help in times of desperation, but some people cannot control their instinct to gamble. After all, the chances that the worst would happen are only one in six, therefore it is unlikely that they will be turned into a toad this time. Or, the next time. Or the time after that. These players trust the game and the designers, and for their trust they are treated like toads.

We can’t choose to remove the city square from Talisman, but we can choose not to put ‘Deal Damage’ in our Magic decks, and we can agree to not put any money on Free Parking. Taking advantage of the rules for the sake of winning at all costs is what short-sighted children do. Children scheme and cheat because the prospect of losing is too damaging for their egos, and they don’t have enough experience to see where that leads. When you destroy your toys, it may be a lot of fun for a small amount of time, but then you have no toys.

But Free Parking is insidious. The pain that it represents is hard to quantify. A quick Google of the ‘free parking rule’ in Monopoly shows that many people know they aren’t supposed to pass out money when a person lands on Free Parking, but their game group does it anyway *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*. I wonder if any of these people realize that by keeping the Free Parking rule, they are delaying a game where the winner is predetermined instead of wrapping it up so they can play a new game.

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