I actually have another bit of fun G1 Transformers merchandise to take a look at this week, so I guess it’s sort of an unofficial "celebrate the new movie" week, except without actually looking at anything that has to do with the movie (and Nala, for two microseconds I actually considered opening a Cafe Press store so that I could print up my own Decepticon G-Strings to both review, and review this game in, but nobody wants that, not even my wife.)

Today I’m going to take a look at the new-ish USAopoly release of Monopoly: The Transformers Collector’s Edition board game. If you aren’t familiar with the USAopoly line of products, most of them are variations of the Monopoly game, only re-branded with the characteristics of a city, college, TV show or movie. Over the last decade or so there’s been everything from Georgia Tech Monopoly to Star Wars, and even a Las Vegas version. To be honest, I’ve tended to stray away from anything except the original game because I’m the kind of person that gets completely thrown off by the name changes, not to mention any extra pictures on the board. You ought to see me play chess with non-standard pieces, I spend more time trying to figure out why Han Solo is the Queen and Leia is a Bishop. Maybe because Han Solo is a queen. Anyway, I’ve only played the Star Wars version of Monopoly before and I really didn’t like it for the reasons stated above. I’m not a whiz at the game or anything, but I’ve played it enough to more or less memorize the base rent rates for the properties and stuff and when people were throwing out locations like the Sarlac Pit instead of say Baltic Avenue, I just couldn’t process it in my head.

That being said, I figured I’d give the Transformers edition of the game a shot for two reasons. One, USAopoly decided to stick with the G1 Transformers characters and designs and considering the hype and spectacle being thrown about over the new movie I thought that was interesting, and two, for the first time (I believe) they’ve included alternate rules which I was insanely curious about. Like I said above, I’ve played my fare share of Monopoly and for the last 10 years pretty much every single time I’ve sat down to play, the game turns out the same way. See my friend Jeremy is a Monopoly nut and he’s read all of the histories and strategy books, so it’s gotten to a point where we tend not to play like the common family or friends would. There’s hardly any trading, and every one of us adheres to the hard and fast rules, for instance, buy every property you land on even if you have to hawk your already purchased properties to do so. Keeping properties away from other players is the first key to winning the game. It’s gotten to a point where the first person to get a natural Monopoly (landing on all two or three un-purchased properties in a set) usually wins, and since that is sort of rare we typically end the games in a stalemate. How we managed to turn Monopoly into tic tac toe is beyond me. So I was itching to find out what the new alternate rules were to see if they would enhance the playability of the game for my friends and I.

Okay, so what exactly am I reviewing here? Well here’s the box…

My first impression when I saw the box art was instant joy that the designers at USAopoly chose to utilize the artwork from the 2002-4-ish Dreamwave revamp of the Transformers comic. Pat Lee and the artists in his studio at the time were doing some really great stuff with the original G1 characters and I remember being really jazzed by the super-realistic yet faithful anime influenced designs. For the cover of the game box the design department decided to lift the artwork from the first three issues of the first Dreamwave comic, which was kind of weird at first glance. At first I thought they combined both cover variants of issue one (each of which featured a group of either Autobots or Decepticons), but then I realized that Optimus and Bumblebee were both from other issue covers. Now I’m switching into super stupid geek mode for a second here, but I’m bringing this up because the mock up ended up being a little weird. First off, I believe there was already an error on the Decepticon variant of issue one (there were two Thundercrackers right next to each other instead of a Thundercracker and a Skywarp) and the designers kept this error even though they ended up breaking up much of the Autobot portion of the artwork, flipping or rearranging characters and adding additional artwork. You’d think they’d just Photoshop out the extra Thundercracker. Of course I could be wrong about the twin Thundercrackers to begin with (though I didn’t think that Skywarp had the same paint applications as Thundercracker). I’m also being super stupid on this observation as it doesn’t even reflect the game it self at all, but if I thought it was interesting (and considering how detailed into the universe the rest of the actual game gets, it was surprising) chances are that at least one other person will too, and all of the rest of you reading this can just suffer though and laugh at my stickler-ness. Since this paragraph is already ten miles long, I might as well add that they also shifted Omega Supreme’s legs in the background from the Autobot’s side to the Decepticon’s, and honestly, I’m just happy that I can recognize that (seriously, I am so over compensating for my lack of detailed Transformers knowledge, which made me feel pretty dumb when I actually read a bunch of the flavor text incorporated into the rest of the actual game; gotta get my licks in where I can.)

Here’s some of the artwork from the Dreamwave Comics for comparison’s sake…

From the back of the box we can get a first glimpse of what the rest of the game looks like, as well as noticing the old school grid design which is nicely melded into the background, unlike how plain and lazy it looked on the commemorative Toys ‘r’ Us Transformers re-issues.

There’s a nice close-up of what the pewter tokens look like here as well. It’s a pretty standard mix of characters, Optimus and Megatron, which are pretty much required, Soundwave and Starscream rounding out the Decepticons, and Bumblebee and Jazz rounding out the Autobots. I was sort of hoping for a set of tokens that reflected the original Monopoly pieces, say a Ravage in place of the dog, a Sideswipe in car mode instead of the normal racecar, or Preceptor in microscope mode in place of the thimble (because every group of Monopoly players needs the guy who has to call dibs on the pointless piece, thank you Cliff from Cheers) but I’ll take what I can get.

So what’s in the box? Glad you asked.

Basically you’ve got your standard Monopoly fare, money, houses and hotels, the game tokens, property cards, chance and community chest cards, as well as dice, board, and a rulebook. The money tray is pretty basic and lacks the improvements that the regular game has made (e.g. molded slots for the various pieces and cards as well as the money) but that’s pretty nit picky.

The board looks really snazzy wrapped with a ton of comic art including another huge group shot that is an amalgamation of various comic covers and pin-ups. All of the properties have been re-dubbed with Transformers universe locations and items, one of the more cleaver changes being the railroads switching to the Ark, the Nemesis, the Space Bridge and the Transwarp Drive. Actually, here’s where my lack of in-depth knowledge of the extended Transformers universe lets me down a bit. Was there are Transwarp drive in the show or comics? Anyway, I actually like most of the property changes, though I think there were a couple missed opportunities here. For one, I think it would have been cool to have all of the Cybertron-related properties in a row, as if while playing the game you are going around the planet, and then off to another world, and for the most part this is the case, at least with Boardwalk (Cybertron) through the light purples. After that it jumps around a lot. Second, I think it would have been cool to have Unicron be Illinois Avenue so that there would have been a chance card that would send you there (actually it would have been even cooler to have Unicron as the Jail corner, but USAopoly never changes these.)  Either way it could have read something like, "Proceed on your way to oblivion…" or something. What’s that, do I hear grasshoppers chirping? Anyone? Okay lets move on…

Here’s a shot of what the tokens actually look like. They’re kind of small, but for the most part you can tell the apart. Actually for being so small, they managed to mold in the faction symbols, so kudos for that.

Here’s a shot of the money, which I think is really cool. The guys at USAopoly managed to make the bucks pretty by throwing in a lot of little details, character quotes and alt modes and such, which makes it a hell of a lot more interesting than the basic Monopoly money, and since it’s presented in the standard Monopoly colors it’s not distracting at all. If you’re like me, you tend to count Monopoly money by color anyway.

The property cards are pretty standard on the front, but the designers added flavor text to the backs, which gives a short explanation of what the item or location is (which is pretty cool for guys like me who only recognize about half of this stuff.) For the most part, I think a lot of these locations are culled from the Dreamwave comics, though a lot of the more obvious ones are from the show and even a couple are from the U.S. Headmasters comics from the 80s. You’ll also notice that the houses and hotels are re-dubbed Energon Cubes and Anti-Matter, which was a very nice touch.

Actually all of the small Transformers details in the game are what really make this re-branding of Monopoly very attractive to me. I mean the dice are even red and purple. It’s attention like that which really shows that some love went into the design of the game. Even the box art being from the Dreamwave comics was an awesome choice.

One of the other cool little touches that might actually be distracting in game play is the addition of the tech specs encoding on the chance and community chest cards. The game comes with a little red plastic reader to decode the cards, all of which are just reworded versions of the basic chance and community chest cards, though they’ve worked in the characters who are on the cards into the wording. I say this can get distracting because after the first few times you’re not going to want to have to decode the message. At least it’s a creative and faithful gimmick.

By far the only real disappointment I had with the design of the game was on the houses and hotels, both of which are just re-colored versions of the basic molds. The reason that this is so disappointing to me is because they were re-branded into Energon Cubes and Anti-Matter, and I thought it would have been so damn cool if the Energon Cubes were little purple clear plastic cubes instead of looking like houses. I’m sure that for cost reasons alone, this is prohibitive; I mean they can just use the same mold for every variation of Monopoly that they produce. There might also be a stipulation in the license that requires that they use the "houses" and "hotels" molds, sort of like how they keep the corner pieces on the board the traditional Monopoly spaces (again, it might also be to keep some of the Monopoly iconography so the game appears to be Monopoly.) I just think it was a missed opportunity.

As far as game play is concerned, it’s pretty much business as usual with the only difference being whether or not you closely adhere to the faction choice at the beginning of the game. Based on the playing token you choose you will either be an Autobot or a Decepticon. This only really takes effect if you choose to utilize the optional new rules. So what are these new rules? Well, when rolling doubles you now have two options. One, you can take you turn and then roll again as in classic Monopoly, or two, you can choose to "transform" and based on the set of doubles you rolled you can perform a "transformation" action, some of which are slightly different based on what faction you chose at the beginning of the game. After you perform that transformation action you do not get to roll again. Here are the new doubles options:

Double 1’s: Move your token to any space.

Double 2’s: Collect $200

Double 3’s: If an Autobot, you can remove one energon cube from any Decepticon’s property (you still have to conform to the even building rule.) The owner of the house does’t get the money for it. If a Decepticon, you can remove one energon cube from any Autobot’s property (you still have to conform to the even building rule.) The owner of the house doesn’t get the money for it.

Double 4’s: If an Autobot, Draw an Autobot card (this is where it sort of matters since the Chance and Community Chest cards are different.) If a Decepticon, draw a Decepticon card.

Double 5’s: If an Autobot, collect $50 from every Decepticon. And vice versa.

Double 6’s: Attack to control another player’s property. The player chooses another player’s property. Each player takes a die. The player who rolls higher takes or keeps control of the property. In case of a tie, re-roll. You can not try and break up an already completed Monopoly.

Like I said, depending on how hard and fast you stick to the whole faction thing some of these options either might not apply (if every one is on the same side), or might be limiting (if you are forced to pick chance or community chest when you might want the other.) At the end of the day though these rules can help to brighten up your standard Monopoly game. They’re also weighted according to the standard Z distribution curve for dice combinations with the more powerful transformation actions on the lest rolled combos, double 1’s and double 6’s (since 2 and 12 are the least rolled numbers in the game.) And even though some of these actions can make or break a game, they are rare and as the game goes on, become less and less powerful, which only adds to playability. So even though a lucky bastard who rolls double 1’s twice at the beginning of the game might get a monopoly sooner, in the long run there’s just as much chance that some one will be able to attack them to break it up before it becomes a monopoly. The most commonly rolled doubles are 3’s and 4’s and these actions aren’t that big of a deal, though interesting enough to pep up a game.

At the end of the day I was seriously impressed by how detailed this Transformers game is, branding-wise. For the novice fan who has nostalgia for the property, it’s got a ton of info on the locations that you probably don’t know which can add to the fun of the game for the first couple of plays. For the hardcore fan, it offers pretty design and enough faithfulness and legwork so that it won’t seem too shallow or mainstream to be a part of a Transformers collection. For the Monopoly enthusiast who would like to try some alternate rules (beyond the more normal Free Parking house rules) than this is also worth a look.

Overall, I guess I’d have to give it a 7 out of 10.  As a derivative of Monopoly it doesn’t offer much new, but it’s cool enough that it’s probably worth a Transformers fan time to check it out.

I’d suggest that if you are looking to pick up this game you might also consider picking up some of the new Robot Heroes figures, which I think will make much better player tokens than the relatively small pewter pieces. They even come in 2-packs with one Autobot and one Decepticon, so you’ll have even choices for the two factions. Plus, they’re just so damn cute, it can’t help but enhance gameplay.

The game is available directly from USAoploy for around $35, but it’s also available in larger stores including Amazon, Toys ‘r’ Us, Boardgames.com, or Funagain.com. I’m sure it’s also available in the brick and mortar stores as well.