It is a story for the ages: You roll a 3, and instead of collecting $200 you land on Boardwalk, with two houses on it. Your friend smiles fiendishly as he tabulates your rent. Your broke so you flip the board in anger, just as your father and your grandfather did before you. Monopoly has been a mainstay on the shelves of Americans for generations, but the history of the game is filled with as much intrigue and infuriating rage as the game itself. So before your next foray into land ownership on that colorful board of Parker Brothers, take a ride in a small silver car down the Baltic Avenue of history.

Taking a Chance
Did you know that in World War II the British used Monopoly boards to smuggle maps and escape kits to their POWs trapped behind German lines? The Germans never questioned it or caught on, because even by the start of the war Monopoly had become known worldwide as the iconic mainstay of board games. According to Hasbro more than 250 millions copies of the game have been sold across the globe, with games in every major language. The gaming giant also estimated that nearly 500 million people have played Monopoly. However the origins of the famous game are not as ubiquitous as its distribution, or as ubiquitous as the feeling 500 million people have felt when failing to avoid Park Place for the third time in a row.

The established legend of Monopoly tells that Charles Darrow was the unemployed and nearly broke man who sold the game to the Parker Brothers in 1933 -also known as the Great Depression- for more money than it takes to buy hotels on Boardwalk. Like JK Rowling or JK Simmons it was the kind of rags to riches story that helped sell the product and give everyone that warm feeling, which was good because in the 1930’s most people couldn’t afford actual blankets. The story goes that Darrow would play the game with friends and one day had one of those friends write down the rules. Then, within months he found himself as rich as Mr. Monopoly himself, who was originally named Uncle Pennybags. However, Darrow’s story -though true- is also as deceptive as that time Todd tried to convince us that he rolled a 13.

The real inventor of the game was Elizabeth Magie, a progressive and brilliant woman who invented the game in 1903. Magie was unlike any other woman of her time. She did not marry until she was 44. She worked as a stenographer and a secretary in the dead letter office in DC. On the side she wrote poetry, short stories, and performed comedic routines onstage. She created Monopoly -originally called the Landlord’s Game- at the turn of the century as a way to educate people about the dangers of monopolies like those held by Rockefeller and Carnegie. She received $500 for the game that she patented, but was largely forgotten in the history and legend of the Darrow story.

Passing Down and Passing Go
The Landlord’s Game was also, not exactly like Monopoly. Magi created the game to show the evils of monopolies and excessive greed, because that was how she rolled. Originally, players could buy property before the game began. They did not have to land on the property first to purchase it. Also, there was a second set of rules called the anti-monopolists rules, where players paid their rent to a communal pot. Essentially, the Landlord’s Game was created to promote a very socialist message. It was meant to show that monopolies are terrible. In fact, the “Go” space used to be labeled, the “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages” space, which granted seems a little heavy-handed for a board game that 8-year olds play. So what happened?

Viral marketing happened, well as much as it could happen in a time before the telegraph. The Landlord’s Game circulated among the country and with each new person or group of friends the rules often changed, just a slight bit. You know how when you play Monopoly with friends who did not grow up in the same household as you, and they have a strange rule for how to handle “Free Parking” or you get into that argument of whether you get $500 or $200 if you end your turn on “Go”? That is still a remnant of the original idea that the Landlord’s Game was meant to be changed by each new player in each new city. It even mentions this idea in Magi’s original patent. The rules were not set in stone, which is part of the reason why Darrow and the Parker Brothers were later able to make Monopoly their personal “Community Chest.”

Some of the most notable changes came from the Quaker communities of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, most notably Atlantic City. For instance, the original game had spaces that were named after streets in New York City, with the most expensive being, Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. The Quakers took this idea and changed the names to places around Atlantic City. They also put the prices for the property on the board so “Good Quaker Children” would not have to yell or haggle over prices. Originally spaces were auctioned and we suppose that got a little raucous for mommy and daddy Quakers. They also, changed the game pieces. Instead of using standardized colored markers they used little trinkets that they had around the house, hair pins, tie clips, thimbles, and presumably the household dog. This Quaker version of the game is the one that eventually made its way to Charles Darrow and was the forerunner of the game we know today.

Luxury Tax
Perhaps the greatest irony of the game was not that time when Todd had to mortgage his hotels because he trusted the strategy of “how often am I going to land on those railroads anyway.” No the greatest irony is that the game of Monopoly -or the Landlord’s Game- was created to educated the 99% on the evils of capitalism, where the modern game seems to be doing just opposite. It became more Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders. Darrow and the Parker Brothers made the game more fit for a world that believed they could have it all, every piece, every house, and hotel. In a way Monopoly became more about the American belief that we were all just one “Go” space away from hitting it rich.

These days Elizabeth Magi would probably be appalled at the state of her game. Not only does it no longer teacher an anti-monopolist message, but it has become one of the biggest and most recognizable icons of capitalism, associated in almost every way with the thing she was trying to educate people against. Like Coca Cola or McDonalds it has become this quintessentially American brand, the monopoly of board games. In fact, you can even play Monopoly at McDonalds, once a year by scratching off tickets to win a free piece of processed meat stuffed between two vaguely bread-like objects, all smothered in questionable sauces. You can play it on your computer or even your iPhone. Greed has become the name of the game, almost literally.

The last mention of Magi, was on the 1940’s Census, where her occupation was listed as “Maker of Games,” and her income was listed as $0.00. Charles Darrow died in 1967. Atlantic City placed a commemorative plaque on The Boardwalk in his honor. As for the game, it has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Now it is more of a brand than ever. Do you like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or the NBA? How about Bass Fishing, Sun Maid Raisins, QVC, Blackberry Phones, or even a small British town named Swindon, because those are all Monopoly editions that exist. But hey, isn’t that lesson that Monopoly teaches us all? You wheel and deal until you make it rich or you flip the board and storm out of the room.

MAGFest stands for Music and Gaming Festival. It is an annual convention -now in its fourteenth year- that takes place every winter in Washington DC’s National Harbor. MAGFest is a great place to check out video games, board games, and roleplaying games, as well as geek-tacular music and panels dedicated to all forms of gaming. With a library of board and tabletop games, as well as an entire wing dedicated to retro arcade gaming MAGFest is also the place to be if you consider yourself a gamer or if you just like rolling a D20 every now and then. Independent developers set up booths to show off their latest games and allow fest-goers to playtest their products. MAGFest is a great opportunity to see a lot of impressive wares and interact with the men and women on the forefront of the Indie gaming community.

The NYRD sent a few representatives down to our nation’s capital to eat, game, and be merry, and this is five of the best and brightest products and people we think you need to keep an eye on. Check out what they found:

5. Ninja Burger
Ninja Burger is not necessarily what you might consider a new find. MAGFest offers  a wide variety of old and new games in their board game library. Ninja Burger was created by Steve Jackson -who created the successful series of Munchkin games- and has been around for a few years now. However, it was new to the crew at The NYRD, so we felt strongly enough about the game that it deserved to be on this list. We found this game tucked in the far corner of the game library in a beat-up old box and we could not be happier that we did.

A wildly imaginative and not-so-serious game, in Ninja Burger you take on the role of a ninja in the Ninja Burger franchise. You must deliver your burgers to customers ranging from super spies to speeding car drivers, all without being noticed, in true ninja fashion. To do this you complete mission cards with a set of skills and fortunes. Failure means that you bring shame on yourself and the franchise, but success brings honor and possible a nice tip. Gain enough honor and you could be promoted.

This game was so fun that The NYRD crew had to go back for a second round of gaming the next day. We highly recommend this find to anyone who enjoys playing casual and hilarious card games with friends.

4. Just Beats and Shapes
Just Beats and Shapes is an award winning Indie party game. By far, the most frequently played Indie game by The NYRD crew at MAGFest. it is fun and challenging, yet the controls are simple enough that even the most inexperienced gamer can jump right in and play along. Just Beats and Shapes won multiple awards at PAX East and GDC, and the game has not even released yet.

You and up to three of your friends need to navigate your node around obstacles and impressive graphical side-scrolling shapes all to the beat of some catchy tunes. Even if you are not into dance music or techno beats we promise you will be toe tapping along with the songs on this game, mostly because you will have to redo level sections multiple times as you fight and maneuver your way through minefields of colorful lines, blocks, and fast-moving dots.

According to the developers the full version should be ready by the summer for release on Steam and most major gaming platforms. You can also follow the developers on their Twitch feed to get live updates and watch the progress of the game as it develops.

3. Eight Bit Disaster
A mix between the Dave Matthews Band and that creepy kid in college who did nothing but play Mega Man with the lights out, Eight Bit Disaster is the kind of band you need to experience live to truly understand. Immensely talented musicians this group of five gentlemen rock out to classic and modern video game, TV shows, and cartoon music remixes.

We definitely recommend checking out one of their shows if they are ever in your neighborhood or if you are ever in their vicinity of North Carolina. With a saxophonist leading the charge, old and classical video game songs become new again. There is also plenty of musical interludes where the individual musicians get to show their talent and jam out with guitar, keyboard, bass, drum, and of course saxophone solos. Eight Bit Disaster was anything but a disaster at this year’s MAGFest and both the audience and our crew members came away cheering and clapping.

You can check out their music on Band Camp, but -be warned- it does not do justice to their live show.

2. Liege
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for The NYRD crew at MAGFest this year, Liege, is a serious and dark Indie game done in the JRPG style with a twist.Created by CodaGames, Liege takes the classical turn-based combat approach of JRPG’s and gives the player a dynamic and innovative tactical element to go along with it.

Though we were only able to play the Alpha run-through the game looks not only mechanically fun but graphically beautiful. This is definitely a title we would recommend keeping your eyes on. Currently the project has over $81,000 but we would love to see this game brought to full realization. It is an exciting title with a lot of potential for fun and incredible storytelling. Any fans of Final Fantasy or other classic JRPG styled games would enjoy Liege.

Check out their Kickstarter to learn more and see if you want to pitch in some money to help.

1. Bit Brigade
By far the highlight of MAGFest was a band called Bit Brigade. They are a staple of the festival and they never fail to amaze. Their self proclaimed lead singer is a practiced classic video game speed runner. With a range of games from Contra to Castlevania he can blow through games in under an hour, often with one or less deaths.

However the real joy of Bit Brigade comes from the band standing behind the man who is hunched over a controller on a small 90’s mini TV. The band plays through the entire game, giving each level of classic 8 and 16 bit music new life with wailing guitars and reverberating drum beats. This year the band treated their crowds to performances of Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2. There is nothing quite like rocking out while also being transfixed by the skill and magic of a live speed run.

We recommend you check out their page, their skill, and their tour dates, because if you see one video game band live this year, it should be Bit Brigade.

The NYRD crew had an amazing time this year at MAGFest. It is a far cry from the media and entertainment circus that can sometimes be New York or San Diego Comic Con, but that does not mean it is a modest convention in the slightest. Instead it feels like a gathering of thousands of thousands of like-minded friends who just want to come together, play some games, and rock out to some quality musical groups. For anyone who has not attended we highly recommend the experience. You will not be disappointed.

GM: Welcome. Most other networks and news outlets are concerned with how the political candidates fair in debate or at town hall meetings, but here we don’t care about any of that. At the NYRD we believe that there is only one true test of leadership and teamwork, and that is why we have asked the top 5 presidential hopefuls -and Jeb Bush- here to play a rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons. Now, let’s meet our adventuring party. Please introduce yourself and tell use something about the character you created.

TRUMP: I think I will go first. I have made a great character, absolutely the best and most creative here. I’m a financial wizard so I figured let’s make it official and just become an actual wizard. I’m human, because of course I am, look at me. My character’s name is Trump the Best, which is a very imaginative name. I don’t know where I come up with these things. I am also the richest character here. What can I say, I like the gold.

CRUZ: I think I am going to go next. Now, I respect the Wizard Trump…

TRUMP: He’s the best…

CRUZ: I respect him, but we all know that wizards are pagans. I am a God-fearing citizen and that is why I chose to play a priest today. I like the sound of that. I am also a 6’5″ human male that weighs a strapping 200 pounds. My character, Father Thor Cruz, is very muscular, just like ripped all the way down his stomach. He has great hair and a chiseled attractive jawline. All the women of the surrounding villages want to be with him, but of course he is devoted to the Lord and does not partake in the pleasures of the flesh.

GM: Senator, I can’t read your handwriting. What god is your character worshiping?

CRUZ: Why the Lord Jesus Christ, of course.

GM: Because it looks like you wrote Lesus.

CRUZ: I didn’t. I wrote Jesus.

GM: There is no Christianity in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.

CRUZ: Not yet. That is all the more reason why the work of Father Thor Cruz is needed in this heathen world.

GM: Fine… but I’m writing your god down as Lesus.

CARSON: I’m going to go next.

GM: Oh, I’m sorry Dr. Carson. I thought you were asleep over there.

CARSON: No, just resting my eyes. I want to roll the dice and buy some property.

GM: No, Dr. Carson, this is not Monopoly. Just tell us what you wrote down on the character sheet in front of you, please.

CARSON: Oh, of course. I am a human rogue, because everyone knows how good I am with knives. We all know the story of the time I stabbed someone. If you do not believe it, you may ask my mother. It also says here that my name is Dr. Benjamin son of Car, because he is also a trained doctor. He’s very skilled at things like doctoring and foreign policy.

GM: Dr. Carson, you put none of your skill points into healing? How are you claiming your character is also a trained a doctor?

CARSON: Oh you know. He’s just very good with people. Now before we start I need some of those letter tiles that we all get.

GM: Again, Dr. Carson, this is Dungeons and Dragons, not Scrabble… oh forget it. Governor Bush, please go next… Governor?

BUSH: Oh, yeah, sure. I am a human bard. My name is Turtle.

GM: Is that it? You don’t want to make some kind of profound or borderline narcissistic statement?

BUSH: No, I’m good.

GM: Okay. It is also worth pointing out that the game so far consists of four human males, but I guess no one should really be surprised by that. However that will change as we move across the table to our two remaining players. Secretary Clinton, would you like to start and bring some gender diversity to the group?

CLINTON: Actually I chose to make my character a male human as well.

GM: …Why?

CLINTON: I did a survey on Twitter and most of my supporters put more faith in the reliability and leadership of male fantasy characters like Harry Plotter or that man from Lord of the Ring, uh… Viggo something. See, people like to think that I’m not hip and “with” the times, but I also enjoy popular entertainment, just like the youths of today.

GM: Wouldn’t it be better if you played a strong female fantasy character, like Hermoine or Lady Galadriel?

CLINTON: You’re right, but do you think that would play well in Middle America?

GM: I don’t think anything we are doing here today is going to play well in Middle America.

CLINTON: Oh what the heck. I am a female, and I am proud that I am can be chosen as your first female adventurer on this party. In fact, I am going to Tweet this out, but if people disagree can I change my character’s gender later?

CRUZ: You cannot change the gender of your character once the game starts. The Lord made you a man or a woman and that is his will. To change your gender after the game has begun is to defy that holy will…

GM: …I would need to check the core rulebook…

CRUZ: The only core rulebook any of us need is the Bible.

GM: And I just realized I don’t actually care… Secretary Clinton, what is your class?

CLINTON: According to Facebook, I am a human barbarian named Clintina of the Hill.

GM: My head hurts all of a sudden. Senator Sanders, what is your name.

SANDERS: I’m Bernie.

GM: No Senator, what is the name you wrote on your character sheet?

SANDERS: Don’t patronize. I’m not an old man you know. My character’s name is Bernie. He’s a ranger and a damn good one too. I am also Elvis.

GM: I think you mean to say that you are also an elf.

SANDERS: Oh, is that what that says. I don’t have the right glasses on. I thought it was odd that I got to pick to be Elvis, not that I minded. You know I loved his music growing up as a poor kid in Brooklyn. I used to sit in my room at night…

GM: …Moving on… All six of you find yourself sitting in a tavern known as the Plow and Pundit. It is located in the center of a village called Washing Town, DC. The smells and noises are almost overwhelming, stale liquor with the earthy scent of soil and a long day’s work. People would normally be drinking, laughing, and celebrating the end of the harvest season, but you all notice that tonight is a melancholy one. There has been a murder in town, the beloved mayor, Lord Barry the Just, has died under mysterious circumstances. The powers that sent you to this town believe that foul play is afoot and have tasked you with solving the mystery surrounding the death of Lord Barry.

TRUMP: Let me just stop you right there. Are there any mosques located in this town? I bet it was terrorism. Boom, I’m a genius. I win this game.

GM: No one person wins Dungeons and Dragons. You need to play as a group… And there are no mosques in the city…. That’s unnecessarily racist and inflammatory.

CARSON: I bet the murder was committed by Colonel Mustard.

GM: Dr. Carson, we are not playing Clue.

SANDERS: Tell me this, what are the economic policies of Washing Town? Is there a large gap between the wealthy land owners and the minimum wage earners? What does the stable boy make an hour? What’s going on here?

GM: That’s almost a good question, Senator. What you all know is that Washing Town is a farming community and there is a large social disconnect from those in power and the men and women who live in the village itself. Washing Town is run by the Lord Mayor who is the wealthiest land owner. In fact, in order to even be elected as mayor it almost unnervingly traditional that you be the one with the most money and the most backing of the other rich land owners and special interest groups.

TRUMP: Boom. I’m the new mayor. Trump the Best is by far the best wizard and the richest man in this little crappy village. I mean come on. Who else would it be?

GM: Mr. Trump, you currently have 30 gold. That does not make you the richest man.

TRUMP: Do you know how much gold is actually worth?

CLINTON: Who do all the people think committed the murder. I bet it’s going to be just like the time Darth Vader killed Benjamin Kenobi in Star Wars.

GM: That is an oddly out of context reference, but actually a good question, Secretary Clinton. You can roll your dice to make a Gather Information check to spend an hour to talk to the people around town and get their impression of the situation, but I should tell you that as a barbarian you do not have the best of Charisma…

CLINTON: Oh, what else can I do as a barbarian?

GM: You are mostly a fighter. You have a rage ability that let’s you gain extra strength and hit points in battle when you get angry.

CLINTON: Oh, I never get angry, unless other people think it is appropriate that I do so.

GM: Rage just one of the barbarian’s abilities. It doesn’t mean you have to be angry…

CLINTON: Can we change the name of it to Restrained and Appropriate Anger. Rage sounds like it would not play well on the East coast.

GM: …

CLINTON: But I am still going to poll the people about what is going on. <Rolls  a d20> I got a 14. Is that good?

GM: It’s good enough.

CLINTON: Good, because I also want to ask the people if they feel as if they can trust me and what would help them see me as more trustworthy.

GM: Clintina of the Hill wanders off and starts talking with people around the tavern, asking them information on the death of Lord Barry and also if they think they can trust her and what she can do make them trust her more. That will take an hour, so what is everyone else doing during that time. Governor Bush?

BUSH: I’m a bard, so I have a guitar or something, right?

GM: Yes.

BUSH: I just want to sit there and pluck at it.

GM: Okay, so the Governor is fiddling as Rome burns around him.

BUSH: (Shrugs)

SANDERS: I go up and talk with the woman waiting on tables.

GM (Bar Wench): Hello sir, what can I get you, roast mutton, honey mead?

SANDERS: “Noble waitress. I am Bernie son of Eli, and I want to ask you about how much money you make by working here?”

GM (Bar Wench): “Uhh… The owner let’s me take a loaf of the day old bread with a little gravy every night.”

SANDERS: “That is outrageous. Simply outrageous. What about healthcare and pension benefits?”

GM (Bar Wench): “I got sick once with the black cough and I got to leave for an hour to go see the local healer, but Mr. Dorrsman only gave me a half of loaf for the day.”

SANDERS: This truly astounding. It’s like we’re living in medieval times.

GM: Well…

SANDERS: I turn to address everyone else sitting in the tavern. “Noble people,” I say. “Noble people you toil and work in the fields and the shops and the taverns of this town every day and what do you get for it? A half a loaf of bread and a bit of gravy? This is unacceptable. The minimum wage of everyone in this town needs to be raised. How can people expect to raise a family on a single loaf of bread and a bit of gravy. It should be two loaves and a slab of lamb. 99% of you are breaking your backs and are starving, while 1% gets to keep all the gold and lamb meat for themselves. This is not how societies are meant to work and this is not how it will work as long as Bernie the Ranger is in town.”

GM: …Uhhh, roll your Diplomacy, I guess.

SANDERS: Where is this dice thing? <Rolls the D20> What does it say. I can’t see it.

GM: You rolled a 16 with an additional bonus of 3 from you Diplomacy skill makes it a 19. As you talk to the crowd more and more people begin to listen to what you are saying. Some even begin cheering and shouting in agreement.

TRUMP: This is stupid. This whole thing is stupid. I want to turn to the crowd and say, “Listen. Some people are just rich and successful because they are better than other people. I mean look at me. I started out with practically nothing. My millionaire father did very little to help me get where I am today, very little. Now look at me. I’m a successful wizard with gold in his pocket.”

GM: Roll your Bluff.


GM: I am pretty sure most of what you just said was a lie.

TRUMP: <rolls the D20> Bang, I got a 4.

GM: You failed the roll.

TRUMP: Isn’t this like golf? Incidentally, I own a lot of golf courses.

GM: The crowd starts to get angry at Trump the Best. They look ready to take their rage out on you, Mr. Trump, and the rest of your group.

TRUMP: “Listen, all I’m saying is that I’m better than you all and you need people like that. I mean think about it. Without people like me who’d protect you from…” What are things that happen in this little make-believe world of yours?

CLINTON: Oh, I know this because I know how to connect with the young voters. It’s Christopher Lee and that big eyeball.

TRUMP: “Right who would protect you rabble of peasants from the Christopher Lees of the world and floating eyeballs and those green guys with the axes…”

GM: Orcs?

TRUMP: “Yeah Orca. Orca are your real problem here, not the rich. Aren’t you tired of Orca coming in a stealing your money and taking your jobs? They’re the real enemy. They’re the real people you should be mad at. I bet they were the ones that killed this mayor fellow of yours. I say we round up all the Orca we can find and ship them back to Orc Mexico or where ever it is they come from.” There and I’ll roll again. <Rolls a d20>

GM: You got a 20. That’s a critical success.

TRUMP: See, the only reason I rolled so low in the first place was because you never explained that this game wasn’t like golf.

GM: Part of the the crowd begins to nod and cheer at what you’re saying, and many of them start to break bottles and look for weapons.

TRUMP: Now these are some smart villagers, that’s what I say. I tell them, “Now you should go find some Orca and we’ll deport them back to where they came from.”

GM: Half of the crowd exits the tavern in a frenzy of shouting and cursing, looking more like a lynch mob than a thoughtful party of engaged citizens.

TRUMP: There. Problem solved. I win again.

GM: The small remainder of the crowd is still standing by Bernie the Elf talking about starting a parchment-writing campaign to get the minimum wage of the village raised.

CRUZ: Now this is all well and good, but I think we are losing the essence of why it is we came here.

GM: I can’t believe I am saying this, but you are right, Senator Cruz.

CRUZ: We need to teach the people of this village good Godly values, and Father Thor Cruz is just the one to do it, what with his large biceps and rugged good looks.

CARSON: Maybe we should, like examine the body of the dead man. I am a doctor, you know. I can pull those pieces out of him without touching the sides.

GM: That’s Operation, and I have to believe you’re doing this on purpose now? You can’t possibly be this unaware of how things work by this point in the game?

CARSON: I have been coming in and out, but I say never underestimate a person. That is why I am going to go find the body of the dead mayor and perform an autopsy.

GM: Once again, Dr. Carson, I feel the need to remind you that your character has no points in any skills that come close to being useful for doing anything like that.

CARSON: It’s fine. I have my knives.

GM: Is anyone else going to go with Dr. Benjamin son of Car?

SANDERS: I want to stay here and help the townspeople organize a petition to invoke some real economic change in their lives.

GM: Okay… Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz, Governor Bush?

TRUMP: Sure it might be worth a laugh.

CRUZ: I would like to go out into the town and perform some missionary work as well as see if any of the ladies would like to commune with Father Thor Cruz.

GM: I thought you said your priest was celibate?

CRUZ: I am and it drives the ladies wild, just like my toned and tanned buttocks.

GM: Governor Bush?

BUSH: I guess.

GM: Governor, I need to ask, do you even want to be here? It kind of seems like your not even trying? In fact, for the majority of the time most of us have barely even registered that you’re here at all. I think you need to ask yourself, “Is doing this really what you want from life?”

BUSH: I mean, sure I want to be here. My father and brother said I should try and I definitely like the idea of being in the game, but you know I never thought about it like that before… Is this really what I want to be doing? I mean playing this game is hard, and if I were to be honest I am only doing it because it seems like a family tradition, but I don’t know… I think I am going to wander off and spend some time alone to think. <Gets up from the table.>

GM: Okay, Turtle the Bard wanders out of the tavern to find a quiet place to think and Governor Bush has walked out of the room…

CLINTON (from the next room): Can I go see the body too?

GM: No, you are still gathering information.

CLINTON (from the next room): Can I meet them there when I’m done?

GM: Fine. Whatever, and what are you doing in our kitchen?

CLINTON (from the next room): According to a survey on BuzzFeed you need snacks when you play these sorts of games. I am getting a bag of Doritos and a bottle of something called Sierra Mist. Does anyone else want any?

GM: Secretary Clinton please come and sit down… and bring in the Doritos.

CLINTON: <She takes her seat.> Well  I think we are having a good and a suitably humanizing time.

1/2                  <CONTINUE READING>

For anyone who has been paying attention to what goes on in Time Square -and if you are a local that means as little as possible- this past week saw a massive protest by pro-Israel support groups against President Obama’s deal with Iran. We here at The NYRD were curious what all the fuss was about, so we buckled down and did something that most senators will not do, and actually read the 159-page Iran deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Quite frankly, we would have found a better name for it, like the He-Man Nuke Haters Agreement.

Regardless, we read the damn thing, and even then we still didn’t understand what the problem was, so we had to dig a little deeper. What we found was that the Iran situation all comes down to board games. They say world politics is a game, and we aren’t sure if we read that somewhere or heard it on Game of Thrones, but it makes sense to us. So, the only question is, what game is it?

The Rulebook
Have you ever gotten a new board game and never read beyond the first page of the rules. Maybe you just look things up as you go or you just make everything up. Well, we here at The NYRD are those geeks that wind up reading the booklet from cover to cover. That is also why staff board game nights are run with an iron fist.

It turns out that many congressmen treat bills and treaties like the rulebook to Clue. They barely get past the preamble before they just start going off about what they think or don’t think is in it. Next thing you know you get someone accusing Mr. Green of killing freedom with the wrench in the gumdrop forest.

So for anyone who doesn’t have the attention span to get through the main points of the JCPOA, we felt it was our duty to layout some of the key components:

In layman’s terms, Iran will be welcomed back to the international financial community, and in return they will not able to accumulate the technology or fissile material capable of creating a nuclear weapon for at least ten years. That is, of course, if everything goes as planned, and that is the sticking point. Most people’s disagreements over this plan come down to whether or not we believe Iran will hold to their end of the bargain, and that is a real and potential fear. In other words, it’s a risk.

Risk: The Game of Global Police Actions
Risk is a game about consolidating military power, conquering territories weaker than your own, and basically taking Madagascar from that guy across the table, just because he drank the last of the Mountain Dew. We’re looking at you, Todd. It is also the basis for how we may choose to look at the board of the international stage. It is true that we have not had as many wars of conquest as we used to, except if you’re Russia, but really it all comes down to how we want to deal with our neighbors.

In Risk there is nothing stopping a player from forming alliances with those around him or her, but those agreements are often tenuous, dissolving almost as quickly as they were made. An ally in Risk is just someone who will be your enemy in a few turns. After all, the goal of the game is complete and total global domination. Now, we are not saying that the detractors of this deal are trying to move our cavalry soldier piece into Kyrgyzstan, but they are approaching these talks with the same level of paranoia as Todd, hopped up on a few Mountain Dew. If you view the world as a Risk board, than you see everyone out there as a potential enemy, if not now than later. Thus, the JCPOA is a problem, because treaties will never last when everyone is out to win.

However, those feelings might be justified. After all, Iran does have a history of deceit and of proven ties to terrorist organizations all over the Middle East. They also pose a very credible threat to Israel and many Western interests in the region. Even if all goes as planned and Iran follows the JCPOA, chances are they will have the material, resources, and technology to create nuclear weapons within ten or twelve years. Essentially, this plan may not stop them from getting the bomb, only in delay their ambitions by a decade or so. Even worse, with all the sanctions lifted it will be harder to get Russia and China to agree to new ones if the need arises. That is why you hear many detractors accusing the President and his negotiators of basically handing Iran the means to create a nuclear weapon, and they are correct. Thanks to our new economical help and with even the allowed incremental advancements of centrifuge technology, it is very possible that Iran will have a nuclear weapon, but not for at least a few more turns.

Many estimates from experts around the world had Iran gaining enough material for a nuclear warhead by the mid 2014’s. Even Israel’s own Prime Minister admitted that Iran was on the “threshold” of becoming the next nuclear power. We know sanctions have not been working, and thus the only option left open to the US and our allies is war. This is not just some idle threat either, there are many world powers who, if it was confirmed Iran was days away from completing a nuclear warhead, would most likely attack to try and stop them. It would mean a real game of Risk, and not with just a few of our minor pieces.

Even worse, many experts, including George W. Bush’s former CIA director, believe that an invasion could prove ineffective at stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In fact, it would only justify their fears and give them all the more reason to push for the bomb. It would also mean another long and drawn out Middle Eastern conflict with American lives caught in the middle. The JCPOA is not perfect, but maybe there is a reason why Risk is a game played with pieces shaped like horses and cannons. In this day and age, the international game of choice is often played with trade and resources.

Settlers of Tehran
Settlers of Catan is a game we here at The NYRD highly recommend for your next game night. It is about owning property with resources and then using those resources to build cities and roads. Victory can only be achieved through trade and cooperation with opposing players. It is a game that tests your negotiation skills, and your skills at flinging game boards across the room when Todd inevitably refuses to share the wheat he has been stockpiling. Come on, Todd, really? It is also a game, much like Risk, that is built upon acquiring power, but not military power. At the heart of the game you are trying to build up your own infrastructure for achievement points.

In a way we have been playing Settlers with Iran for almost thirty-five years, except much like Todd, we have been refusing to trade with them. However, the only way to advance in this game is to work together to trade and to build. So for our Iranian opponents it has not been much of a game. More to the point, if they don’t trade with us then they trade with others, not for wheat or stone, but for uranium and explosives. They don’t build roads and cities, they build bombs and a hatred for the West. No matter how much we have tried to restrict them they still keep inching forward to a nuclear weapon.

Proponents of this treaty will say that for Iran, the game is no longer about winning or losing, because we stopped letting them play a long time ago. We have bled them dry, and the better part of this treaty is that fact that we will once again normalize relations with the country. If we lift economic sanctions against the Iranian government we also lift them against the Iranian people, not terrorists, but families with children. These are people who once owned factories, and made livings through trade and export, but after their businesses dried up they had nothing left but hatred. Maybe if they start to once again earn money, to be allowed to play the game, their drive to acquire nuclear weapons and create havoc in the region will lessen. After, all, if you are going to swipe at a board, you don’t do it where you have pieces in play.

There is no guarantees either way. Lifting the sanctions will give Iran more money which they could use against us, but it also gives more money and prosperity to the average citizen, and if the lessons we learned during the Arab Spring mean anything, it is that we should never underestimate the power of those very same families and citizens. Maybe it comes down to how we view people in this world, are we naturally made for cooperation or competition?

Coopertition is a board game strategy where players work together to achieve mutual goals, until one person wins the game. It does not always work, and sometimes it even ends in a few tears -mostly from Todd- but it does give game nights a new edge. It is the idea that together people achieve more and along the way we make life interesting. Ultimately, someone wins but for the losers the game becomes less about a feeling of loss and more about a mutually enjoyed experience.

Can we trust Iran? No, as of right now they have not proven that they are capable of being trusted. There are still many hardliners in the country, including their spiritual leader, the Ayatollah. In fact, they are currently engaged in funding terrorism around the region, and even as these negotiations were happening Iran held four Americans prisoners. America has made a good faith effort to put as many safeguards in place so that this treaty will be upheld. Granted the IAEA has a less than perfect record when it comes to monitoring Iran, but the US, EU, UN, and many reforming elements within Iran itself are invested heavily in seeing this treaty succeed. There are some promising indications that this time things might be better, but nothing is certain.

So. do we take a risk or do we settle? Whatever we decide we have to give Iran a chance to play, because excluding them for the past thirty-five years has been proven an ineffective strategy. It is time to find a new way of dealing with the people sitting across the table from us, because the truth is, this is not a game.