THE BOY is full of good ideas. “Let’s play a board game,” he said on Easter Sunday. “As a family.”
Which sounded like a good idea at the time.
“Ok,” said I, “what do you want to play?” I already knew the answer because Firstborn favours the sort of stab-them-in-the-back games that used to cause so much sulking and shouting when the Offspring were younger. And still do.
(He’s also a fan of the world-domination game Risk but we’d already played that the night before when his friend – a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces – came round and thrashed us all).
We dealt out the money, threw the dice to see who went first and all was going swimmingly until I snapped up two stations, quickly followed by Park Lane, while The Girl got herself one station and Mayfair.
“I want the stations,” said Secondborn, with an uncharacteristic stroppiness. “I’ll give you The Water Works and The Angel Islington for King’s Cross.”
I declined. “No-one wants the Water Works,” I replied. “How about both my stations for Mayfair?” I really like owning the premier properties on the board.
She declined and pulled a face: “You’ll never get Mayfair. Never.”
“How about you both shut up because it’s my turn,” said The Boy, who is a stickler for the rules. (No trading unless it’s your turn).
And so we continued, counting our ill-gotten gains and building financial empires on the misery of others. It was like a re-enactment of the 19th century but with more ranting and sulking.
My mother, poor soul, arrived in the middle of it all.
“Happy Easter,” she said chirpily to three scowling faces (the Man-in-Charge was maintaining a dignified and reserved front), depositing bags of Cadbury’s mini eggs on the table.
I made her a cup of tea after extracting promises from all concerned that no-one would cheat on me while I was in the kitchen.
“I think,” said The Man, “that we’ll put a time limit on this or it could go on a while.”
What he meant to say was “it could go on, unpleasantly, for some hours.”
“No,” shouted The Boy, “we’ll play to the end.”
What he meant was “the bitter end.”
And then because The Girl had caved in and traded Mayfair for two stations The Boy had to pay me several hundred pounds in rent for landing on the aforementioned property and, suddenly, his financial position was looking less secure than an Icelandic bank.
“Yes,” he said, “we should pack in soon.”
So we did and, after counting everything, it transpired that The Girl had won. “So, you see,” said I, “all that sulking about the stations was a waste of time, wasn’t it.”
Later that day, as The Man and I took a walk, we agreed there’s a good reason why we rarely play Monopoly and yet, every now and again, decide to give it a go. “It’s a bit like having a baby,” he said. “You forget the bad bits.”
In fact, Monopoly is thought to be the most played board game in the world, which is a frightening statistic as it’s the game that seems to bring out the absolute worst in everyone who plays it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if people have been murdered while playing Monopoly, although I have failed to unearth any statistics suggesting this.
What I have discovered is that Monopoly, launched in 1935 by Parker Brothers, is said to be based on an earlier game devised by Quaker Elizabeth J Magie Phillips called The Landlord’s Game. She wanted a game that showed how land-grabbing by the few was to the detriment of the many. It was a game with a strong moral principle so it’s interesting that the version developed by inventor Charles Darrow turns players to the dark side of the force.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro knew the truth of this when he banned the game after taking power.
But Monopoly has also been used as a force for good. Escape maps, compasses and files were inserted into Monopoly game boards smuggled into German POW camps during World War II. Real money for escapees was slipped into the packs of Monopoly money.
I have also learned that the top tip for winning is to secure the orange set because it is the most visited on the board as a result of Chance cards and the Go To Jail square. It is also a place where landlords can throw up housing for a relative pittance.
I’m sure there are valuable lessons to be learned from the game of Monopoly but, for the life of me, I just can’t think of any at the moment. Except, perhaps, that it’s a game to be played sparingly and infrequently.