Monopoly went from being a board game to an onboard game as a bus searching for the best players in the world stopped off at Portchester. Reporter KIMBERLEY BARBER was hoping to pass Go...
It’s one of the hottest, sunniest days of the year and I’m on the top deck of an old London bus parked up outside Portchester Castle.
It’s sweltering; there’s no air con, just an occasional breeze through the bus’s open window.
A bead of sweat trickles down my back but I don’t mind because this is one of the most intense and exciting afternoons I’ve had for a long time.
I’m competing in the regional qualifiers for the Monopoly World Championships, which if I get through this heat, could see me play in the UK finals in London and the world finals in China.
The dice roll and the pieces move – this is a fast-paced game, sped up by the introduction of a third die.
The heat is set at one hour and points are added up at the end according to how much cash and assets each player has, with a bonus for other players going bankrupt.
I’m a bit rusty as I haven’t played Monopoly in more than a year as no-one would play with me last Christmas.
But I love the game. As a child I would often rope my older step-brothers into playing with me, although they were soon put off by my competitiveness.
I remember tears, drama and heated rows taking place, especially when cheating was discovered.
The notes were a crumpled mess and the board had split along its crease. The box was dog-eared and ripped. Plus I’m sure Jessie the Jack Russell had eaten more than one of the houses.
But it was a sign of my love for the game, and in the days before iPads and X-Boxes, it was a great way to while away a wet Cornish morning at Dad’s house.
Fast-forward 20-odd years and those Monopoly-playing skills are being dragged to the surface of my consciousness.
I’m playing four others and the competition is fierce. The competitors have travelled from across the south east of England and I’m the only one from Portsmouth at the table.
It’s a mixed bag of people but just 10 minutes in and 25-year-old accountant Chris Benjamin, from Sutton in Surrey, is clearly in the lead.
He’s got a full set of reds and has built hotels. It’s a recipe for success, providing people land on them. And land on them we do, all of us, coughing up hundreds of Monopoly pounds.
I feel like I’ve stitched myself up as I was the one who swapped a red with him to get the most prestigious square – Mayfair.
It’s not looking good as Chris’s tactic sees a middle-aged lady called Anne (she was too upset to tell me her age or surname), from Farnham, go bankrupt.
Chris refuses to trade and it’s clear from Anne’s face that she’s not happy.
Next to go is 49-year-old Richard Brown, from Guildford. He’s gutted.
There’s just me and 36-year-old Emma Hardy from Godalming left against Chris.
It would take a real stroke of luck to turn this game around and with the last roll of the dice, Chris lands on Mayfair. With my shiny red hotel.
‘That’ll be 1,100 Monopoly pounds please,’ I say, mentally fist-pumping the air.
As the money rolls in, and the points are added up, it still might not be enough to clinch it. Plus I’ll need more points than the winner of the other table of five who were playing at the same time.
We escape into the fresh air and, after some tense calculations, I’m declared the third heat winner. This could be it. I could be a step closer to going to China.
So it’s back on the bus for the final round, and this time I’m up against just two others – 35-year-old Matt Miller, a curator from Godalming, and 27-year-old mum Gill Brown.
There’s lots of auctions and it’s clear to see that Gill has a game plan. She’s obviously been practising and I immediately know that I’m out of my depth. By the halfway mark, she’s absolutely trouncing both me and Matt.
She says her tactic is ‘Brown Town’ – inspired by her surname. And hotels on the browns pay off, as both Matt and I land on them, frequently.
Still I hang on in there, determined not to face the shame of going bankrupt, and manage to walk away with a couple of thousand points, but that pales into insignificance with Gill’s score of 6,171. Matt finishes third.
Gill’s husband Adam is waiting for her outside (she beat him in the first round) and we emerge from our tense battle to a round of applause.
Gill is announced as the south-east winner and will play against the winners of the 11 other stops the Monopoly bus has made across the UK and Ireland at the final in the Shard in London on Sunday, July 19.
Whoever wins that game will be whisked off to the world championships in Macau, in China, on September 7.
I’m jealous, and the inner child in me wants to sulk, but it’s okay because Mr Monopoly hands me a limited edition 80th anniversary edition of Monopoly as a runner-up prize and I’m delighted to see it includes a cat playing piece.
I may not have made it to the final, but I take solace in the fact that I’m officially the second best Monopoly player in the south east of England.
Then it dawns on me. That must’ve been the real reason my teenage step-brothers stopped playing with me all those years ago, they just couldn’t cope with the humiliation of being beaten by a 10-year-old girl.
How the speed die works
The game was made quicker by the introduction of a third die called a speed die.
This extra one has the numbers one, two and three on it, as well as a bus logo and two Mr Monopoly logos.
If you throw the bus and say, a three and a four, you can choose to move three, four, or seven squares – handy to avoid expensive rent claims. If you get Mr Monopoly you move according to the dice but then you automatically go to the next unsold property, giving you more chances to snap up places. If there’s nothing left for sale, you move to the next property not owned by you – so more rent payments.
If you roll the numbers, they get added to the other two numbers, meaning you go round the board quicker, and if you land a triple, the absolute luckiest thing to do, you can pick which square on the board you go to.
For more on the game or the championships go to monopolychampionships.co.uk
Winner of the children’s round
For 11-year-old Abi Jordan losing was never an option.
The determined girl, from Ascot, registered to play in the children’s heats last November and she’d been building up to Saturday’s qualifier ever since.
Her family had been forced to play hundreds of games and they even stayed in the nearby Premier Inn in Port Solent so she could face the game fresh-faced.
But for poor Abi, an unlucky twist of fate saw one of the registered competitors drop out and her big brother Owen step in at the last minute.
Thirteen-year-old Owen had obviously benefited from all the practice and much to Abi’s disgust, he won – beating his own little sister and making her cry.
After some deliberation, negotiation and ice-cream, Owen decided to forfeit his place in the final meaning the person in second place, Abi, would take his place.
The final was a tense hour, with Abi determined not to lose for a second time that day, and I joined the Jordans to wait for the result.
The game ended, points were totted up, and Abi was declared the winner.
A cheer was raised in the car park, with dad Richard, 46, beaming from ear-to-ear and mum Rhuan, 46, fighting back tears of pride and joy. The Jordans will all now be off to London for the UK and Ireland finals.
Owen’s selfless act certainly touched a few hearts that day. But the humble teenager said: ‘I’m just pleased that I won a Monopoly mug.’