The Possible Origins of The Landlord’s Game

Note: I wrote this as an introduction to The Card Game of the Monopolist, which is my attempt to retrofit Elizabeth Magie‘s 1906 version of The Landlord’s Game back to what I consider it’s possible original form as a card game:

The game you have before you is my attempt to answer the question, “What was the origin of The Landlord’s Game?”

One notable feature of Landlord’s is the innovative use of the game board.  Previously, such games generally had a starting and ending point, while in Elizabeth Magie’s game, the action goes around and around.

There were many financial games in the 1890s, and very popular ones to boot, but they were all card games.  That Elizabeth Magie was familiar with such games, there can be no doubt.  They were all the rage.  But how are they connected to The Landlord’s Game?

Over her career as a game inventor, Elizabeth Magie developed other games.  Some of these were card games, including Competition or Department Store, Mock Trial, and an unpublished educational game she patented in the 1920s.

My own research into game history led me to postulate, several years ago, that The Landlord’s Game, and hence its more well-known descendant Monopoly, rather than being board games with cards, ought more properly to be considered card games, where the board makes for easier play.

Collecting groups of cards so they will have greater value is a feature of many card games, whether they be suits or otherwise.  In Landlord’s and Monopoly, the players collect groups of property cards in order to obtain a higher rental payment from the other players.

While there is at present a gap in the historical record to prove the point one way or another, I decided to test my theory, and see just what changes would need to be made in The Landlord’s Game to make it into a card game.

The answer is, surprisingly little.  Consider that the various squares on the game board are like cards.  If you turn them into cards, and in this case, I am calling them Game Play cards, you can eliminate not only the game board, but also the dice and tokens.

Dice were a problematic feature of games in this period, as they were considered instruments of gambling.  If Landlord’s had a pre-history as a card game, dice were not necessary, as the deck of Game Play cards could be shuffled periodically.

For this exercise, I have adapted the rules for the 1906 commercialized version of The Landlord’s Game, making only the required changes, with play money on card stock instead of poker chips, as in actual practice chips can be confusing.

We hope you will enjoy our attempt to show “what might have been.”

-David Sadowski

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