I have spent quite a few hours of my life playing Monopoly, starting with the basic game with street names from Atlantic City, (the original, as designed by Charles Darrow) then the English edition with London street names, then any of a dozen subsequent variants. There are, in fact, hundreds of Monopoly variants now, themed on TV shows, movies, geographic locations, even video and computer games. What they all have in common are the four corners: Go, Jail, Free Parking, and Go To Jail, along with the basic concept of collecting a group of properties, then developing it to charge higher and higher rents until you bankrupt all of your competitors.
Anyway, at this point, having played hundreds of games of Monopoly, I’m mostly only interested in versions of the game that significantly change up the rules and design to create a new game with the same underlying ideas. One of the best is the underappreciated Monopoly Gamer, which has a finite number of turns and some completely different mechanisms to remedy some of the tedium of the game and speed things up considerably.
All of this is a roundabout way to say that when the Vietnamese game company Maztermind reached out and asked me if I wanted to check out their premium, handmade variant Islandopoly, I was intrigued by the hand-made aspect but a bit resistant to the idea of yet another Monopoly with its endless gameplay and been-there-done-that experience. They mailed me a copy of the game to check out and while it’s gorgeous and they’ve tinkered with the game ideas, it’s still ultimately the same rather tedious roll-and-move game.
Still, let’s have a closer look, starting with the rather astonishing box:
Okay, to call this a box is wrong. It’s a beautiful briefcase that neatly stores all of the components of this 3D gameboard along with all the cards, money, and tokens. These aren’t grey plastic injection molded miniatures like so many games nowadays, though, they’re beautiful hand-painted sailboats, as you’ll see. The case also doubles as an organizer for money and cards, but that proves a bit awkward as the lid can’t be open all the way, so it’s always at 90-degrees, looming over the trays. Instead, I just stacked everything around the playing area, as is typical for a Monopoly game.
In the original Monopoly, you’re a property developer buying up adjacent streets so you can build houses. Add enough houses and you can tear ’em all down – sorry residents! – and replace them with a hotel. Maximize profit, and all that. Islandopoly, however, is themed around the idea of cruising the world’s oceans and visiting some of the most beautiful and exotic tropical islands. And buying up land, building hostels and then, once you can’t fit another hostel on the island, replacing them all with a resort! Here are those tokens:
The concept of untouched island -> more profitable island property as you add a hostel or two -> earning big money with a swanky resort seems all too accurate for how many tropical islands and exotic ports-of-call have evolved, so that part is definitely accurate.
In the original Monopoly you have Chance and Community Chest cards. In Islandopoly it’s Fate and Fortune, and some of the cards are quite amusing. In this regard, the Maztermind team did not follow the template of good to bad, but came up with different costs and benefits:
My favorite card in the entire game, hands down, is on the top left: “A giant shark, Megalodon, attacks your boat: Pay $50 to repair the damages.” Turns out my kids and I are somewhat obsessed with the fantastic film “The Meg”, which undoubtedly contributes to my enthusiasm for this particular card. The rewrite does add some ambiguity to some of the cards, however. For example, “Your boat goes through [the] Suez Canal.” Does that mean you move your token to that spot or that you stay where you are on the board but pay the owner of the Suez Canal property as if you’d landed there?
The actual property cards are quite attractive, as you can see, and the costs are a bit different from the regular game. In regular Monopoly, the cost of units and upgrades tend to be in $50 increments ($50/house on the cheapest side of the board, then $100/house, $150/house, and so on) whereas notice the cost of building a hostel or upgrading from 4 hostels to a resort on Hawai’i is $140. A resort in Hawai’i? That’ll be $1600 rent, an amount sure to help bankrupt all the other players if you can acquire the full color group and develop aggressively!
Given the beautiful production value of all the game components, I was a bit surprised by the money. It’s on a slick paper, which makes it a bit tricky to handle and count, and the design is comparatively dull:
Given the international theme of the game, I was also surprised that the money wasn’t inspired by various global currencies or designed quite differently to rethink the idea entirely. Euros? Bitcoin? A new island currency? Coconuts? Sand dollars? It’s entirely functional, but perhaps the weakest aspect of the design.
The board itself, though, is stunning. Really, one of the most attractive game boards I’ve ever seen:
As you can see, there are no corners on this board. The lucite ‘water’ in the center? It’s actually a multilayer board and the lucite fills in the ‘depths’ of the ocean, with the two islands being removable inserts that store separately in the carrying case. The included dice are clear, which makes them a bit tricky to read if you roll them in the center of the board, but I expect most players will roll on the table, so no worries about that.
And so I decided to play a game of Islandopoly to see how it felt compared to classic Monopoly. Two players, a tough configuration because it prolongs the game, with each starting out with $700. Turns out that the gameplay is identical: roll two dice. Move that many spaces forward. Perform the action appropriate for the spot upon which you landed. If you rolled doubles, roll again. Land on Fate or Fortune and draw a card. Land on a property that’s unowned and you can buy it or have the bank auction it off. Land on an owned property, however, and you have to pay the owner rent based on how much they’ve developed it.
About 45min into the game, here’s where we were:
I owned both the Port of Rio de Janeiro and Victoria Harbor (think of them as the railroad equivalents), the island pair of Mahé and Bora Bora, and the island pair of Phu Quoc and Hawai’i. I’d built two hostels on Bora Bora and one on Mahé and inevitably, my opponent landed on Fate rather than either of my properties. A very Monopoly experience. Notice, though, how beautiful this game is up close.
The rule book is well done, possibly better than the original Monopoly rules, and adds interesting info on each of the locations for people who aren’t well versed in exotic tropical locations. Here’s what it says about Mahé:
I suggest that the first time anyone lands on a property the information about that location is read out loud to the group, but it’s also possible that with a game that can last hours gamers might not care about the places in their zeal to acquire and develop!
Truth be told, we didn’t finish our game of Islandopoly. Once the novelty of the components and variations on the classic game were encountered, it quickly settled into yet another interminable game of Monopoly where we were exchanging rent back and forth as each of us raced around the board, hoping to land on the specific properties needed to complete color groups. In the 1930s one presumes this was the state of the art in board gaming, but nowadays traditional Monopoly proves to be overly long and overly repetitive. Maztermind had a chance to fix some of that with this fun variation on the game, but played it safe by keeping all the core gameplay, which is ultimately rather disappointing. As a result, it’s possible this is a game that will be set up and started far more often than it will be finished and won by a player.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying it’s a luxury game with beautiful, hand-made components and a table presence that would fit perfectly on a luxury yacht or the game table of the penthouse accommodations at a swanky resort. For us regular mortals, the pricetag might just put this out of reach, but if you can afford it, Islandopoly is really a one-of-a-kind version of Monopoly that will represent an upgrade to your gaming collection, large or small.
Islandopoly, by Maztermind. $185 at Maztermind.com
Disclosure: Maztermind sent me a free copy of this game in return for a candid review. Thanks guys!