Onopo is a designer’s take on Monopoly, stripping away the style for pure substance.

What you’re left with is a game we can tell is Monopoly, but it lacks the game’s charm.

All the same, its iconography is clever. Properties--(almost) always in threes, always arranged in increasing expense--are represented by concentric circles. Railroads contrast as Xs.

It’s easy enough to follow--until you get to the cards, which, for all of their minimal appeal, would probably be a lot more straightforward with a simple, written explanation.


Monopoly Redesigned, And Stripped To Its Very Core

Is Monopoly still Monopoly if the game plays the same but has all context removed? Yes and no, but mostly no.

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.

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  • Martin Sallge

    That's awesome. I did basically the same thing as proof-of-concept for my thesis a few years back. However, I chose another board game for the abstraction. See if you can guess which one: http://d.pr/i/a7t9

  • Lauren F.

    One of the pillars of monopoly is the verbal negotiation and trading. Without labels how do you communicate easily? I'll trade you the two ringed red property for the 3 ringed green property... so confusing. I would argue this isn't functionally the same game BUT I love it anyway

  • Matt Potter

    Considering that Monopoly was originally devised as a way to warn individuals of what happens when land owners gain a monopoly, I would say this version instead strips away the substance for pure style. 

  • Salisbury

    Without wishing to be offensive I can't help but feel that Mr Wilson has never put much thought into how to play Monopoly.

    That is one of the more interesting things about the game. Some people approach it in a very shallow way since there is something immediately compelling about the theme. those people end up never thinking about how to play well and end up concluding there is no strategy involved. They would also find this thematically sparse version unappealing. 

    There is however definitely strategy involved in monopoly. It is a very easy game to play badly and a lot of people do, even many very intelligent people develop poor ideas about the relative values of properties and make bad trades because of that.  There is definite skill and strategy in trading and choosing when to mortgage. If you play by the rules as they are written there is also a fair amount of skill and deception since you don't have to pay rent unless the person you owe rent to asks before the next player rolls. If you can get on the good side of the player next to you then among poor players you can live quite cheaply. 

    Perhaps because I've engaged with the underlying game rather than just riding the theme I do find this striped down version at least as appealing as the regular version. The difference to me is purely aesthetic with no impact on my motivation at all and from an aesthetic point of view the striped down version one looks at least as pretty as regular version.

  • eviltimmy

     This is absolutely the key to making Monopoly fun again, and turns what used to be a three-hour slog into a 30-45 minute battle of wits and wills. Having every property landed on go up for auction if not purchased improves the game immeasurably. It's worth breaking out your old set to try it again, and you'll be surprised how much more enjoyable it is.

  • Tim Anderson

    Yet another pointless redesign in which the designer missed the core elements that made the experience great to begin with.

    I understand what the designer was going for, but I don't think minimalism is compatible with this particular product. For example, nearly every university and region in the country has its own versions of Monopoly. It is the almost personification of the gaming experience that attracts many people, not the fundamental game-play that the designer is trying to capture.

    Also, if the designer does not think there is strategy in Monopoly, then he is obviously doing it wrong.

  • Eraser

    directly to quarter circle with grey infill do not pass quarter circle arrow do
    not collect triangles/diamonds.

  • Brook Bollinger

    A redesign of Monopoly is completely unnecessary - or Hasbro would've done it by now.

  • FFB

    "There isn’t a lot of strategy involved, and the conditions for winning
    have been described as ‘almost unreachable,’” Hollet writes"

    Excuse me??? Has the author or designer ever played Monopoly? There is definitely strategy involved, and when I play Monopoly with my kids, we always have a winner (and it's just as often my kids).

  • Jesse Fuchs

    The original folk Monopoly, which existed from 1910ish to 1930ish, was quite strategic, mainly because every unowned property landed on was auctioned off to the highest bidder instead of being able to be bought outright. Once it got stolen by Parker Brothers, though, they added the buy-outright rule (originally just for kids), and that dumbed the game down something fierce.