Britta Gustafson: Aspen Monopoly |

Britta Gustafson: Aspen Monopoly

A cautionary game for developers and kiddos alike

Britta Gustafson
Then Again
Britta Gustafson for the Snowmass Sun

I’m grateful for the snow and the outdoor playground that we can call home here in the mountains. But when we’re too tired to hit the slopes, we bring out the ‘bored’ games to we keep ourselves entertained.

Last week I pulled out a Christmas gift from 2018, ‘Monopoly: Aspen Special Edition.’ We started out with a large trust-fund-esque dole and began circling the board, hoping to land on all four mountains and secure the game’s (and our valley’s) equivalency to railroad-cartel on round one.

It was fun landing on iconic locations like the Wheeler and treasured establishments like Paradise Bakery and Explore Bookstore. After a few rounds of enjoying the quirky and clever “Chance: Aspen Times“ and “Community Chest: Sojourner“ cards, going to jail for bailing on friends on a powder day and getting payoffs for hiking the Highland Bowl, I feel at home in this game.

I went for broke and bought both Cloud Nine and Belly Up, then started to sense an edgy satisfaction that can only be further satiated by a game of greed. Another round past Go and a few misfortunes later, my kids learned that you never get rich by saving while I held out for a conglomerate.

And then the game started to mirror life in an all too familiar way. An undertone of acrimonious agitation began to hum, so we took a break and walked the dogs, leaving the game set up on the coffee table.

Returning to the game, I felt a little less stoked on the life lessons. My son started trying to invent new rules and my daughter realized that sometimes when the board is stacked against you, going to jail is a good thing.

I felt suffocated by the fact that while paying nearly $550 to visit the Aspen Art Museum has a playful sting to it, spending a night at the Limelight for $1100, dropping $850 at Gorsuch, paying $950 for groceries at Clark’s and $750 for a meal at the Pine Creek Cookhouse felt like real life expectations. $2,000 for a night at the Little Nell may have seemed like a bankruptcy inducing game changer, but here in the real Aspen, it’s a discount.

Like most games of Monopoly that I’ve played in my life, it eventually ended with ruthless acquisition and tears. After all, compassion is considered cheating in that game. One luck-struck player cleans up round after round while the other players almost instinctively band together, rooting for each other against ‘the man’ until they all but give up or hang out in jail hoping to win the lottery.

Perhaps playing the Aspen edition also highlights, for many of us, an all too familiar reality.

Monday’s Aspen Times article highlighting the sweeping end-of-an-era sales of local hotels and the closures of treasured establishments and eateries signifies a shift in this valley we’ve all seen trending. It’s not nearly as much fun to keep playing once someone starts to win at Monopoly.

The game itself was rooted in an effort to present just that — a cautionary tale. Originally, when Elizabeth Magie patented her “The Landlord’s Game” in 1904, she made up two sets of rules, “monopolist” and “anti-monopolist.” She wanted to demonstrate the evils of accruing vast sums of wealth at the expense of others.

The Landlord’s Game was spread until a nearly identical iteration, was copied and modified to omit the anti-monopolist option by Charles Darrow, who then sold it to Parker Brothers in 1935.

Now, the game has more than 3,000 variations, including Alpaca-opoly, Elvis-opoly, NBA, NFL and NHL Editions, Napa Valley and Narnia Collector’s variations, Star Wars and Post Office-opoly, Princess-opoly and Zombie-opoly. Even a Planet Earth edition exists, though hopefully no one wins in that iteration. It feels apropo that the game climaxed here in the US, and that we have our own Aspen Edition.

Still the game trumps on, teaching generations to cheer when someone goes bankrupt, and to assume that somehow the winner had a strategy beyond luck and ruthless greed.

“Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity,” author Nancy Pearcey noted. She might just as well have been speaking to our new development landscape.

For now I guess my kids and I will go back to the games of Sorry, which at the very least confesses atonement right out the gate, or the Game of Life, which often places you at a disadvantage for seeking educational aspirations, and in which a large family is a liability.

Well okay, maybe Clue, a game centered on murder, at least won’t make us want to kill each other while playing it. Maybe we should hold out for the Aspen edition of those aforementioned and try to stay in the game as Aspen continues to sell out. Meanwhile, I’ll root for someone to kick over the board before a monopoly owns the Bells.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


See more

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.