Board Game Documentary Review: Under the Boardwalk

We really are living in a board game renaissance. Even documentaries are treating board games as their subject. I recently watched a documentary about Monopoly called Under the Boardwalk. Here’s the scoop.

Board Game Documentary Review Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story

 

Under the Boardwalk documentary
Under the Boardwalk documentary

Released in 2010, Under the Boardwalk tells the history of the world’s most famous board game while also following the 2009 Monopoly world championship. The documentary was created by relatively unknown Kevin Tostado who weaves his narrative between the history and culture of Monopoly and back to scenes of the 2009 championship. The documentary is like a dream come true for any Monopoly fanboy. Those who love the game will love this documentary. Those who don’t love Monopoly will still find it entertaining enough.

The History of Monopoly

Muskegon doesn't play Monopoly
Monopoly?!

The documentary does a very good job describing the history of Monopoly. The game began in the early 1900’s as a critique of landowners. It took 30 years for it to become published by Parker Brothers.

The original game did not come with game tokens. Charles Darrow wrote in his rules that people should take household objects such as thimbles and pennies and use them as your tokens.

Monopoly cat replaces iron

When Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game, they asked Darrow what he would suggest be used in their game as tokens for the “official” game. Darrow recommended using charms. That’s why there are metal charms and thimbles in the game.

I won’t go into all the details the documentary does. But after watching it, I know more about the history of Monopoly than I ever thought I would.

The 2009 Championship

Waddingtons' Monopoly
Waddingtons’ Monopoly

There are several interludes in the movie about the world championship game in 2009. Like chess, Monopoly has a worldwide following with large cash purses. The cash prizes are $20,580. Why such an odd amount? Because a standard game of Monopoly has this much play money in it.

The cast of characters in the championship are interviewed throughout the documentary. Among them is Ken Koury–the guy who wrote the book on Monopoly strategy. I was intrigued by Koury. I found him to be a bit like Billy Mitchell from the Donkey Kong documentary: fierce, almost villainous.

An elementary school teacher was also headed to the championship. Tim Vandenberg teaches 6th grade. He introduces his students to Monopoly. He uses it to teach probabilities, money management and expected values. He won an online tournament which allowed him to go to the national championships in DC.

Monopoly was a gaming linchpin for Muskegon
Monopoly from Parker Brothers

The rest of the movie shows the US championships in Washington DC and then the world championships in Las Vegas. This part of the documentary was a bit of a drag. The cast of characters, other than the ones I mentioned above, were a bit boring or bland. Watching them play Monopoly was like watching a worse version of the World Series of Poker: there is no bluffing and the dice rolls feel very arbitrary.

Conclusion

New Monopoly pieces
New Monopoly pieces

Under the Boardwalk does a good job at telling Monopoly’s history. It shows what the tournament scene is like for Monopoly. Technical aspects such as sound and film editing were also well done.

My main gripe is: the documentary was not as interesting as it could have been. There was no humor in it despite several opportunities. The cast of players seemed to be interesting but that did not always get captured by the documentarian. This could be due to the subject matter. Maybe Monopoly is not that interesting of a topic. But I doubt it.

As I mentioned, the creator of the documentary is relatively unknown. The director is still feeling out his style. I suspect if he were to do more documentaries, we would see him hone his craft. Kevin Tostado did the subject justice. But some portions were considerably better than others.

The movie is available on Amazon prime and Netflix. The movies is 98 minutes long–and it should entertain you for about 75 of those minutes.