Monopoly is a board game notorious for breaking families and friend groups apart. Games are generally pretty long, and from the point in the game that someone has clearly bought up more streets than others (i.e. they “get a monopoly”) it’s not really in any doubt who’s going to win, meaning that games are often pretty tedious, as well.

The original version of Monopoly was created by Lizzie Magie, and published in 1904 as The Landlord’s Game. It was actually designed as a cautionary tale: that is, to teach people that once someone (or a small group of people) own an outsized amount of land and resources, they can pretty much just bleed everyone dry, slowly over time (which is exactly what happens in the board game).

The Landlord’s Game became popular on college campuses, and particularly among Quakers, who started customising the game to their own liking – for example, the US edition of the game uses place names that the Quakers came up with, based on what was apparently their favourite holiday spot, Atlantic City.

In 1935, some guy named Charles Darrow claimed that he had invented this game, and sold the rights to Parker Brothers. They decided to instead sell it as a straight-up fun family game that just so happened to uphold what the US ruling class wanted people to think about capitalism: that is, everyone starts out in the same place, and the person who ends up owning literally everything clearly got there because they were “smarter” and “more tactical” than everyone else. The fact that the early stages of the game literally depend on dice rolls apparently doesn’t factor into this equation…

In the 1970s, a dishevelled academic named Ralph Anspach decided he was going to create a new board game to demonstrate how bad monopolies were, and he called it Anti-Monopoly. General Mills, the cereal conglomerate that had swallowed up Parker Brothers, decided to sue him for trademark infringement. Anspach refused to cave, saying his was a totally separate board game and there was no way someone could get “Monopoly” confused with its diametric opposite, “Anti-Monopoly”. The court case dragged on for years, getting repeatedly kicked up the hierarchy of courts. The Ninth Circuit court found in favour of Anspach, so General Mills tried to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case though, so the Ninth Circuit’s judgement held.

What’s more, Anspach’s research during this case exposed the truth that Darrow had stolen the game, not invented it, which technically put Parker Brothers in a precarious legal position of their own (although nothing ever seemed to come of it). Parker Brothers responded by trying to buy up every other board game that was similar to Monopoly.

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