“Co-opoly” offers socially conscious take on Monopoly capitalism


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Come together, right now.

It might still be the most popular board game in the world, according to publisher Hasbro, but there's no denying Monopoly's particular brand of cut-throat Gordon Gekko capitalism just isn't as fashionable as it once was.

The time's right for a new take on the game, in other words -- and that's exactly what worker-owned cooperative publisher The Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA) has produced.

Their game is called Co-opoly, and though it bears a superficial resemblance to Monopoly, in it you're more likely to be buying health insurance for your co-workers, tackling economic challenges as a group, or debating the pros and cons of a business expansion than paying rent, building houses, or being sent directly to jail.

Dubbed a "social justice game," Co-opoly starts with you and the other players forming your own democratic, cooperative business.  You're all in it together -- and that means either you all win, or you all lose. There's just one playing piece, and players take turns to move it. Everyone shares one pool of currency, and all players must agree on how those funds are spent. If one player goes bankrupt, so does everyone else.

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Nothing could seem further from the cutthroat, winner-takes-all gameplay of regular Monopoly -- but as it happens, the two games share rather more than you might think. In its original incarnation, around the start of the 20th century, it was intended as an anti-capitalist teaching tool and a demonstration of the injustices of monopolies.

Similarly, the ethics behind Co-opoly's production are more than just skin-deep. A cooperative itself, TESA arranged for the game to be manufactured entirely in the United States. Most parts are printed by other worker-owned businesses, and produced using recycled paper. This pushes the total cost per game to $32, far higher than mass-produced board games that rely on cheap imported components. But to ease the blow it's being sold with a pay-what-you-want pricetag. The minimum is $38, and the maximum is $70, although the creators "suggest" a price of $55.

Reviews of the game are positive — it's harder than it sounds, apparently giving at least one seasoned board gamer a run for his money. Given regular Monopoly's tendency to dissolve into mean-spirited, long-winded tedium, we're willing to bet it'll leave you all in better tempers regardless of whether you win or lose.

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