There are more versions and variations of the classic board game Monopoly than any other. From national versions in dozens of languages to versions themed around animals, industries, and even movies, there’s an entire cottage industry of companies and designers producing variant “opoly” games. We know because our favorite version of Monopoly is actually themed to the Nintendo universe, featuring Mario, Bowser, Princess Daisy and more.
What the best opoly games do is a fairly light theming, where it’s still clearly a standard Monopoly game, same game play, same support for house rules (which is common with Monopoly), just with different pictures and tokens. Even Cthulu Monopoly [which I reviewed a few months ago] had great graphics and lots of fun nods to the H.P.Lovecraft Cthulu mythology, but still played as a regular Monopoly game.
It was with enthusiasm that we received a review copy of Fantasy-Opoly from Cincinnati-based Late for the Sky, a company with a staggering number of different Monopoly variations of their own, including Bacon-opoly, Geek-opoly, Happy-opoly, Zombie-opoly and even Camo-opoly.
The challenge with any of these variants, however, is getting the balance of topical theme and classic Monopoly gameplay correct.
And Fantasy-opoly doesn’t get that balance right.
Here’s the “free parking” corner of the board:
You can see that the board squares feature terrific art and the theming is great fun. But while the “hotels” are gold keys (on Harpy, Undead and Gargoyle, on the left), the “houses” are dull grey cubes that are supposed to be “runestones”. The tokens? Really a highlight of the entire game, heavy, metal tokens like a battle helmet (on Armory), a hammer (on the Destiny square) and a potion bottle (on Fate).
But we found the design confusing because the property colors have been changed, with no thematic benefit at all. The property just before Free Parking on a classic Monopoly board should be orange, and the property immediately after Free Parking should be red. Above you can see that these two are instead green and light blue. Maybe we play too much Monopoly, but moving the colors around on the board was quite befuddling!
Then there’s the storage tray, which was just bizarre. Here’s a look:
The 500’s look like they’re in the right place, but the reality is that there are seven different denominations of currency (in the wrong colors compared to the original game, for no benefit: The $500 should be gold, not green) and only six slots for money. I understand the logic, because Late for the Sky is using an atypical square box design, not the traditional larger rectangular box, but then they should have the money tray designed to have it slotted, not laying flat for six of the seven denominations.
If you look closely, you’ll also see a crack in the tray insert between the cards and the $10 denomination currency: It was like that when we opened the box, suggesting that minimizing the weight of the box insert might have gone a bit too far: Having game components broken on first open is definitely not a positive thing.
The artwork is still pretty cool, where you learn that the grey cubes are indeed Runestones and the gold “hotel” key is the “Key to the Keep”:
And where there was a glimmer of a fun, though significant variation on the base Monopoly game was with some of the Destiny and Fate cards (“Chance” and “Community Chest”, of course), as you can see here:
This is the only place where the game designer apparently felt comfortable changing things up significantly, and I loved it! In fact, when I got the Destiny card “Stop and Snort like a Minotaur!” I did just that, to the amused looks of my fellow gamers. They then each paid me 20 gold as understanding dawned on them.
Check out the Fate “nest of angry harpies” card too: all tokens advance to the AIR space, which is a terrific concept. Same idea again with the other cards shown above, where you can move your token and that of any other one player to Wizardry or Witchcraft, or the Faerie card where you can move anywhere you’d like on the board (which could be a huge tactical advantage)!
But that’s really it. The art and fun Chance/Community Chest cards are the only highlights of an otherwise dull, confusing Monopoly variant that my kids, sister and I actually abandoned halfway through a game, after complaints about being unable to differentiate property colors, frustration over how colors were in the “wrong places” on the board, having a hard time finding the sword token on the board during play (it’s pretty small!) and general whinging about the board being “too busy” to know what’s going on.
I really wanted to like Fantasy-opoly. The box art and the theme suggest an exciting variation on Monopoly that makes every game a “quest” but it ends up more of a motley mix of thematic elements that offer change for the sake of change, rather than a solid addition to your family-friendly gaming library.
Fantasy-opoly, by Late for the Sky. $24.99 at Amazon.com
Disclosure: Late for the Sky sent us a copy of Fantasy-opoly for the purposes of this review. Obviously, these are my own opinions on the game.