It was a cold night in December when my soon-to-be sister-in-law asked, “Hey, it’s cold and snowing outside. Why don’t we play a board game. Does everyone like Monopoly?”
My parents looked at one another and excused themselves from the living room. My brothers and I looked outside, wondering if there would be some safe haven to be found out in the miserable storm. There would be none, though. No salvation. No hope.
“What?” my sister-in-law asked, picking up on the sudden change in mood.
“Oh, nothing,” my brother answered, eyes shifting nervously. His voice was surprisingly calm. “It’s just, uh, we don’t really play that game. Or talk about it.”
“Why not?” she asked, puzzled. My brothers and I looked at one another. How to clarify? How does one explain to another that they are standing on the edge of an abyss, looking down into the dark, and are about to jump in smiling?
“It would be easier to show you…,” my youngest brother said, his words trailing off. His eyes were already lit by the strange fires of revenge, the outcome of some distant night festering still. I tried to think of something to say to banish this horror, but I could see that it was already too late.
“I call thimble,” I said.
The game was claimed. The board set out, the cash handed out, the banker determined. Precedents were cited to keep me from being the banker – everyone remembered the Banking Scandal of 1991 and the terrible Banking Fraud of 1993, even my youngest brother. He hadn’t been born yet, but echoes of that game are still whispered of in select family gatherings.
Anyway, the rules were read out loud and our parents returned to the room though they very pointedly continued to look anywhere but the game board. An order was established, with my sister-in-law in law going first and being the banker.
My brothers and I looked at one another. Those facts didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
The game was at stake.
My youngest brother, on his first trip around, managed to snag both Park Place and Boardwalk. He also began devouring the properties on the third side of the board, grabbing everything I didn’t. I concentrated my purchases along the second side, mostly, but stifled my youngest sibling where I could. The middle sibling grabbed some properties on the first side and last, surrounding Park Place and Boardwalk.
We had driven my dumbfounded sister-in-law into bankruptcy by the end of our second time around the board. Houses were beginning to pop up. A hotel or two was considered, teased – and my parents were playing music now in an effort not to come in and invade.
Things really began to heat up on the third time around the board. I managed to hit free parking, but immediately thereafter ended up in Jail thanks to a Chance Card. I was okay with this, having already placed a house or two on most of my properties. House rules forbid people from collecting rent while in prison. This was still okay.
My youngest brother had a hotel and three houses on Boardwalk.
“That’s a poor investment,” my middle brother said, shortly before landing on it. My youngest brother grinning at him. Our middle brother had just spent most of his money building up his properties and shelling out money to the youngest, who had taken control of the railroads and used them to force our middle brother to give up his utility. Things were looking good, but now…
“I can’t afford to pay that,” my middle brother said, not quite meeting the youngest’s eyes. Contact negotiations followed. Our youngest brother offering to defer payment to a later time. Twenty minutes passed, spent hammering out interest rates and further deferrals, length-of-contract collection and micro-payments.
My sister-in-law’s eyes had long gone wide. She looked to my parents for help, but they’d gone to walk the dog. The storm was a better, safer, choice.
With the contract settled, both parties signed, with myself and my sister-in-law to witness it. She wanted out, but she’d been made banker at the beginning of the game. A sly recommendation on my part, which allowed me, while everyone was recoiling in horror from that prospect, to quietly pocket an orange property at the start of the fiasco. Right at that moment however, I casually rolled snake-eyes, to get out of jail.
Sadly, I would roll snake-eyes three more times and go right back in. I never, in fact, managed to escape prison really– at one point landing on the “Go to Jail” space on a third snake-eyes roll. Skills. My properties were built up but I could collect on nothing, the money instead going to the bank.
When no one was looking, I would skim some of it.
My brothers, meanwhile, continued to build their empires – carefully improving their properties while offering to buy some of mine, money that would default to me if/when I got out of jail. I held on to most, but would sell the occasional property off, making sure to keep the colors divided between them.
Things got more and more intense. We were an hour in, now, and most properties had hotels on them. Each roll of the die came with stress twitches and dire consequences, as both of my brothers prayed to fell gods and made contracts with any listening demon, beseeching those unnamed sources for safety and success. They needed to land on their own properties – or mine – while building, building, always building.
Disaster finally struck. My youngest brother landed on one of my middle brother’s properties, one with three hotels. The middle brother began to laugh, tallying up the amount of money the youngest now owed. It was more than my youngest brother had, but my youngest brother met our middle brother’s gaze with a smile that broke into a cackle as he spoke five words:
“I’m calling in your contract.”
The contract was placed on the table. It was revealed that a clause they had argued on and amended had not, in fact, been amended. My youngest brother had crossed it out and written the same words out again and the middle brother had signed it without really looking, trusting the youngest.
He should have known better. The amendment in question was about when interest was applied – the verbal agreement had called for interest to be applied every time all three players passed go (every round), but the youngest brother had made it every time someone rolled the dice (every turn). Not just every three turns, but every single turn.
The middle brother looked at the youngest in horror. The youngest tallied the amount and found it to be more than the amount of money that came in the game box. I offered to buy the middle brother’s properties at a discount rate, at which point the youngest revealed that he’d been fixing the community chest and chance cards to make sure I stayed in jail.
My sister-in-law’s eyes glazed over.
“Well played,” I said to my youngest brother, not bothering to hide my admiration. “I forfeit.”
The middle brother responded in much more visceral fashion, by howling and throwing the board across the room.
My parents returned a few moments later.
“We heard the scream and figured the game was over,” my father said. “The youngest won? Is that why he’s being dangled over the balcony?”
I said that this was so. My sister-in-law appeared to be in shock. I gave her a blanket.
This is why we don’t play Monopoly.
Monopoly is for 1-8 players, few of whom will be speaking to one another once the game is done.
Most games can take upwards of several hours, or days.
Would not recommend, unless you hate the people you’ll be playing with.