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What could be finer than settling down on a lazy afternoon to enjoy a leisurely game of Monopoly? Well, if - like me - you hail from the fine County of Essex then this game has now got an added twist, you can play with a distinctly Essex-like theme thanks to just one of the many versions now available.
So what is Essex Monopoly then?
Well, it is yet another incarnation of the classic Monopoly board game that was first introduced in 1934 and has since sold over 200 million copies. Many different varieties of Monopoly have been produced over the years, from a Wizard of Oz edition to Simpsons and football themed games. Each edition has the basic Monopoly game at its base, why change a winning formula? But with a selection of quirks and embellishments to make each variety unique. And the Essex themed edition is unique enough to excite fans of both Monopoly and those who live, work or have roots in the South-East County.
But how is this version different form traditional Monopoly?
Well, all of the properties and utilities have a distinct Essex theme. Gone are the likes of Old Kent Road and Mayfair to be replaced by their Essex equivalents (Rawreth Lane in the case of Old Kent Road and Southend Pier for Mayfair). The four stations in the traditional game are replaced with modes of transport so that Stanstead airport, Harwich Port and two others can now be bought for £200. Interestingly the properties seem to be sponsored which is different I guess, but the companies involved are mostly Essex based to continue the theme. The Bank and money are also emblazoned with Abbey National which I presume meant a nice little payday for the makers but offers no real purpose in reality. The Water Works are still the same but the gas company utility has been replaced with One-tel Telecommunications another local company. I was a bit disappointed that the playing pieces are the same as normal Monopoly, I believe the makers have missed a real trick by not replacing the boot for a white stiletto or the car for a Ford Escort, I for one would of enjoyed that admittedly stereotypical idea.
How to play
The game commences with the highest rolled dice thrower going first. If a double is rolled (two threes or two sixes etc) the player gets to roll again, but beware if you roll three doubles in a row its a one way ticket to jail, and as you do not pass go or collect £200 this is a cruel punishment indeed. Provided you manage to stay out of jail you will land on any one of many different squares. The Community Chest and Chance Squares are still present, and landing on one of these results in the player being required to pick up the corresponding card and acting on the instructions contained thereon. The traditional go to jail or Bank pays you dividend of £50 are also still present.
Landing on a property that has yet to be bought by anyone delivers two choices for the player. He / She can buy the property at its face value price, or if the player who has landed on the property decided they do not wish to buy the property, an auction takes place in which all players, including the one that has just turned down the chance to buy the property, can bid. The Banker presides over proceedings as any or all of the players can bid any amount they wish to try and secure the property. This part of the game is particularly exciting if a player owns two of the three properties in a set and is desperate to secure the remaining property in order to start building houses and hotels. Exorbitant amounts of money are often bid in order to secure that last remaining property.
The Wedge (Money if you dont speak Essex)
Money is much the same as in the original game save for having Abbey National scrawled on it, each player is given £1,500, divided as 2 x £500, 4 x £100, 1 x £50, 1 x £20, 2 x £10, 1 x £5 and 5 x £1. The banknotes are all different colours for ease of recognition which is always good in the heat of a game you don`t want to give away more money than you have to after all! The game is over when only one player remains with all others having been made bankrupt. A player is made bankrupt when they owe the bank or another player more money than they can raise from mortgaging assets etc. In this situation all money from the bankrupt player goes to the person it is owed to or the bank. All properties are sold and also given to the player or bank who is owed the money.
Shorter and alternative games
Many people say that Monopoly is a great game but that it takes too long to play. With this in mind the makers have introduced rules for a time limit short game. In this version, each player is given two properties before starting the game, they then must pay the price displayed on the cards they have been given. Also, when the first player is declared bankrupt the game ends and the winner is the remaining player who has the most money, be it in cash or property value. Personally I prefer the full fat long version, although it has been said I get a bit manic when playing Monopoly, I think it is the power and a handful of cash that goes to my head.
As a proud Essex man born and bred as well as a big (and sometimes manic) fan of Monopoly this game is manner from heaven to me. At last I can wheel and deal with the properties that I know from my home county while driving all other players to bankruptcy in a ruthless way. I can also have a better knowledge about whether I actually want to own this road or that building as I know the neighbourhood and the people that live within it. Of course this particular version will have very limited appeal to those outside of Essex but there are other City and County specific versions available. Four stars out of five from this board games fan.