Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story

What do four-leaf clovers, MTV playing music and a black, Irish Jew who can only speak Mandarin Chinese have in common? They are all very rare things. You know what else is rare: a game of Monopoly that doesn’t end in scattered game pieces, massive grudges and the shattered remnants of a friendship. So naturally I had to watch Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story in celebration of ‘Merica’s independence and penchant for promoting its capitalist foundation. Yee-haw!


Typically I’d have some sort of plot description here. The movie is about the Monopoly National/World Championships and the game’s cultural relevance—need I say more? Essentially, you have to be a special type of person to devote eighty-seven minutes to a documentary about a board game. I watched The King of Kong, so this clearly fits the bill. I am nothing compared to some of the people within this film.

When you alter your life drastically by creating a personal philosophy from a board game that promotes owning everything of your friends’, I think some serious introspection is needed. Some of the gentlemen—there are few women in this film, shocking—in Boardwalk have centered their lives around a game that in no way, shape or form should hold someone’s life together, but does.

These men go from tournament to tournament hoping to win the grand prize of just over twenty thousand dollars—the amount given in Monopoly. I can tell my tone is somewhat belittling, but I assure you I am not poking fun at them…well, most of them. People like Matthew McNally, Richard Marinaccio and Tim Vandenberg have discovered details of the game that translate into their daily lives. Most notably, Vandenberg uses the game each and every morning to teach his sixth graders math and his students have shown remarkable success in standardized tests. Who knew?

The expected aspects of Boardwalk are actually very interesting. Shown in a style reminiscent of Unwrapped on the Food Network, the history, origins, global outreach and general esteem of the game are portrayed in a fun and informative manner. They even give you some playing advice (hint: go for orange and red, not blue and green). Learning the origins of such a popular game was my motivation for watching the film—I’m aware Wikipedia is immensely easier—so hearing that the game was initially meant to satirize the capitalist American economy threw me for a loop.

Anyway, as a film, Boardwalk is very middle of the road. Nothing special; nothing terrible. After the U.S. National Championship, the film would seemingly reach its natural conclusion with some text describing the World Championship, but it continues an extra twenty minutes. Thankfully, these extra scenes are fairly interesting.

One of the side-goals of the people in the film is to assure you that Monopoly doesn’t take as long as its reputation suggests. When the only argument against this is “if you’re really trying to bankrupt people, the game will be over within an hour and a half or two hours.”, you know there’s no convincing either side. There’s a new speed die included, but I still call shenanigans.

Boardwalk is still relatively entertaining and keeps you just interested enough to see it through to the end. Board game lovers will enjoy it, and it may inspire you to play a game. I still prefer the card game version though.

  1. If you’re up for another board game documentary…There is one based around Scrabble too called Word Wars.

    • I’ve heard good things about that one, just never gotten around to seeing it. I’ll check it out!

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