Huntopoly – A New Neighborhood Bonding Game

The woman in the upper left is a widow with grown kids, and we never would have gotten to know her if not for this great Huntopoly encounter.

At the third annual Camp Yale, our neighborhood summer camp, the campers played an innovative new game that’s a mixture of a scavenger hunt and monopoly. I call it “Huntopoly.”

My goal in designing and implementing Huntopoly, beyond providing a fun experience, was to embrace our entire neighborhood. I wanted campers to get a lot more comfortable with particular places and people of our neighborhood, and I wanted our neighbors to become acquainted with the campers and with all our community activities at my home and yard, including Camp Yale.

It was a great success, and I can’t wait for next year. In other words, I’m very satisfied with how it went, given that it was the first year we ran it, but I’m also eager to run Huntopoly at next year’s Camp Yale so I can make it much better.

In this article, I’ll first describe the game design, and then I’ll tell you what actually happened when the campers played it. I’ll conclude with my thoughts on how I plan to improve it next year.

Game Design
My idea for Huntopoly started with my driveway map mural, which I also designed.  I wanted to create some colorful art on our driveway that could serve as a platform for children’s neighborhood play.  I deliberately designed the size of lots and streets to be “HO scale” – i.e. the scale of HO model trains, as well as legos and Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars.  In fact, most lots on the map precisely accommodate a 32 peg x 64 peg lego base plate.

We played the game three times during the week of Camp Yale – on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  To begin, on Monday, teams choose a monopoly piece like this one and a block on the driveway. Unlike in Monopoly, each piece stays on its respective block all week, never crossing paths with another piece.  

Then, to start each day’s game activity, each team rolls the dice once and moves its piece that number of lots on the dice.  Each team then ventures out into the neighborhood with an adult or teen facilitator to find the house on the lot its piece is sitting on.  When the team arrives there, the facilitator first takes a photo of the team in front of the property, and then the team walks up to the front door and rings the doorbell.  

If no one is home, team members run back to the Huntopoly board in my driveway and roll the dice again to move their piece and get a new house assignment.  If someone is home, team members try to get a list of items, shown below:

  1. photo of team w/ resident
  2. first and last name of each resident (including pets)
  3. Q-What’s an interesting fact about the resident(s) that they’d like neighbors to know?
  4. 1 cup cocoa powder
  5. small object from resident for driveway map
  6. photo of team’s favorite thing in yard or house
  7. flower from the yard
  8. rock from the yard
  9. how many resident(s) attend Huntopoly party, Friday,10:45am?
  10. Lego house on map

Note that item 4 above is different for each team.  That’s an ingredient that each team must collect to make a cake for our Huntopoly party on Friday.  Before leaving, team members give the resident an invitation to invite him or her to the Huntopoly party on Friday. The team gets points for every resident (including pets!) that come to the party on Friday – see item 9 above.

When they get back to the Huntopoly board, they must put all items they collected on the lot on the driveway map, and they can also optionally build a Lego house on that lot to get more points.

Our First Huntopoly Experience
Before the first day, I put together six teams of two to three campers each, plus a facilitator for each team. In assigning kids to teams, I had two goals: a) mix ages within a team, so that each team has at least one older kid who can read and be most responsible, and b) put friends and/or siblings together, if possible.

As you can imagine, it was quite a feat to explain the game clearly and concisely to team members and their facilitators on Monday. I was fairly pleased overall with how I communicated the game, but I can definitely improve this next year. It will help to have some campers and facilitators back who’ve played the game before.

Two or three of the six teams were highly enthusiastic and achieved a fair amount of success. Two teams were fairly enthusiastic – somewhat engaged, but not totally into the game. On the bottom end were one or two teams that quit the game early on each day, preferring to play in our yard after one or two trips to a target home.

While it’s very difficult to deeply engage all players in any game, I definitely want to do better next year. I think that the lack of deep engagement among some campers had something to do with the difficulties they had finding neighbors at home. Roughly one in three to one in four neighbors were home when our teams knocked on their doors.

I have lots of great stories and observations. Many neighbors were very enthusiastic about the team members they met and our game, and some even visited our yard sometime later to learn more about what we were up to here. One neighbor who was visited by a team that included my two sons was a widow whose kids are grown up. We never would have met her had it not been for Huntopoly, and the encounter between her and the team was very joyous. They brightened each others days for sure.

Unfortunately, for all these positive encounters, only one neighbor attended our Huntopoly Party on Friday. I know that this was at least partially bad luck – two neighbors who came by our house during the week told me they were disappointed that prior engagements prevented them from attending the party. However, I was still disappointed.

More disappointing was that a few neighbors rejected our campers as if they were pieces of junk mail. Ultimately, though, these disappointments emboldened me. Our neighbors need more groups of cheerful kids knocking on their doors. If we come back at them a few more times in the next few years, they’ll start to embrace the spirit of what we’re doing and get friendlier. I know it.

We’ll be back next year, in greater numbers and more cheerful than ever.

Improvements for Next Year
I don’t have all my changes for next year planned out in detail, but I do have some general ideas. Basically, I want to make camper’s journey’s through our neighborhood more eventful and positive. I think I can do this by adding a few new twists:

  1. get teams to choose the best blocks: I gave six teams a totally open choice of ten blocks this year, and they left two very good blocks (in terms of number of known friendly neighbors & proximity to our house) unchosen. I’ll narrow their choices somehow next year.
  2. force kids to go to particular fun houses: This will be a lot more work, but I think it would be great for teams to encounter people on their blocks who are “in on” the game. So, I might force teams to start their days at a particular house in each block, and the resident of that house might give kids clues to something else. Of course, in order to do this successfully, I’d need to do outreach on particular blocks ahead of time to find neighbors willing to be posted at their houses at particular times.
  3. “plant” fun items: It would be great if kids found great stuff, perhaps clues, on their journeys through their blocks. Again, this would add a lot of work, but it could be well worth it. I’ll think a lot about this.
  4. vary the tasks day-to-day: The tasks for each team remained essentially the same every day. I think changing the list a bit every day, while keeping some elements the same, could make each day’s journey more interesting.
  5. cut down on trips back to my house: Teams that had bad luck finding a resident home over and over again got tired of coming back to my house to roll the dice. I’m thinking about amending the rules to somehow let them continue knocking on doors without coming back.

What do you think of Huntopoly – its goals and execution? How can we make it better?

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