Monopoly is a cruel game at heart, one where your own family never stays at your house free, and everything can bankrupt you but the parking.
"Monopoly’s central theme (wealthy landlords gobbling up property) is layered on lavishly, with names for each individual property, elaborate narratives for the random cards (second prize in a beauty contest!), and plenty of illustrations," designer Matthew Hollett tells me. "This is part of the charm and culture of the game, but it could also be thought of as superfluous to how the game works."
In response, Hollett created ONOPO. Functionally, it’s the same game you grew up with. You still buy three matching spaces to build houses. But in Hollett’s version, the properties are just a series of concentric rings—with each ring signifying more value. (These circles were inspired by the three Os in ONOPO.) And the houses, they’re actually just chunks of a green circle. Assemble four, and you have a green ring with a hole in the middle that’d perfect for a red dot (what you may know better as a hotel).
Everywhere text could be eliminated, it was. "For example, nothing happens when you land on the Free Parking space in the original game, so in Onopo it is entirely blank," Hollett writes. "The place names and narrative text have been entirely replaced with visual symbols."
This replacement meant that Community Chest and Chance, generally laden in text, were very difficult to depict in symbols. "One particularly challenging component was the Get Out of Jail Free card, which is different than the other cards in that it can be ‘kept until needed or sold,’" Hollet explains. "I decided to indicate this by giving it the same diamond motif as the bills, which is meant to indicate that the card can be kept and used like money."
Academically, Onopo is incredibly amusing, like viewing the intricate strings of a puppet without ever seeing the resulting movements of the marionette itself. But it’s also quite telling. Onopo, for however clever it may be, doesn’t look fun at all to play—which raises the question, what ever made us think that Monopoly was fun in the first place?
"The game design of Monopoly is notoriously awkward. Everyone remembers Monopoly sessions that might have gone on for hours if everyone hadn’t agreed to stop. There isn’t a lot of strategy involved, and the conditions for winning have been described as ‘almost unreachable,’" Hollet writes. "I think this is why Monopoly comes in so many different themes (like Star Wars Monopoly or SpongeBob SquarePants Monopoly), because the theme is really the only thing that makes the game fun."
Well, the theme is part of the fun, along with whichever personal relationships you can manipulate, even permanently damage, to walk away with the biggest pile of fake money at the end.