- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

Parker Bros.’ legendary property-trading game has been given a virtual makeover for entertainment consoles with Monopoly (Electronic Arts, $39.99). Hosted by a bubbly Mr. Monopoly, it nearly duplicates the nuances of its board game equivalent while adding an additional mode for players with limited time.

Just as in the standard version, entrepreneurs use dice rolls to move their tokens around the 40-space board. They land on property squares and use cash to buy, sell, build, trade and pay rent while testing their fates by occasionally drawing Chance and Community Chest cards.

The virtual game offers four human or computer-controlled characters the same level of fun. The traditional and new World Edition boards are available immediately, and the action can take as long as the original, at least a few hours, or maybe longer, thanks to the host’s droning.

It also allows for rules to be tweaked, including critical components in my Monopoly world: Landing on “Free Parking” wins a player the accumulated tax money, and the standard salary is doubled for landing on “Go.”

Using the Passport is an added twist. As players amass property, locations are represented as stamps that are pasted into a virtual book. Collect enough stamps and unlock nine new boards, such as ones themed to cooking, sweets and even cheese (wouldn’t a “Star Wars” theme be a bit more exciting?).

New to this virtual Monopoly is a condensed version of the action called Rich Edition. In this game, jovial Mr. Monopoly randomly scatters tokens on the board, based on dice rolls. Set in six-, nine- and 12-round sessions; rent is paid purely in properties and players attempt to amass the highest real estate cash value by the end of the game to win.

Four dice are rolled in each round. Each player picks a die, placing the same number of tokens on the board.

Here’s the clever twist. To pick a die of their choice each round, the players must compete in a minigame. Where a player finishes in the minigame determines the choice of die.

The nine challenges range from picking up wads of cash to shoot into a safe, to a permutation of Operation, to driving a train on the Reading Railroad and stopping at stations.

The biggest problem with this Monopoly is there is no multiplayer online support. As the popularity of casual gaming increases, its ludicrous that Electronic Arts would not have added some level of action that could be enjoyed while connected with folks around the world.

Also, the action is very passive. As far as I’m concerned, major components of Monopoly’s greatness include looking opponents in the eye while waving property cards and cash under their noses.

Learning time: Unfortunately, a key educational component of the game - counting one’s money - is left out of this version. It’s done automatically.

However, the lessons in basic bartering techniques and core economics are still there, along with an outlet to hone decision-making skills.

Also, considering all of the geographical locations presented on the boards, it might have been nice to offer some information or even a video clip of some of the cities featured in the game. It might have slightly made up for the lack of online possibilities.

Age range: The whole family can huddle around the television and take part in the lengthy challenge. Games can even be saved and returned to later. Under the Rich Edition, the minigames might frustrate much younger or older players as by the time they figure out what to do, the game has been lost.

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