When we’re playing Monopoly, we can have many moments of feeling rich and powerful. Buying properties left and right, picking up that weekly salary, building up value with houses and hotels and then counting the squares as our opponents approach with dread. We feel flush with cash at the start and hope to only add to it as we play, but how much of that multi-colored money do you actually start with in Monopoly?
The beginnings of the game we know and love today are rooted in a display of bold and barefaced capitalism.
In 1904, Elizabeth Magie patented a game she had created a year earlier. “The Landlord’s Game” was intended to be a device that would show the dangers of a monopoly. The Landlord’s Game was a self-published effort starting around 1906, and Magie renewed her patent on the game in 1923.
As it happened, Charles Darrow and his wife were dinner guests at the home of Charles Todd, one of Mrs. Darrow’s long-time friends, in 1932. Todd had a copy of The Landlord’s Game and the group played. Charles reportedly loved it and asked for a written set of the rules.
Darrow began printing copies of the game to sell in 1934. By 1935, Darrow had sold the game at a good profit to Parker Brothers, and the edition we know today was born. Todd and Darrow are said to have never spoken again.
In pastel hues of white, pink, yellow, green, blue, tan, and gold, Monopoly money is of pretty standard issue and familiar to most of us. The denominations (respective of color) are $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, and $500.
While we love it in the game, when we refer to real currency as “Monopoly money” it is usually in the negative sense. In the USA, our paper money is all the same color. Sometimes, more colorful money from other countries is jokingly called Monopoly money. It can also be used as a statement that whatever funds we are talking about are worthless or imaginary.
When starting a game, we distribute the same amount of money to each player: five each of $1, $5, and $10 bills; six $20s, and two each of the $50, $100, and $500 bills. This is the same no matter what standard version of the game you play.
Older copies of Monopoly provide a total of $15,140 to the bank in the following denominations:
- 40 bills each of the $1, $5, and $10,
- 50 of the $20 bills,
- 30 of the $50 bills, and
- 20 each of the $100 and $500 bills.
In games made after September 2008, the bank starts out with 30 bills of each of the denominations for a total of $20,580.
If you are playing an older model of the board game with the maximum of 8 players the game suggests, the bank is thin but there is enough to cover the initial bank rolls in the prescribed manner.
Newer versions of the game, however, do not make it easy when you have an eighth player. There, you get 30 bills of each denomination for a total of $20, 580. The problem is that the initial distribution is different:
- 5 of $1,
- 1 of $5,
- 2 of $10,
- 1 of $20,
- 1 of $50,
- 4 of $100, and
- 2 of $500.
It is the same amount of money, but if you are playing with 8 people, you will need 32 of the $100 bills when there are only 30 available.
Easy enough, you say – just give one person 8 of the $50s in place of the four $100 bills. True, but this still seems like a glaring oversight on the part of the game’s designers. Sometimes, it’s best to just not mess with a good thing.
In both cases, any way you count it, each player begins a game of Monopoly with $1,500.
Exceptions to this rule are special editions which may have different denominations, vary in seed money amounts given to players and, in the deluxe edition, double the money available to the bank in the first place.-
What’s It Worth?
You probably remember what $5 bought when you were a teen and know it was a lot more than $5 gets you today. One quick example is that just 10 years ago, $5 would get you 5 single-serving bags of snack chips at about 99 cents each; today it will barely buy 4 (at $1.19 to $1.29 each).
Monopoly money has not held its value well over the years. In 1935, when the first commercial version was available, that $1,500 would have had real-world buying power of more than $26,000 in today’s dollars.
A $200 weekly salary in 1935 had the same buying power as a $3,500 weekly salary does today. Your $50 bail money back then might be as much as $850 now.
Fortunately, when it comes to the game, all prices have remained constant, too. Everybody’s favorite property to own (and the bane to land upon as a tenant) is Boardwalk. It still costs $400 today and, just like in 1935, two weeks’ salary will get it for you.
The Longest Game
The makers of Monopoly expect an average game to last 45 minutes. We all know better than that, right? Well, it may be our own fault.
One thing a lot of us do is make house rules. A favorite of these is Free Parking money. The basic rule for this is that every time someone pays taxes, makes bail, or incurs a fee from the Chance or Community Chest cards, that money is not given to the bank but is, instead, tossed into the middle of the game board. When you consider that the Income Tax block right after pay day costs $200, and the Luxury Tax block right before it is $75, you see how that money often builds to a pretty sizable pot.
When someone lands on the Free Parking square directly across the diagonal from the Go space, the pot goes to them. That means that a player nearing at the edge of bankruptcy and having his token removed from the board can be boosted with a pot holding thousands of dollars with a land on Free Parking with good timing.
This is the sort of thing that makes the game go longer, according to experts. Players that would be headed out of the game according to standard rules get a sudden infusion of funds and keep playing.
Another reason games take much longer than the expected 45 minute average is that we often neglect a subtle part of the rules than is intended to get property into players’ hands faster, and that speeds up the game.
The official rules state that when a player lands on a property and then chooses to not buy it, that property is to be auctioned by the banker.
Here is a quick example. The price on Tennessee Avenue is $180. If I land on it, maybe even want to own it, but I’m short on Monopoly money or just don’t want to pay full price. I can take a chance and refuse to buy it. The property goes up for auction right then and there.
Bidding may start at $10 and work its way up by $5 increments. The winning bid may be half the original asking price, and I can take part in the bidding, too. I might get a bargain or it the bids might go further out of my reach. Either way, and whoever ends up with it, the property is sold and game play is kept at its intended pace.
Game Time Records
I’m sure you’re just dying to know how long the longest game of Monopoly ever played actually lasted. There are two answers to that.
The longest recorded Monopoly marathon game was played for 54 straight hours in 1975 at Scranton, PA.
Far longer than that, the longest ongoing game ever recorded went on for 1,680 hours. That’s 70 days. Players ate and slept, went to school and work, but the game continued to an end.
You might not think to ask about a record for the shortest game of Monopoly ever played. The record here has not been actually observed but is a theoretical one: 21 seconds. It is possible to do this with two players and a lot of doubles allowing one of them to get to Park Place very quickly.
Everyone has their own tips on how to win at Monopoly. One person will say to never buy railroads and utilities while another will hope to snap up all the railroads first (that’s me).
We also have our favorite property groups, and each remains convinced it is a winning strategy to own them. One person in my household sweats blood to get Boardwalk and Park Place while another prefers the purple and red sets. I like the orange and green ones, but will never, ever turn up my nose at Oriental or Baltic avenues because they can pack some dynamite once you build them up with 3 or 4 houses.
One good tip is that staying in jail a while is not a bad thing, especially late in the game when all the rents are high. Don’t use that strategy at the start, though. Just pay the $50 bail and go in early rounds or you might miss out on getting a piece of property you highly desire.
A piece of advice that I really like comes from a real champ. Natalie Fitzsimons won the United Kingdom’s Monopoly championship in 2015. She says to focus on one monopoly once you get it, mortgaging all others, and to keeping at 3 or 4 houses per property, no hotels. She also promotes the staying in jail strategy for later in the game.
Another tip Fitzsimons gives is to treat other players kindly, saying, “Leave them favorable when the going gets tough.” I like that. Whether in real life or in a game of Monopoly, no matter how much money any of us starts, has, or ends with, we should treat others well, especially when the times do not. May we all do so in the days ahead of us. Thanks for reading!