December 29, 2006

Laissez-faire (The Game)

Update (3/10/07): there is now a second version of this game with substantially improved (we think) rules.

I received for Christmas this year a copy of the game Anti-Monopoly. The game has an interesting premise. Half of the players are "monopolists" who play according to rules similar to the original Monopoly, and the other half are "competitors" who must charge "fair" rents and obey laws and so forth. The competitors make up for their lower rents by being able to build houses without controlling a monopoly. If you are detecting a slight socialist bias here, you are right; the rulebook contains questionable and irrelevant interjections like "monopolists will destroy competitors in the absence of anti-monopoly laws." However, the game's political bias turned out to be much more moderate than I first thought. It's just that it takes place in the real world and not in some ideal political system; the monopolists maintain power by using money to manipulate the political system to protect their business interests, and the competitors subsist on government handouts (this takes place mostly through the "competitor" and "monopolist" cards which replace the "chance" and "community chest" cards of the original Monopoly).

The rulebook also promises that the rules have been tested by computers to be perfectly fair. Unfortunately, in order to do this, the rules limit the kinds of deals that can be made between players (for instance, players may not lend money to one another). Also, because of the need to make it fair between competitors and monopolists, there are no giant knock-out rents (Wall Street, NY with an apartment building, which is the equivalent of Boardwalk with a hotel, charges only $240, instead of traditional Monopoly's $2000). The net result is that, in the game described by the rulebook, the first hour of play, in which players first acquire properties, is a lot of fun, but after this is over there are five or more hours of waiting to see how the dice fall before a winner is determined.

I suspect the two hour rules described in the rulebook would make quite a good game. I haven't tried this yet. Instead, as a libertarian frustrated with excessive government regulation, I developed the following game, which I call Laissez-faire. It is designed to be played on an Anti-Monopoly set, but could easily be adapted to a traditional Monopoly game. The game has been play tested once and slightly revised after the play test.

The Rules of Laissez-faire

Object of the Game The game may be played with any of three objectives:
  1. To be the first player to reach a net worth of $2000 (see the section "Net Worth" below). This is the recommended objective.
  2. To be the player with the highest net worth at the end of two hours.
  3. To eliminate all other players. This can take a very long time and is subject to certain stalemate conditions (see the section "Stalemate Conditions" below). If a stalemate condition is reached, and all players not in stalemate positions have been eliminated, the stalemated players should calculate their net worths and the player with the highest net worth is the winner.
The players should agree on one of these three objectives before beginning play.

Money is distributed and pieces are placed on Start as in a normal Anti-Monopoly game. There are no competitor or monopolist roles. The competitor and monopolist cards are not used.
One player should be appointed treasurer, and another player should be appointed as notary. If possible, it may be desirable for a non-player to serve as a combined treasurer, notary, and arbiter of any contractual disputes (see the section "Contracts" below).
The players roll dice to determine who goes first (highest roll wins).

Taking a Turn
Each turn, a player must roll the dice and move the number of spaces indicated (unless staying in a house or apartment building, or in jail; these cases are explained below). Rolling doubles gives an additional turn only once, as in Anti-Monopoly (not as in traditional Monopoly).
If the player lands directly on a property, utility, or transportation company owned by the bank, he may buy it for the value listed on the board (in Anti-Monopoly, the value is also listed on the deed).
A player landing on one of the two tax spaces must pay the amount listed to the bank.
Players landing on the go to jail space go to jail (see the section "Jail" below).
Players landing on the other three corners may stay there for free.
Players passing or landing on start receive $100 as in the normal Anti-Monopoly rules.
When a player lands in a city (that is, on any space other than corner or a transportation company), he must find lodging in that city, by mutual consent with a property owner. This is the case even if the space landed on is covered by one of the cases listed above. A player may stay on his own property. A property owner may charge any rent to the player or refuse service. The bank charges the "monopolist" prices listed on the deed to rent properties it owns (be careful to note whether the bank has a monopoly or not). A player may not buy an unowned property just because he is staying there; he must land on it directly. Alternatively, the player may pay the transit company to transport him to the other city on that side of the board and find lodging there. The transit company owner may charge any price for his services, or refuse service. The player moves his token to the property he has rented. Ordinarily only one player may stay on a space at a time (but see the section "Houses and Apartments" below). This does not prevent another player from landing on that space and potentially buying it.
If a player fails to find lodging, he sleeps on a park bench and goes to jail.
If a player lands directly on a transit company (regardless of whether it is owned) he may move for free to either city.

A player goes to jail by either sleeping on a park bench or landing on the go to jail space. In order to get out of jail, a player must pay a "booking fee" equal to the house price on the side of the board from which he went to jail (listed on the deeds to the properties on that side of the board; the go to jail space counts as part of the $150 side), plus a "room and board" fee equal to 1/10 the house price times the number of turns spent in jail. Players may only buy out of jail at the beginning of a turn, so they have always spent one turn in jail (thus if the player is on the $150 side of the board or the go to jail space and pays out at the first opportunity, he will pay $165). Players do not get out of jail by rolling doubles.

Being Eliminated
A player is eliminated if he goes to jail and does not pay his way out by the end of the third turn.

Houses and Apartments
Players may buy houses from the bank for their properties on their turns for the price listed on the deed. A player does not need a monopoly to buy houses. A property may have up to two houses on it. If the house price is paid a third time, the player gets an apartment building. A player may not sell houses or apartment buildings; they are permanently attached to the property.
If a property has one house on it, the player staying on it may, on his next turn, after rolling the dice, elect to stay on that property rather than moving. He must pay the utility company which is closest in the forward direction (the utility company owner may charge any price he wishes; the bank charges the price listed on the deed, which is based on the dice; take care to notice whether the bank owns one or both utilities), and he must pay rent to the owner of the property again. The owner of the property may charge a lower rent than on the previous turn, but may not charge a higher rent or refuse service, unless he was specifically given the power to do so by agreement with the tenant before the property was originally rented on the previous turn. Since the player stays rather than moving, he does not pass start if his roll would take him past start had he moved.
If a property has two houses on it, two players may stay there, and each player may remain there, as described above.
If a property has an apartment building on it, and unlimited number of players may stay there, as described above.

Players may form any contract with any other player, provided that the contract does not require either player to do anything not otherwise permitted by the rules, and that the contracts do not involve anything outside the scope of the game. This includes exchanging ownership or property. The contracts should be recorded by the notary. Contracts may be attached to a property, in which case the property cannot be sold without passing those obligations along, or to a player. Players must abide by the terms of contracts unless specifically released by the other party or parties involved.
Players may not mortgage houses to the bank or otherwise borrow money from it, but players may create mortgage contracts with other players.

Ending the Game
If the game is being played with objective 1, a player may declare that he has reached a net worth of $2000 at any time (provided that it is true), but is not obligated to do so. Once this declaration has been made, players must proceed one more time around the board. A player who reaches the "Start" space takes his token off the board without collecting $100. He then continues negotiating and collecting rent until all players have removed their tokens. All players then calculate net worth as described below.
If the game is being played with objective 2, the play should continue, after time has run out, until each player has had the same number of turns (i.e., it should end immediately before the turn of the player who went first).
If the game is being played with objective 3, it ends immediately when either the second to last player is eliminated, or a stalemate is declared by either player.

Net Worth
Net worth is the sum of the following:

  1. Cash on hand.

  2. Mortgage values of properties, utilities, and transportation companies.

  3. The values (positive or negative) of all contracts which have predictable and straightforward values.

  4. One half the purchase price of each house or apartment.

The following are examples of item 3:
  • If player A contracts with player B that B receives 25% of A's income from Locust Street, Philadelphia, which A owns, the contract's value is -$23 (25% of the mortgage value of the property, rounded to the nearest dollar) to A, and +$23 to B.

  • If player A owns all of San Francisco, and player B owns all of New York, and player C owns U.S. Trucking Company, and A contracts with B agreeing that A will refuse service to players landing in New York and B will refuse service to players landing in New York, the net value of the contract to A and B is $0, but the value to C is -$100, since it effectively renders U.S. Trucking Company worthless (a player landing in New York cannot be transported to San Francisco and rent a property there).

Stalemate Conditions
When playing with objective 3, there is at least one known stalemate condition: If a player owns a property with a house and also the relevant utility company, he may stay in that house and not move, at no cost to himself. If two players do this, a stalemate has ben reached. There may be other stalemate conditions as well.

Optional Rules
The following are some untested suggestions for additional rules:

  • Moving Houses. A player may move a house by paying 1/2 the house cost on the target property to the bank. (Players may buy houses from one another for this purpose).

  • Buying Jail. A player who lands on the jail space (rather than going to jail) may purchase a perpetual, fully assignable lease on the jail from the government for $750. That is, the player becomes a government contractor operating the prison system for profit. (Note: the justice of this system is questionable to say the least.) The lessee may not adjust the booking fee. He may adjust the room and board, but is not permitted to price discriminate (by the terms of his lease from the government); that is, the fee must be constant either as a flat value or a percentage of the booking fee and can be adjusted only at the beginning of the lessee's turn. When a player pays out of jail, the lessee collects half of the booking fee and all of the room and board; the other half of the booking fee is paid to the bank. The player must pay room and board as the sum of the costs on each of the turns he spent in jail.

Note that it is also possible to create new rules mid-game by forming a contract between all the players.

If you try this game and like it, or have any suggestions for improvements, please comment below!

Note: the Creative Commons License which applies to this blog as a whole also applies to this game.

Posted by Kenny at December 29, 2006 7:40 PM
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