My wife downloaded the Monopoly game for her iPod and we had it with us on our trip to California this year. I played the game a few times during the drive, mostly to keep me from staring out the front window. Even with sunglasses on, if I find myself looking out the window for extended periods on very bright days it gives me terrible headaches. The little monopoly game kept my focus inside the car, which seemed to have worked for keeping the headaches at bay.

I also have trouble sleeping in hotel rooms. My sleeping is sketchy in the best of conditions, I don’t really know why. In an average night I may have three stretches of uninterrupted sleep that range from 2-3 hours each, with each one requiring me to go back through the falling asleep process (which can take from 10 minutes to more than an hour). If I don’t have somewhere that I have to be in the morning, I usually just get up after the first increment of sleep and occupy myself until I feel tired again. If I try to go right back to sleep I often find myself just staring at the alarm clock for a couple hours before eventually drifting off, only to wake up feeling extremely tired in the morning. It is entirely possible for me to get only three hours of sleep -when I am feeling really tired- and wake up feeling better than having had 7 hours of that incremental sleep under normal conditions. When I am on vacation I try to only sleep when my body tells me to, which often leaves me awake till 3am or so. Or if I get to sleep early, I will most likely be waking up between 3 and 4am, with little chance of getting back to sleep for at least a few hours.

Of course my wife doesn’t suffer from any such sleeping problem. So when I wake up (of if I can’t fall asleep) I have to find things to do to occupy myself that won’t bother her. In the hotel this year I found myself on the laptop, but without internet access the first day I started making notes about Monopoly instead:

I played Monopoly against the computer three times during the trip, which just cements in my mind why you should never play these games with friends or family: emotion. Honestly, if you ever play the game with someone you know, it can only end one way: People shouting at each other, the game board flying, accusations of theft from the bank. That’s how it was in my family anyway. With the computer there isn’t any emotion. The computer is also more likely to make trades since it is looking at the potential value of the property to his future bankroll, while a human opponent seems to see only the potential value of the trade to their opponent’s bankroll.

I played two of the games on medium difficulty and one on hard. I would have played them all on hard had I known that there was a setting for difficulty. The only difference I could see between medium and hard was that the computer would actually mortgage properties to outbid me on anything that made it to auction on hard mode. Of course once I realized he would do that I used it to my advantage; mortgaging my own properties to drive the price up, but always stopping just short of what I thought he was really going to pay for it, then unmortgaging the properties before the next roll.

The game went the same way every time. The computer was using the same strategy that a lot of people use; He was putting all his eggs on Boardwalk and Park Place all three games. He didn’t land on them both, of course, so I was able to make a trade to him in all three games. While I don’t remember precisely the way the trades went down, I do know that in one game he traded me one of the yellow properties on top of the board, one of the purple on the left of the board, and the only railroad I didn’t own for Boardwalk. This gave me a Monopoly on yellow and purple, along with all the railroads. I also had both utilities and all the orange and red properties. He ended up having the 5 actual properties on the right side of the board (three greens and the 2 biggies) but I owned every space between the jail and the go to jail corners -and had a minumum of 2 houses on each property. I hit his green spaces a couple of times, but I made enough money off of him hitting my properties usually three times on the other half of the board that I was always able to stay on the offensive.

My monopoly game in a nutshell is this: Try to get all four railroads and avoid trading. At any given time every player has a minimum 8% chance of landing on a railroad -that doubles if they are on Batlic Avenue, States Avenue, Indiana Avenue, or the Community Chest space on the east of the board- with an overall chance of 9.75% to land on one (you can’t roll from the Go To Jail tile). If you have all 4 railroads, every player has a roughly 10% chance to owe you $200 every time they roll the dice. There are no other properties that give you that. If you own Boardwalk and Park Place, for instance, there is a 69% chance that the opponent won’t be in range to land on one with any roll of the dice. So if you own both the overall odds of them landing on one are about 4.26%, counting only rolls of course (it is closer to 7% for any 3 card set). This completely dismissing the fact that there are many “Advance token to ‘X'” cards that will skip you past that side of the board completely.

To look at actual values of rent, the $200 you get if you own all the railroads may not seem like a lot, but it really is. There is no other property on the board that commands that amount without building houses. Boardwalk is the only property that can fetch $200 with a single house, all the rest require more. Roughly half the spaces will get more than $200 with 2 houses, but that requires a pretty decent investment, while the railroads require no additions. Also having the extra space on every side of the board gives you one less chance to land on someone else’s property.

Whether you are playing a single opponent or multiple, consider only trades that will give you railroads early on. If someone is willing to trade you your third railroad in the second orbit, but this will give them a monopoly on a set, they probably don’t have enough money to build houses on the property you are trading them anyway. The rents that are being traded the first 4 or 5 times around the board are under 50 bucks, but if you can get those railroads you can be making 4x the base rent of Boardwalk while the others are trying to trade their way into those monopolies. Every time a player hits your railroads they lose their salary for that orbit. That can be devastating if it starts to happen before they have built houses or hotels, or especially if they haven’t completed any monopolies.

Always consider any trade that will give you that fourth railroad. It may not seem like a good idea to trade away Boardwalk for a railroad, but if it completes your set you should really consider it. Unless you are trading it to someone who already has a couple of monopolies, or a ridiculous amount of cash, you can usually do this safely. The more people there are playing, the easier the trade for that last railroad will be. If you have Marvin Gardens and someone else has the other two of the set but no monopolies, they will usually be happy to trade that last railroad to you so that they can start building some houses. This is a bit tougher if you are playing a single opponent, but if you can pull it off you are in a great position to win the game.

I guess I must have been pretty bored the night I sat down to write that out, but that is pretty much my game. The railroad strategy has always worked for me. Of course there are times when a trade has come back to bite me. Catch the wrong end of variance and hit Park Place with a hotel on it a couple orbits in a row and you can go from sitting pretty to bankrupt real quick. More often than not, though, you will be able to keep your opponents from building much if you control the railroads.

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