Friday, April 18, 2014

The Only Time Montreal and Riga Finished 1-2 In Anything

Monopoly boards are myriad, but at the end of the day, the classic Atlantic City streets are the ones everyone concentrates on. This doesn't stop Parker Brothers- and these days Hasbro- from continuing to tweak the board in any number of ways, endlessly trying to fix what, fundamentally, is a pretty damned broken game that is most commonly played in ways that break it even further.

Perhaps no Monopoly board, though, was broken in quite such a spectacular fashion as that of Here and Now: The World Edition, released in 2008. The idea from Hasbro was to create a board in which people purchased major world cities, about the most you could crank up the stakes of real estate commerce while still remaining on Earth. The obvious problem, though, was what cities go where. And more importantly, who gets on the board at all, and who gets the honor of being the Park Place and Boardwalk equivalents, which of course everyone is going to be looking for.

Hasbro's solution was to let the fans decide it for themselves. They opened 20 of the 22 spaces up to a battery of select cities, with the public asked to determine who should get on the board. The final rankings in that vote would determine who got in and who got placed where. The final two spots- the Mediterranean and Baltic equivalents- were decided via write-in votes, with the spaces going to the top two cities not among the main battery.

Of course, everyone, including probably Hasbro, expected the likes of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo to be battling it out at the top, and the board overall to be a fairly good representation of global eminence among world cities. So imagine the surprise when the coveted Boardwalk space went to none other than Montreal, Canada, and when Park Place was awarded to Riga, Latvia, which caught attention for being on the board at all, much less in the dark blues. And the rest of the board looked no more sane. The full list of the cities in the main battery read, in rank order:

Dark blues: Montreal, Riga
Greens: Cape Town, Belgrade, Paris
Yellows: Jerusalem, Hong Kong, Beijing
Reds: London, New York, Sydney
Oranges: Vancouver, Shanghai, Rome
Light purples: Toronto, Kiev, Istanbul
Light blues: Athens, Barcelona, Tokyo

Far from competing for the top spots, Tokyo had barely made it onto the board at all, having to settle for Oriental Avenue and being happy just to be included. South America completely struck out. The reds looked far more glamorous than the dark blues-- but then, at least people actually land on the reds more often. They fared better than the cities in the main battery that missed out, all of which had to be satisfied with a graphic for each of them on the interior of the board:

Amsterdam, Berlin, Bogota, Boston, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Caracas, Cardiff, Chicago, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Kuala Lumpur, Las Vegas, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Los Angeles, Lyon, Madrid, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, Munich, Oslo, Prague, Queenstown (New Zealand), Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Seoul, Singapore, Sofia, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Tallinn, Vienna, Vilnius, Warsaw, Washington DC, Zagreb, Zurich.

The last city out, for the record, was Queenstown. Because of course it was. New Zealand voters basically just used it as a substitute for Auckland, which wasn't in the main battery.

As for the dark purples, the wild cards, being forced to go outside the main battery, there are still a lot of fine options. My two picks might have been San Francisco and Nairobi. But there's also Auckland, as well as Denver, Dallas, Miami, Ottawa, Kingston, Quito, Sao Paulo, Accra, Lagos, Tunis, Johannesburg, Marseilles, Monaco, Milan, Florence, Vatican City, Bern, Stuttgart, Tehran, New Delhi, Kathmandu, Kyoto, Osaka, Sapporo, Taipei, Manila, Bangkok, Melbourne, Papeete. You can probably come up with some others.

And to be fair, one of those places, Taipei, did claim Baltic Avenue. But then there's the matter of Mediterranean. The problem- which Hasbro openly advertised as not a bug but a feature- was that any city, ANY city, could take those wild card spots. The top 20 nominees got a spot on a playoff ballot.

Gdynia, Poland decided that it wanted to be Any City. So did Adelaide, Auckland, Bern, Brisbane, Cancun, Chennai (India), Cork (Ireland), Izmir (Turkey), Johannesburg, Lviv (Ukraine), Novi Sad (Serbia), Quebec, San Francisco, Szczecin (Poland), Tamworth (England), Volendam (Netherlands), Waterford (Ireland), and Winnipeg, the other 18 cities on the ballot that Gdynia wound up defeating. And so a place that isn't even the largest town in its own metropolitan area- Gdynia is the St. Paul to Gdansk's Minneapolis; the Long Beach to its Los Angeles, the 12th largest city in Poland to Gdansk's 6th (and Szczecin's 7th) and what are any of them doing in this discussion anyway when #2 is Krakow and what business does IT have being in this discussion either- made it onto the board to the widespread derision of every city on the planet that thought it had more business being on the board than Gdynia did, which turned out to be one hell of a lot of cities, particularly San Francisco, because seriously? (I don't have the final results past that, but with one day to go in the balloting, San Francisco was actually polling all the way back in 7th, with Szczecin sitting in 3rd.)

And that's to say nothing of the cities in the main battery that missed out. If you lived in Los Angeles, and you were told that San Francisco got into a board celebrating the world's most famous cities and you didn't, you'd be a bit bitter, because San Francisco's your rival, but if the board looked otherwise pretty reasonable, you could get past it. If you're told that Gdynia, Poland got in and you didn't, you are going to laugh and laugh and dismiss the entire project as a victim of Internet derp. It's bad enough getting relegated to the yellows on the earlier edition specific to the United States, but at least there Hasbro pre-selected the cities and guaranteed you a spot. Plus LAX scored the spot reserved for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

And that's basically what happened. Hasbro was left with a board that couldn't really be taken seriously, even after putting up with a controversy in which, in response to political pressure from Palestine, they removed the national identifier 'Israel' from Jerusalem's entry on the ballot, a move that just ended up making Israel angry too. It was doomed to be simply one more board in a long line of niche projects, shuffling off store shelves far more quietly than it arrived.

Maybe they just should have picked the cities themselves.

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