I recently created ONOPO, a reimagining of an iconic American board game. It’s been featured on Co.Design, the Fast Company design blog. Editor Mark Wilson sent me some questions about the project when researching his article. I’ve posted my responses in full here.
Q: Why simplify Monopoly to its most basic?
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. 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.
I thought it would be challenging to try reducing the visual design of the game down to an iconographic system representing its basic mechanics. I did this by removing metaphors such as street names, and using as little text as possible. For example, nothing happens when you land on the Free Parking space in the original game, so in ONOPO it is entirely blank. The place names and narrative text have been entirely replaced with visual symbols. My approach was inspired in part by abstract strategy games, and the iconographic system used in the card game Race for the Galaxy.
Of course, 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”. 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. I also think this is why everyone tends to have “house rules” for playing Monopoly that make it more interesting.
Q: How did you decide on the visual systems used? Was there anything you had a tough time translating?
My approach was inspired partly by the visual echo between the three Os in the original game title and the groups of three spaces on the board. I decided to use concentric rings to represent increasingly valuable properties. The “railroad” spaces needed to contrast with the rings, so I used an X shape, which was also reminiscent of a crossroads. The rest of the iconographic system evolved from there.
The instructional cards were the most challenging, since they use so much text. 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.” 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.
I’m particularly happy with the design of the “houses” and “hotels,” which in ONOPO fit together in a way that better suggests their relationship, and with the property cards. I may still try to improve some of the instructional cards. I’m not sure my design for the “collect $50 from every player” type cards is ideal, and the word “back” on the “Go back 3 spaces” card irritates me (I included it partly because otherwise it would be hard to tell which side of the card was the top).
One constraint I gave myself was to using the same size board, cards and bills as the original. In this way, ONOPO is more of a re-skinning of the original rather than a complete redesign. Leaving certain remnants of the original (such as similar colours) also makes my project easier to understand at a glance.
Q: How do the chance/community chest cards work now?
They work the same way as before, and there are still two different stacks of cards. I’ve just used visual symbols instead of narrative text to convey what the cards do. Nothing about the mechanics of the game has changed with ONOPO.
Q: Is this still Monopoly?
Just as I’ve removed some letters from the word “Monopoly” to make “ONOPO,” my version removes enough of the identity of the original that I think it feels quite different, even if the underlying structure is the same. Because so much of Monopoly’s substance is in its theme, I’m not sure that what’s left in ONOPO could really be called Monopoly. If you created completely flavourless ice cream, would it still be ice cream?
Q: Have you played your own game? Do you find it fun?
When it comes to board games, I’m much more of a Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico fan! ONOPO was mostly a design challenge for myself, so I haven’t playtested it, but I may print a physical prototype just for fun. Since it draws heavily on an existing game, it’s strictly a personal design project, not a commercial product.