March 15th 2003

Classic meets high-tech

With the recent release of Mario Party-e, I've been thinking a lot about boardgames that could use the e-Reader as a support device. There are many possibilities, but also many constraints. The most important limitation is the number of GBAs involved: You can't really ask people to buy multiple GBAs and e-Readers just so they can play a single boardgame, no matter how good the game itself may be, since the total price will drive potential buyers away. Also, no matter how the e-Reader is used with the boardgame, it should only be used in short sessions, so that the other players will not fall asleep while they wait.

The overall design of Mario Party-e works with these constraints and passes the test with flying colors. However, in the realm of boardgames, Mario Party is not exactly a household name. I've done some research on the subject, and I've found that not many well-known boardgames could be successfully adapted to use the e-Reader. There are a couple like Trivial Pursuit and Clue, but the first boardgame that comes to mind, of course, is Monopoly. Allow me to introduce...


This game would come with the familiar game board and movers, and a couple of die, and different types of cards with e-Reader data strips printed along their edges. There would be no paper money, however, and no houses or hotel pieces, because the GBA - equipped with an e-Reader - would keep track of these things for each player, for the entire duration of the game. Here are the different e-Cards used:

"Bank Application" cards

These cards contain the basic software application (I'll call it the Bank Application for the remainder of this text) that will be active in the GBA for the entire duration of the game. Before starting the game, one of the players needs to swipe in all of these cards to load the Bank Application. Once this is done, the game can begin. I don't know how many Bank Application e-Cards there would be, but I'd say 5 cards, with 2 long data strips per card.

The Bank Application keeps track of the money and properties owned by each player. As the game progresses, players swipe in e-Cards as required, and the Bank Application modifies the current stats of the players depending on the encoded contents of these e-Cards. Players can view the current status of all their properties at any time on the GBA screen.

"Player ID" card

When the player selects a mover at the start of the game, he/she receives a Player ID card that is associated to this mover.

This card does nothing by itself when swiped in the e-Reader. It is used to identify the player in certain types of operations and transactions.

"Title Deed" cards

These cards are identical to the cards found in the original Monopoly game, with the addition of an e-Reader data strip along the left edge. They are given to players to mark their ownership of property.

If player "A" stops his mover on the property owned by player "B", player "B" must swipe the property's Title Deed card in the e-Reader, and player "A" must swipe in his Player ID card so that the rent can be collected. The Bank Application computes the rent automatically, taking into account the current state of the property (double rent, mortgage, houses/hotels, etc.).

The Title Deed cards are also used in other types of e-Reader operations. Keep reading for further details.

"Player Command" cards

In addition to the Player ID card, each player also receives a small group of Player Command cards that are associated to their mover. These cards are used to perform specific operations. Here is the list of these cards:

"Buy a Property" card: Whenever a player wants to buy a property, he/she must swipe the "Buy a Property" card in the e-Reader, followed by the Title Deed card for that property. Once this is done, the Bank Application substracts the property's price from the player's purse, and recognizes the player as the owner of the property. The Banker then gives the Title Deed card to the player.

"Sell a Property" card: When player "A" wishes to sell a property to player "B" as a private transaction, this card must be swiped in the e-Reader, followed by the Title Deed card of that property, and the Player ID card of player "B". Using a standard numeric interface, player "A" must enter the amount agreed between buyer and seller, and the Bank Application will automatically buy back and remove all houses and hotels from the property's color-group if there are any to remove, and will record player "B" as the new owner of the property while transfering money from the purse of player "B" to the purse of player "A". Any mortgage issues will also be dealt with immediately, according to the rules.

"Erect a House or Hotel" card: Players use this e-Card to add houses and hotels to their properties. Just swipe this card in the e-Reader, followed by the Title Deed card of the property. The Bank Application will automatically check to make sure that the player owns all the properties of the same color, and will add a house or hotel according to the house-building rules. Note that players can consult the player status screen to see every building erected on every property.

"Sell Houses or Hotels" card: When players need money, they can sell their buildings back to the Bank. To perform this operation, they simply need to swipe in the "Sell Houses or Hotels" card, followed by any Title Deed card of the color-group involved. The Bank Application asks the player how many buildings he/she wants to sell, automatically calculates the total amount for all the buildings, removes them from the properties (according to the rules that apply in this situation), and adds the given amount to the purse of the player.

"Mortgage a Property" card: If a player decides to put a mortgage on one of his/her properties, he/she can do so buy swiping in this card, followed by the Title Deed of the property involved. The Bank Application automatically buys back and removes any buildings on the property's color-group, and gives the player the amount of money corresponding to the mortgage value printed on the Title Deed card.

"Lift a Mortgage" card: When the player is ready to pay back the mortgage on a property, he/she can swipe in this card, followed by the Title Deed card of the property. The Bank Application calculates the amount (including interest) of money to substract from the player's purse, and lifts the mortgage from the property.

"Pay Income Tax" card: When a player lands on the "Income Tax" square on the board, he/she must swipe in this e-Card. The Bank Application calculates the amount due, and substracts it from the player's purse.

"Pay Luxury Tax" card: When a player lands on the "Luxury Tax" square on the board, he/she must swipe in this e-Card. The Bank Application automatically substracts $75 from the player's purse.

"Pay a 50$ Jail Fine" card: When the player needs to pay $50 to get out of jail, he/she must swipe this card in the e-Reader. The Bank Application automatically substracts $50 from the player's purse.

"Get Financial Advice" card: When a player is low on cash and owes money (either to the Bank or to another player), he/she can swipe this card in the e-Reader. This sub-application asks the player to enter the debt amount (using a simple numeric interface), and it computes up to two recommendations for paying the debt: A list of houses or hotels to sell back to the Bank, a list of properties to mortgage or sell, or both. If there is no way to pay the debt, the sub-application recommends to file for bankruptcy. This card can be used at any time, but will more likely be used when the player is in a situation of immediate debt.

"File for Bankruptcy" card: When a player goes broke, he/she must swipe this card in before retiring from the game, and then hand over the GBA to the Banker who will complete the operation. If the bankrupt player owes any money to another player, this player will have to swipe in his/her ID card. The Bank Application calculates the values of all houses and hotels built on the properties of the bankrupt player, and helps the Banker resolve any mortgage issues. All transfers of money and properties are handled automatically. This card must also be used if the player wants to retire from the game even if he/she is not really bankrupt. In this situation, the Bank will simply take the player's money and buildings as "donations", and the Banker will put the properties of the retired player under auction immediately.

"Chance" and "Community Chest" cards

These cards are the same as the originals, with the addition of the e-Reader data strip along the edge (Certain cards, such as the "Get Out of Jail Free" cards, do not have any data strips).

When a player draws one of these cards, he/she must swipe it into the e-Reader, followed by their own Player ID card. The Bank Application applies the card's effect immediately.

"Banker Operation" cards

The player who assumes the role of the Banker is given a small group of special e-Cards, which only the Banker is allowed to use:

"Give $200 to Player as Salary" card: When a player lands on (or passes over) the "Go!" square on the board, the Banker needs to swipe in this e-Card, followed by the Player ID card of the player. The Bank Application automatically adds $200 to the player's purse.

"Register a Property Auction" card: When a player refuses to buy a property, the Banker puts it under auction. Once the auction is completed, the Banker needs to swipe in the "Register a Property Auction" card, followed by the Title Deed card of the property, and the Player ID card of the highest bidder. The Banker must then enter the final bid amount (via a simple numeric interface), and the Bank Application substracts this amount from the high bidder's purse. The property is then registered as being owned by that player.

"Perform a Manual Transaction" card: The Banker may use this e-Card to perform a transfer of money between two players, or between a player and the Bank. This card is used mostly when a player sells a "Get Out of Jail Free" card to another player, or when a bankrupt player owes money to another player, but it can be used in other special situations if all the players agree to it. After the "Perform a Manual Transaction" card has been swiped in, the players swipe in their respective ID cards, the Banker enters the amount to transfer (using a simple numeric interface), and the Bank Application performs the transaction.

"Cancel Previous Operation" card: If a player wants to undo the last operation, the Banker simply needs to swipe this card in the e-Reader to execute the cancellation. Only the very last operation can be undone this way.

"Generate Savegame Password" card: When the Banker swipes in this card, the Bank Application computes and displays a password which records all the current data about every player: purse, owned properties and buildings, and mortgages. The Banker must write this password on a piece of paper, and mark the current position of all the movers on the game board, as well as identify the player who will have the next turn when the game is resumed at a future date. If any "Get Out of Jail Free" cards are owned by any player, the Banker must also record this.

"Restore Savegame" card: This card is used to continue a game from the point at which it was saved with the "Save the Game" card. The Banker simply enters the password using an alphabetical interface, and all the data for the saved game is restored in the Bank Application's memory. The players can then resume playing the game.

I think this e-Reader version of Monopoly would work quite well, although playing this game without an e-Reader could get somewhat tedious. The main advantage here is that there's no need to mess around with Monopoly money and tiny plastic buildings, since the Bank Application keeps track of these things on the GBA screen for all the players. It also performs rent and tax calculations automatically, based on the current stats of the players, and helps make mortgage operations much easier to manage. Also, imagine using the Bank Application on a regular TV screen, via the Game Boy Player! This would be the best way of playing Monopoly-e!

Considering how many incarnations of Monopoly there are, one more certainly wouldn't hurt... ;-)