Do Not Pass FresGo!

Another Fresno version of Monopoly is in the works. Gamemakers have an opportunity to reach for a wider market. Fresnopoly is an earlier, more traditional version. Photo by Kevin Hall
Another Fresno version of Monopoly is in the works. Gamemakers have an opportunity to reach for a wider market. Fresnopoly is an earlier, more traditional version. Photo by Kevin Hall
Climate Politics

The unfortunately named Texas game company Top Trumps has garnered Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer’s enthusiastic support for a local version of Monopoly, the board game focused on property ownership, development, higher rents, foreclosure and eviction. Perfect.

You might well ask, “A game that demonstrates how our city actually works? What’s taken so long?” In truth, it hasn’t. The import outfit (Free shipping on orders to the USA mainland over $35) is not the first middleman to license the Monopoly brand. Ohio’s quirkily named Late For The Sky published its version, Fresnopoly, a few years back, outdated mostly by its Woodward Park Shakespeare Festival square.

“This is a big deal for Fresno because no matter where people live in the United States or abroad they’re going to hear about Fresno,” Dyer told local media outlets in April, apparently in the mistaken belief that this custom version is going to be widely distributed.

It’s not, of course. These companies sell to local markets in small quantities, and there are many other cities with their own versions. Companies—and mayors—buy the novelty item as gifts. But that doesn’t mean Dyer and Tops shouldn’t reach for a larger market. Fresno presents the gamemakers with a Trumpy golden opportunity if done right.

Rather than follow the structure and rules of the original board game as Late Sky did, Tops should add some new twists. To truly reflect how the game is played in Fresno, players must be able to add new spaces to the board, particularly along freeway routes. Because this is not an urban cityscape delimited by four commuter trains. It’s a battle for open ground—through road and freeway subsidies—with residential sprawl and industrial warehouse developments spreading like tentacles in every direction.

Best to start with the mid-20th century Fresno map of redlined neighborhoods and grow outward from there along state routes 41, 168, 180 and 99 plus Friant Road. Players would accumulate wealth by commuting from affluent areas to industrial zones. Starting squares would include West Fresno, Downtown, Huntington Blvd., Calwa, Manchester, Tower District and Fig Garden.

One could add new property squares along the proposed freeway routes, and they don’t even have to be contiguous. In fact, it’s best to build your new development as far out as you can because the longer the commute the greater the payday when you pass a FresGo! space on the movable edge of town.

Go To Jail and Jail? Developers don’t go to jail here any more. Their crimes are made legal or ignored unless sued. So let’s rename those corner spaces CEQA and Courthouse. Use your Get Out of CEQA Free card to avoid penalties, courtesy of CalTrans and every city council member, county supervisor, mayor and development staff. The third corner, Free Parking, can be labeled Greenwashing; it’s that stack of state and federal subsidies piling up in the middle of the board.

Then there are the game’s two card decks to consider. The real Community Chest for local developers is the Campaign Chest where cards direct you to make large political contributions in order to rezone your property. Give enough and you can score a Free Freeway Interchange card to connect your sprawl development to commuters. The Road Tax Subsidy is the most common card; it’s critical to your success as a Fresno developer.

And because developers here leave little to Chance, let’s call the other deck Closed Doors. That’s where the deals are cut for the really big projects. Variance, Rezone and General Plan Amendment cards are handed out to open up farmland and blue oak woodlands for regional shopping centers, industrial warehouses and exurban developments.

Finally, there are the game pieces. As mentioned, these custom versions of Monopoly are short-run productions, so the playing tokens are generic. But, again, to capture the true Fresno spirit, we’re going to need more relevant symbols of sprawl, polluted air and water, poverty, lack of opportunity and so on. We’ll need an inhaler and an ambulance, of course, but also a semi-truck, train, tractor, dairy lagoon and every type of dirt-moving equipment there is, not to mention a patrol car and HART (Homeless Assistance Response Team) truck.

But the most important lesson to be learned from Fresnopoly is that only a few can play. The money moves around at the top and it’s a close-knit group. The people their wealth is derived from don’t have a seat at the table; they’re on the table.


  • Kevin Hall

    Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate and coordinates an informal network of climate activists at Contact him at for presentations and information.

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