August 14th, 2011 at 9:10 am

Is buying Monopoly’s Boardwalk really worth it?

Is buying Boardwalk the best strategy?

Monopoly is a bonding experience in some families. For other families, it’s a Machiavellian affair that tosses love and loyalty aside in favor of a capitalistic bloodlust where there is but one goal: Drive mom, dad, grandma and weird Uncle Steve into bankruptcy as soon as possible.

But what’s the most efficient way to do that? Everyone has a theory about how best to win at Monopoly. Some try to buy a single property of every color, while others swear that becoming a slum lord, buying up the low rent properties, is the key to victory.

And no matter the strategy, there’s no greater jewel in a player’s crown than Boardwalk. But is that pricey blue spot — and it’s sister street Park Place — really worth it?

It was inevitable, of course, that mathematicians would enter the fray to help determine which properties are actually worth buying. In 1997, Dr. Irvin R. Hentzel of Iowa State University listed the properties where people were most likely to land — and where others were most likely to see their bankroll expand. Discarding non-purchasable spaces like Free Parking and Go, here’s what he came up with:

- Illinois Ave
- Tennessee Ave.
- New York Ave.
- St. James Place
- Water Works
- Pennsylvania Ave

If you’re familiar with the game board, you might notice that all three orange properties are in that list. That’s due to their relationship to Jail. Players emerging from the hoosegow are more likely to land in that strip than any other part of the board.

You may also note that Boardwalk and Park Place are conspicuously absent. It turns out that the two ritziest addresses in Monopoly aren’t the ones most likely to win you the game. They might have the highest rent, but they simply don’t have the foot traffic needed to boost your coffers.

In fact, says Hentzel, that particular monopoly is only the fourth best in the game.

Mathematician Truman Collins, who conducted an even more exhaustive study of the probabilities of landing on each square in the board, summed it up this way: “The square most landed on other than Jail is Illinois Avenue, and in fact a hotel there will bring the most income other than a hotel on Boardwalk.”

Collins also noted that railroads are excellent investments, particularly when you own several of them. Their advantage has diminishing returns, though, as they fail to keep up with the income generated by hotels later in the game. And if you have limited funds, but happen to have New York Avenue in your portfolio, your best chance at staying alive is to put a third house on the property. That’s the best return on investment to be found in the game.

So, as you look to devastate Aunt Margaret at the next family gathering, here are three strategies the experts suggest:

Don’t buy anything and everything as you play. Focus on high traffic properties and try to build a monopoly there quickly — even if you have to trade away high dollar properties (yep, including Boardwalk).

Don’t fear jail
Once the properties are snatched up and the game enters the building phase, embrace your criminal ways and never pay \$50 to leave jail early.

Transportation > Utilities
The Electric Company might have been a great children’s show, but if you’re looking to win, railroads are a much better way to gain an early advantage.

Boardwalks around the world

While U.S. players may not be able to imagine the game without Boardwalk, Parker Brothers has regionalized many of the international editions (it’s available in 111 countries and 43 languages) — and unless you’re a student of world geography, Monopoly’s most recognizable square might not seem that familiar.

Here are some of Boardwalk’s aliases:

Boardwalk (Standard Edition)
Mayfair (U.K)
Rue de la Paix (French)
Schlossallee (German)
Efoffstraat (South African)
Kalverstrat (The Netherlands)
Shareaa Kasr el Nil (Egyptian)
Rheinstrasse (Austrian)
Morumbi (Brazilian)