A board game conversion to the PC is nothing new. Cluedo, Risk, Scrabble etc. have all been converted numerous times with varying degrees of success. One of the best conversions to the PC was Risk II. As well as staying true to the board game Risk II innovated and took advantage of the PC to bring in game enhancing features. Risk II was designed by Deep Red Games and thankfully they are responsible for Monopoly Tycoon.
Monopoly Tycoon has taken the elements of the board game and mixed them into a superb strategy game. Chance cards, all the board pieces and all the streets are here but the turn based nature of the game has gone and the building side of the game is no longer limited to hotels. While this may sound like it's going to upset the purists, it shouldn't. The previous attempts at converting Monopoly to the PC have been decent but have lacked personality. One of the main problems has been the nature of the game. You take your turn and then sit and wait while the AI has its turn. Now this is OK in real life, with real people, as you talk to each other etc. but having to look at the PC for a few minutes, doing nothing, soon gets boring. Monopoly Tycoon has done away with this problem as we shall see.
The first thing to do when first playing the game is to go to the tutorials section and learn how to play the game. The tutorials are broken up into small sections that deal specifically with each gameplay concept. You can access any tutorial you want which is a bonus as you don't have to plough through some of the more elementary ones if you don't want to.
As you can see from the above screenshot the tutorials are fully subtitled. No vocal information is present in the tutorials or the main game and all the information is given in text. The tutorials are well paced and each one is kept short and concise so as not to be overwhelming (something that happens all too often in strategy games).
One thing that will surprise you, when you take part in the scenarios, is just how involving the gameplay is. Gone is the pedestrian pace, that is so common with board games, and it is replaced by a quick real time action. The flat 2D board has also been replaced by a fully 3D environment. The streets are now blocks that can be built upon. You can attempt to buy any block you want. If you wanted to buy Park Lane then you would attempt to buy the lease. This would arrange an auction (that happens 2 minutes later). In an auction (see screenshot below) you and your opponents have to outbid each other in order to gain the lease for a block. The lease lasts for 25 years, at which point the owner will lose control of the block. The advantage to owning the lease is that you don't have to pay rent for any of the buildings that you have on that block. If you own all the blocks in a particular colour group then you have the ability to build hotels, just like in the board game.
In order to replace the rigidity of the games' turn based roots, the game has been broken into different time slots. Daytime businesses operate between 9am - 5pm. Night-time businesses operate between 6pm - midnight and the bills (rent and stock) is paid for at 6am. The period between midnight and 6am is quiet as no real action is taking place. You can speed this up by using the 4X button which accelerates the game time. Each day in Monopoly Tycoon is about 10 minutes in real time. At the end of each day the time moves on 5 years. The game starts in 1930 so after one day the year would be 1935 and after two days the year would be 1940 and so on. This is important because as the years progress different businesses become available.
The properties you can build are either retail or residential. Retail covers all the business buildings such as the bookstore or the bakery to name but two. Residential covers apartments and hotels. The process of selecting which building to place is aided by commissioning a poll on the block that you intend to build upon. This enables you to see what the people, who live on the block, want. You build all of the buildings in the same way. You select the block, then select the building icon, choose residential or retail, choose the type of building and then click and drag out the footprint of the building. Once this is done, you can select the amount of floors for the building, the build quality and the look of the building. When you're happy with this and you've okayed it to be built then the scaffold goes up and your building grows inside the scaffold until it reaches full size. It is important to note that the cost of the building is dependent on the build quality, the amount of floors and the prestige of the block. Old Kent Road has a prestige of 1 whilst Mayfair has a prestige of 5. If you own the lease to a block then you can also build landscape parks on it. Large amounts of landscape parks can raise the prestige of a block.
So when you've learned the basics it's off to the single player to take on the scenarios. There are sixteen scenarios in all plus the addition of a bonus scenario. The are three levels of difficulty for each scenario. These difficulty levels are Bronze, Silver and Gold which equate to easy, normal and hard. The first three scenarios, played on Bronze difficulty are nothing more than a gentle introduction to the game. On the fourth scenario the AI begins to put up a challenge and on the fifth scenario, the one in which you have to be first to reach an empire value of £20,000, it took me several attempts to achieve victory.
The game has thankfully included different name variations for each of the blocks. Twenty-one different sets of names exist. The US board is there as well as the UK, the Argentinean and even the Australian. So it's up to you whether you prefer Mayfair, Boardwalk or Paseo Tablado. The chance cards are also present (although no community chest). They occasionally appear as a flashing button and it's up to you as to whether or not you click on them. There are seventy five cards in all and they range from small prize money to major strikes.
The characters you'll be up against in the scenarios are all taken from the board game pieces. Each of the characters has their own personality and plays the game a little different. Wheelbarrow for instance is aggressive and unpredictable and Horse likes to build blocks of average value. After playing against them I definitely noticed their different styles and it is obvious that some are more ruthless that others.
The multiplayer game enables you to play against someone across the Internet or against someone in your own home across a LAN. There are six different types of game that you can play and they are each based on a different victory condition. You could for instance, decide you want to play a 'Daily Profit' game where you set the amount of profit that has to be earned in a day and the first player to do that wins the game. If you don't want to play against a human opponent you can also create a skirmish game in this mode. You select the option to host a game and select AI opponents. In the multiplayer game you cannot pause the game or use the 4X option to speed the game up.
There are very few things wrong with this game. If I'm being honest I would say that it would have been nice to able to slow the game down occasionally or at the very least make decisions whilst the game is paused. There are also one or two strategies that work for more scenarios than is healthy. I'm not going to divulge exactly what they are because learning them is part of learning the game. Deep Red have said though that a lot of the easy win tactics will be eradicated in the next patch. One of these is saving the game just as an auction is about to start and then quitting. When you load the save back up again everyone else pulls out of the bidding enabling you to have the property at a rock bottom price.
Monopoly Tycoon will surprise a lot of people. Instead of just transferring the board game directly to the PC, Deep Red have picked out the key ingredients and created a feverishly addictive city building strategy game. The strange thing though, is that the game has created the cut 'n' thrust elements of Monopoly more accurately than any of the earlier board game conversions.
Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10 A fantastic and innovative interpretation of Monopoly. Deep Red have actually taken the board game into the 21st century and added much needed depth to this classic game. The game cries out for an expansion pack and maybe even a sequel as Monopoly Tycoon proves it's a great game and yet somehow it's obvious that Deep Red can even take it that bit further. After all the Goto Jail feature has yet to be included.
Deaf Gamers comment: Complete text feedback throughout the game. Monopoly Tycoon is a marvellous adaptation of the classic board game that everyone loves. The chat function in the multiplayer mode is text only so deaf gamers are not left out in online games either.
Special thanks to Simon Callaghan for enabling us to review this game.