You don’t have to be confused if you should encounter a feeling of déjà vu while playing MONOPOLY: Build-a-lot Edition. In fact, you are playing a hybrid of Build-a-lot 2 and Monopoly, although the shares of the latter are of minor significance. The idea of combining the probably most popular board game about real estate management and the counterpart of the casual market sounds utterly compelling, but sometimes it’s all on the surface.
To be honest, I could simplify my job and just copy the review of Build-a-lot 2, because apart from some new buildings, new names for the levels, and Mr. Monopoly as your permanent host, not much has changed. It is your task to create profitable and appealing neighborhoods by constructing houses, landmarks, hotels as well as service and industrial buildings.
Houses and Hotels provide income which you can use to draft blueprints of new buildings, to train new workers, to buy empty lots or houses, and to order materials. To increase the rental income you can also upgrade residential buildings up to three stars, or paint and landscape them. The latter two home improvements not only increase your cash flow, but also improve the general appeal of the said house as well as the whole neighborhood.
You can also construct so-called landmarks, whose only purpose it is to raise the appeal of the neighborhood and the income of nearby houses, such as a Cinema, a Jazz Venue, or the majestic Mr. Monopoly Statue, the latter being one of the very rare references to Monopoly. In contrast to those landmarks industrial buildings lower a neighborhood’s appeal, but they provide other advantages. A Sawmill cheapens material prices, with a Workshop you will get a discount for the training of workers and the Garden Center allows you to landscape houses.
Other than that, service buildings can be a great asset to your neighborhood, too. The service station enables your workers and your construction vans to move and work faster, while Water Works and Utility Co will prevent problems with your houses, except for ordinary damages. All that does not sound exciting? Or new? Well, it isn’t, it’s that simple.
When it comes to the level of difficulty, the fact that HipSoft did not develop this game becomes particularly apparent, because Monopoly Build-a-lot Edition is definitely easier than the standard challenge of the main Build-a-lot series. No additional goals will appear during the already few levels, and very similar strategies work for every goal, so that you can expect to beat the campaign in a breeze, reaching expert time automatically.
Of course the game also features a free mode, but I am a little bit tired of free modes that offer exactly the same experience as the campaign, only without time pressure and kind of everlasting. Other games, such as iWin’s Coconut Queen, have proven that it is not that hard to provide an independent and entertaining free mode.
MONOPOLY Build-a-lot Edition represents a game that just doesn’t live up to the high expectations created by combining two such high-profile franchises. There surely would have been a way to combine the aspects which made the board game so popular in a creative and addicting way with the basic mechanics of Build-a-lot. Unfortunately, the possible potential of this game has not been exploited at all.
The Monopoly portions in the game are mainly superficial, such as Mr. Monopoly being your host, familiar buildings like the Water Works and the Utility Co, and a level map which slightly resembles the Monopoly board. The CC & Chance Office, which offers surprise messages similar to the well-known "chance"-cards, is a nice idea, but due to the limited amount of lots you will rarely build it, thus its effect and importance for the game remains very restricted.
And it is not as if it would have been difficult to combine the strengths of Build-a-lot and Monopoly. How about using the Monopoly board as we know it instead of the Build-a-lot layouts? Buying the different streets, constructing buildings on those streets, whose income also depends on the street’s value? Increasing a player’s income if they possess a whole set of streets? Random events which can be positive or negative, activated by certain actions or clicks by the player? Opponents who would compete for attractive streets? Or, for example, the player could try to buy Water Works or Utility Co to get money from opponents when problems with water pipes or electricity would occur. Features like those would have made the game really unique, as well as providing a whole new depth to both games. The possibilities and potential would have been endless.
Diehards of the Build-a-lot brand might still like the game, but most players will be disappointed by a stale experience, and those who are looking forward to play a different kind of Monopoly will experience an unpleasant surprise, because apart from the name similarities are few and far between. What saves the game from a really bad rating are the polished graphics as well as the ingenious Build-a-lot concept, which is still beyond any doubt.