a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

critter with a newsletter

Does anyone actually want to subscribe to an e-mail newsletter, ever? Lately it seems like writers are very bullish about getting people to subscribe to their newsletter, but the only one I've ever heard anyone express any interest in as a newsletter is The Daily Dracula, and I get that, because it has a neat gimmick: Dracula's chapters each represents a chronological journal entry, and the newsletter delivers these entries to the reader in real time. There are days, sometimes weeks between entries, so for people who are able to enjoy reading a book that way (I tried, I can't) each delivery is a fun treat for the reader's inbox.

But the majority of newsletters I get asked to subscribe to are just normal blogs, not unlike this one, and I don't get it. If I want to subscribe to a blog I'll just use the RSS feed. Everyone who talks about these platforms talks about how obnoxious it is to have to click "just let me read the blog" every time they visit. Why do people do it? Is it just the fact that "newsletter" is a nicer word to say? Does it feel more professional to say "read my newsletter" than "read my blog"? Because I can understand that, but you can just call a blog a newsletter. You don't have to pretend that people are going to enter their e-mail address and receive updates via electronic mail. Maybe I'm off-base, maybe there's a huge silent majority of people who do like getting updates this way and I'm the oddball here, but I associate e-mail with spam and personal correspondence. A newsletter doesn't fall into the latter category, so I file it in the former category. Even Daily Dracula, which I thought was a neat idea, evoked the "ugh, more spam" feeling every time it popped up, until I unsubscribed. I dunno, just a weird trend.

Anyway, if you want to recommend this blog to someone and it feels better to call it a newsletter, go right ahead. It's not not a newsletter, y'know?

get on the slambang trolley

Talking about Monopoly the other day got me interested in learning more about the Landlord's Game, the original anticapitalist game that eventually morphed into The Monopoly everyone knows and hates. It might not be totally accurate to call it "anticapitalist", that's not a term Lizzie Magie would've used, but it's hard not to look at the "single tax" system she was advocating for and not view it as anticapitalism by another name. Reading about Georgism is a little confusing, because language and ideas around economics were so radically different, but when you read the basic summary of the idea:

Georgism, ... known historically as the single tax movement, is an economic ideology holding that, although people should own the value they produce themselves, the economic rent derived from land --- including from all natural resources, the commons, and urban locations --- should belong equally to all members of society.

it's hard not to think of it as marxism in a different package, although apparently Karl Marx criticized the idea as "capitalism's last ditch". I'm not quite well-read enough to get all the nuances.

Anyway, I discovered landlordsgame.info, which has a full reproduction of the rules and a high-res scan of the original board (right-click and "view image" to see the full res.) I knew about the history, but I've never looked at the game in full before. It's hard to say without actually playing it, but my gut impression is that TLG is a much better game.

The basic mechanics aren't that different from Monopoly, but there are several key differences that I think would make it much better as both an educational tool and a game. First and most importantly is the alternate rules; when you play the single tax version, all rent gets paid into the public treasury instead of to the person who owns the property. As more money is added to the public treasury, more spaces become free to land on. If a player lands on a non-free space and doesn't have enough money to pay "rent", they can instead move to one of the inner board spaces (coal mines, oil fields, timber land or farmland) and take wages from the public treasury instead of paying into it. You're still incentivized to buy properties, even if you the player don't collect rent from it, because owning properties gives you points at the end of the game.

That's right --- the game has an end. It's not "last player standing wins." Whether you're using the single tax rules or not, there's a designated stopping point, so even in "monopoly mode", it doesn't turn into an unbearable slog while you wait for all the losing players to finish losing. The original rules state:

RULE 19. End of Game. --- The game ends when one player has received his wages five times. Players may, however, prolong the game at their own pleasure, having no arbitrary stopping point but continuing the game until the convenience or the inclination of the players suggests a cessation. Then they may agree to stop, say, at the next double thrown by any of the players.

I love the encouragement to tinker with the rules, but "the game ends once someone passes go 5 times" is a beautifully elegant way to conclude the game. There's zero chance that there's not going to be a clear winner by that point. I will recommend house-ruling this into every game of Monopoly from now on. Everyone add up everything you own, whoever has the most value wins.

Presumably, "monopoly mode" will usually end with one player winning by a massively unfair margin and "single tax mode" will have a clear winner, but the other players won't be quite so far behind. It won't feel as bad to lose.

I think even playing in "monopoly mode" would be an improvement over Monopoly, mostly because of the 5 turn limit, but also because The Landlord's Game just has more fun stuff in it:

The "Luxury" space, instead of just being a $75 tax, allows you to pay that amount to draw a luxury card. I can't find a full list of them, but from the pictures, they have fun descriptions like "an airship" or "a summer at the seashore". They're worth $100 at the end of the game, so if you can afford it, it's to your advantage to pick one up. They can also be used as bargaining chips to trade to other players.

There's no way to go bankrupt: if you completely run out of money and resources, you go to the "Poorhouse" square (which shares space with Central Park, which eventually turned into "free parking".) There's a chance of getting stuck there, but it at least gives you a chance to get a lucky roll and get into a better position.

There's an extra rule with the railroads: if you roll doubles, and the roll would take you past one of the railroad squares, you have a "free pass" and can skip to the next railroad space before resuming your move. So say you're in the poorhouse, and all 9 squares would cost you money if you land there, but you roll two 3s: you can pass by Gee Whiz Railroad, catch the train, and be taken straight to P.D.Q.R.R., skipping past all the expensive spaces (and the go to jail space) and maybe landing you in a better position, closer to payday. Doesn't that make sense? Doesn't it seem like riding the railroad should be a regular mechanic and not constrained to one of the chance cards? I've always thought so.

All of the names are more fun. There's the two railroads mentioned above, and the other two are "Royal Rusher" and "Shooting Star". Properties have names like Rubeville, Goat Alley, Lonely Lane, Easy Street, and Rickety Row. (hey, that's me! That's where the rickety bridge takes you!) Instead of passing Go, you pass "Labor upon Mother Earth produces wages". Instead of going to jail for no reason, you go to jail for trespassing on Lord Blueblood's Estate or D.F. Hogg's Game Preserves. The whole thing just has so much more charm and character than Monopoly. I dunno. I suspect it might actually be fun.

There's another website, landlords-game.com, that sells reproductions of the original, which I think would be a pretty neat thing to have. I'm not sure what that would end up costing, but board games are typically not cheap when they can't be made at a mass-produced scale. They're sold out for the moment, but I signed up to be notified when there's another production run, and indicated that I'd be interested in a crowdfunding campaign, just in case they're made at a level I can afford.1 I look forward to... uh, to receiving... their newsletter. Oops. Computer, fix all this so I look smart 🦝

  1. I found the site where the repros were being sold and the listed price is $68. Yeah no, too rich for my blood. But it does say the next edition should be cheaper, so maybe?↩

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