Just Put All Monopoly Rules in the .monopoly File and Be Done With It!

(Raganwald posted a while back that implementing Monopoly was a great interview question.  I wrote this before reading his blog post– and before reading too closely about this guy’s approach in Ruby.  This problem is very similar to one that has stumped me for years… and it appears to me that Lisp and Scheme provide a very “obvious” means of separating “rules” from code while allowing for a tremendous amount of configurability.  Should this answer get me invited back for a second round, or…?  What do you think?)

Let’s start looking at this by looking at the core iterators that run the game and define state. There is an (effectively) infinite list each of die rolls, Chance cards, Community Chest Cards, players and board positions– and iterators are a great way to model the wrap-around affect of the board structure.  A typical sequence of play will be to increment the player iterator, then move increment the player’s board position a number of times equal to the result of incrementing the die roll iterator. Technically, the very concept of the sequence of play as we described it is a rule, but for now we’re going to take it as a given: we’re going to focus on implementing just the set of all “Monopoly-like” games.

To define the shape of the board, we need a means of defining variables or objects. Each one will have a Name and an arbitrary number of properties stored in a hash table. Each one will have to reference the name of the next square on the board so that the board Iterator will be able to function.

We’ll need a constructor for the player iterator that takes a list of player names as an argument.

We’re going to need a domain specific language to handle instructions on the cards and some of the board positions. The language has to be able to handle moving money to a player’s account, moving them around the board, and triggering the draw of a card. We’re going to need a means of defining new functions for the language such as “Go To Jail.” It has to be possible to implement any possible change of state in the game through the language.

So far we can configure our game with a text file that defines the squares of the board, the cards in the game, and the instructions that go with them. What we need next is a list of options for the player to choose from based on a given state of the board. Each option will have an associated script written in the same DSL that we used for the cards.

In order to allow for additional customization, we can create a set of scripts for various events that occur during our sequence of play. So our final configuration text file will include board, card, and die roll definitions… some general function definitions, some definitions for each player option that determines when each one is available and what its action is, and also some event override code. All of the rules of the game– with the exception of some fundamental sequence of play rules– are separated out into the configuration file. If, for example, someone wanted to add the atrocious game-destroying house rule of placing money in the pot for when people land on free parking, then the user would modify the award-money-from-card function and alter the trigger script for the Free Parking square.

If we allow the users to redefine the iterator definitions and the core sequence of play, then they could create even more radical customizations. At the very least, developers will want to be able to override the die roll iterator so that they could set up their unit tests to work against a set series of rolls.

Call it EMOPS or something like that….

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