The most hotly anticipated game of the year, out of all the games that came out in 1987, is finally here!
I think Spec is short for SPECulative.
Like the speculative nature of the housing market.
Or the SPECulative wholesale bets that the financial services industry placed on subprime mortgages for decades; securities that were backed by dangerously overvalued real estate and ultimately led to the SPECtacular downfall of the entire Western banking system in the 2008 global economic crisis.
Maybe that’s what they were going for when they named this advanced take on the Monopoly formula.
Twenty years before it happened.
What we’re dealing with here is a game that encourages players to invest in housing properties and doesn’t punish players for randomly landing on someone else’s space, and thus removing one of the most annoying features of Monopoly in the process.
In essence, Spec sees a bunch of animals (hare, tortoise, whale, duck, dog and cat) embark upon a wild rush to get a foothold on the property ladder, each of them eager to take advantage of a post-Thatcher society that hastily dismantled the notion of rent-for-life tenancies and instead encouraged heavily-mortgaged housing purchases for animals that plainly can’t afford it.
So yes. You’re a duck or whatever, and you can buy houses when you land on them, just like in your favourite game Monopoly.
Unlike your favourite game Monopoly, you dickhead, in Spec after you’ve bought your expensive house it might turn out to have rubbish curtains or have no decent shops near it.
Why wouldn’t you check that your house had a shop near it or not?
Too late, lazybones.
Your house is now worth thousands less because you couldn’t be bothered to check.
Anyway, now you’ve got to mess about with the little dial things that Spec comes with to adjust the value of the property, because of that thing you fucked up about the shops.
And let me tell you now: the dials are awful. Really, really awful.
They’re made of that same plastic that Christmas cracker items or Kinder Surprise toys are made out of.
These flimsy pieces of shit are practically impossible to line up with the price of the house, so the duck and the tortoise and the whale and everyone will just have to do with a rough approximation of the property instead.
Amusingly, there are seven numbers to adjust, meaning your property can run into the millions but is still accurate to the literal pound.
So in theory your house could be worth £1,000,001.
Only the game doesn’t actually have any way of revaluing houses at figures under a thousand. So the three right spinny things are irrelevant.
No worries though, because the Spec rule book suggests you just superglue or nail varnish the plastic things together instead.
Why didn’t they just not include them? Or stick them together in the actual design? Bizarre.
The money is a pain as well. You’ll be sitting there with £250,000 in £50,000 notes, and suddenly you’ll get an electricity bill for £50. It’s bitterly inconvenient, and you quickly resent the game.
Anyway, the basic premise of the game isn’t to buy properties and hope other people land on them, like the poisonous Monopoly does, but rather give each player the chance to trade properties or even upgrade them.
So you can install a sauna, a tennis court, or even a sprinkler system in your new pad.
Boshing in a two grand barbeque, for example, will increase the value of the property by like £5,000.
Other stuff in the game makes you pay bills that scale with the size of your house, or you can pick up cards that change the value of your house when it turns out your nextdoor neighbour is a queen or a lizard or a mosquito or something.
One final rule is that if you roll a double and land on one of your own houses, you have to yell SHOWHOUSE – and really do shout, mind, or it won’t be as fun – and put a plastic house on top of your dial thing. Then you’re not allowed to move for three goes until someone bids for it or something. Superb mechanic, that.
The winner of the game seems like an afterthought in the Spec rules book. It kind of just brushes it away, saying that the game ends when someone reaches an arbitrary value of your choosing, or when your timer runs out, if you bothered to set one.
Or, in a decidedly half-hearted tone, it just suggests to end it all ‘when circumstances mean the game should end’.
Sadly though, Spec is a load of shit so you’ll want it to end as soon as possible.
Buying the houses is easy enough, and upgrading them would be fun if it didn’t mean fannying about with the plastic dials every thirty seconds.
What might have been a more sophisticated take on the dried up bumcrust of a Monopoly recipe ultimately ends up being closer to a gruellingly realistic take on the UK housing market, featuring wildly spiralling property prices, volatile and seemingly random spikes in value and a paper thin veneer of collective wisdom papering over the deep plastic fissures of bullshit propping up the scarily overpriced things we call homes.