Hasbro has launched a "Save Your Token" campaign to retire either the race car, iron, Scottie dog, wheelbarrow, shoe, top hat, thimble or battleship. The company is letting fans vote until Feb. 5 for the one they want to keep via the Monopoly Facebook page. The one with the lowest total goes directly - and permanently - to jail.
Fans also can vote for the replacement token: toy robot, helicopter, cat, guitar or diamond ring.
A limited-run "Golden Token" Monopoly ($17.99) arrives in Target stores exclusively in mid-February, and it will be the last edition to have all of the classic tokens and the only set to have all five of the potential new pieces as well. The first Monopoly game to reflect the new token lineup will be released in late summer.
"There's a love affair with the token that each player has settled on over time. It's very seldom that you see a player not care about what token represents them on the game board," says Philip Orbanes, a Monopoly expert who's written three books on the game, including Monopoly, Money, and You (due in April).
Monopoly emerged during the Depression, with numerous parties claiming to have contributed key elements to the game that was finally patented by Charles Darrow and sold to Parker Brothers. More than 275 million copies have been produced since the first edition in 1935. (Current owner Hasbro does not provide yearly sales figures.)
Six of the current pieces were in that first set; the Scottie dog and wheelbarrow came along in the early 1950s. In the late 1990s, fans voted for a money bag that was added as a bonus. Soon after, the cannon and horse tokens were removed, shrinking the token total to eight from 10.
Board-game sales generally have slowed because of the recent weak economy, says Gerrick Johnson, toy analyst for BMO Capital Markets. "The best time for board games is when you go into a recession, not when you pull out of it." He notes that the genre also has been threatened by smartphone and tablet games and by a lack of innovation.
"Newness always helps, and there has not been a lot of newness," Johnson says. But Monopoly is a classic, elegant game, "and it will be around for another 100 years."
The new tokens are a reflection of Hasbro's desire to freshen the brand, says Jonathan Berkowitz, vice president of marketing for Hasbro Gaming. The company began with about 100 ideas for tokens and whittled the number to five by paying attention to the conversations its 10 million Facebook fans were having about their favorite pieces.
As a child, Berkowitz says, "you remember grabbing that token and that being your icon that represents you in the game. That passes down from generation to generation. I see it with my kids today. I'm the race car, and they can't be the race car. They can get their own."
Oddsmaker R.J. Bell of Pregame.com says the wheelbarrow has the best odds, 2-1, of being ousted because of "unstable board play" and it being "even less attractive to aspiring tycoons in today's wired world." That's followed by the iron at 5-1 ("Who wants to iron in 2013?"); thimble, 6-1; battleship, 7-1; shoe, 8-1; and hat, 20-1. The two he thinks are pretty safe are the Scottie dog at 25-1 ("No one chooses to retire a dog") and the race car, 30-1 ("Only if they want half as many kids to play").
Players can get very passionate about their chosen token - that's why, in the official game rules, players who want the same piece have to roll dice to see which one gets it, says Orbanes, who acts as a judge for the U.S. national and world Monopoly championships. "We don't want fisticuffs."
He picked the race car as an 8-year-old first playing the game in 1956. And while the helicopter and toy robot have a similar appeal to kids, Orbanes has a hunch the cat will have a strong showing.
"Cat lovers outnumber dog lovers," he says. "Knowing how popular the Scottie is, I just assume there have to be far more people out there who are cat lovers who would love to see their icon in the game."
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)