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How a Fight Over a Board Game Monopolized an Economist’s Life

The WSJ covers a fascinating story about an economist named Ralph Anspach. He created a board game called Anti-Monopoly and was sued by actual Monopoliy producer Hasbro for his trouble.

As a defence, Mr Anspach decided to challenge the traditional story of the game’s origination: that it was created by Charles Darrow during the Great Depression, who sold the rights to the game to Parker Brothers. Mr Anspach figured that if he could prove that the game was actually a popular folk pastime prior to its being sold, then his version couldn’t be said to infringe on Hasbro’s trademark.

Here’s Mr Anspach’s version of the origination story:

The real story, he says, began in 1904 with a patent from a Quaker named Elizabeth Magie. Her invention, “The Landlord’s Game,” spread as a folk game, designed to show the downsides of capitalism. The Atlantic City Quaker School simplified it, making it more accessible to children. Game historians widely believe that this simpler version was later shown to Mr. Darrow by a friend in the early 1930s.

Mr Anspach’s version of the game offers yet another interpretation. It is based on the real economic costs generated by monopolies, and the object is to break up cartels. After several years of battling Hasbro, Mr Anspach lost a legal battle with the company, which followed a court order to destroy the offending games by burying 37,000 editions of Anti-Monopoly. But later, this decision was reversed, and now Mr Anspach actually produces the game under a license from Hasbro.

H/T The economist | WSJ article