September 17, 2005 3:00 am

It's dog eat dog on the board

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Playing Monopoly may seem an inappropriate way for 25 property professionals to spend a Thursday afternoon when they should be at their desks doing grown-up stuff.

After all, the family board game describes itself as "suitable for players of eight years and upwards". The average age in the Blue Posts pub in Mayfair at the inaugural FT Monopoly Challenge was probably closer to 45.

But there was nothing childlike in the way thatvarious developers, architects, accountants and bankers strove to achieve supremacy over one another at the recent charity event.

Instead, they were bringing a degree of concentration and tactical nous rarely seen in the context of a Monopoly board. And, perhaps in a reflection of the property industry's modus operandi, they were taking a somewhat cavalier approach to the rules.

At one table, John Forrester, head of London investment for agents DTZ, was heard insisting that "if you roll a double and land on someone else's property, you don't have to pay any rent". If this was an official rule, it was an unfamiliar one.

Others - who had surely played for decades - seemed far from familiar with the rules. Michael Spies, European managing director of Tishman Speyer, the US property giant, knew that you only got back half your money if you took houses off your property. "But can you put them back for the same amount,?" he asked. Was this genuine naivety or a hustling tactic?

It was probably a mistake to set up a competition with no rules. "Feel free to play however you want, as long as everyone on your table agrees," I told contenders.

The tournament started with five separate games and the winner of each one would enter a grand finale to the death. The victor ludorum would choose the recipient charity.

In theory there would be a limit of two hours to the first round, to prevent the evening stretching on beyond last orders.

By 7pm, most of the games had wrapped up and thewinners had revealed themselves; Phil Nicklin, one of Deloitte's finest property brains, Nick Baucher, head of the City office at GVA Grimley, David Fison, chief executive of construction company Skanska UK and me.

My round had been fairly straightforward and finished with me owning hotels on six sets, which I ensured were photographed for posterity.

For one set of players, however, there were signs of gridlock. Here, the board had been covered in green and red by Michael Spies, Lee Polisano of Kohn Pedersen Fox, the architects, Robert Orr of agents Jones Lang LaSalle and Sir Stuart Lipton, the property developer and compere of the event.

Two and a half hours had ticked by and silence hung over the serious four as all refused to concede. Clearly reputations were at stake.

"We have a problem that needs resolving," announced Sir Stuart, before explaining the complex circumstances in which they had found themselves.

Sir Stuart had built up a group of hotels on the purples and had offered free access to Robert Orr as part of another deal. But the magnate had since sold on the properties to someone else. Could Robert still land there and pay nothing?

This was not the kind of dilemma that troubled atypical game of Monopoly. But as arbitrator - and under pressure to move on to the final - I ruled against the Jones Lang director.

Darkness was setting in outside and it was time to move on to the conclusive game. Two finalists, Phil Nicklin and Sir Stuart, had to leave but both recruited ringers to take their places.

With six in the final it was hard to see that we would meet our target finish time of 9.30pm. Yet things started to move fast. And they became very complicated only 20 minutes in.

David Fison, Geoff Mann of RHWL Architects and Neil Mitchenall of consultants Lunson Mitchenall put up a green property each to make a set. They each invested £1,000, paying for hotels on all three stops. The greens would in effect be structured as an off-balance sheet specialpurpose vehicle. This meant that rental proceeds would be shared three ways. But it also meant that if any of the three needed some spare cash, they would not be able to sell any houses or hotels to raise the money. This sort of thing never happened when I was a child in the Pickard holiday caravan. But there seemed to be nothing in the rulesbanning it.

To counter, I put down a red, as did Nick Baucher and Charles Beer, to create a three-way joint venture of our own. Now there were hotels on Trafalgar Square, Fleet Street and The Strand. Meanwhile Nick and I had set up our own prop-co op-co (property company/operating company) model on the browns, whereby we had each put a property into the structure but I wouldmanage them on his behalf, splitting the proceeds 50:50.

Things became even more impenetrable as Neil - though in the rival green camp - approached me to set upyet another joint venture on the purples. Why not? I agreed. Soon there were three houses on Mayfair and it was a whopping £1,400 to land there.

The first to crash and burn was David, landing on Park Lane with only a few hundred pounds in the bank. The construction executive folded. Having acquired Angel Islington from him, Neil and I were able to set up another joint venture, this time sharing theproceeds from the blue set.

Another five minutes passed. As Charles and Geoff dropped out, leaving Neil in sole possession of the greens, I realised I was being handicapped by my reliance on Nick. If only he would hurry up and lose I would no longer have to share the income from the greens and browns with him. It was with relief that I watched as the City agent met his demise bylanding on Bond Street.

Only two players were left. Between us, Neil and I shared three sets and about 15 properties. Separately, he had the reds and I had the greens. But as we plodded on and it became obvious that a conclusion was hours away, we decided to agree a stalemate. The players had raised nearly £3,000 for the Small Faces Charitable Trust, thechildren's charity, chosen by Neil.

But were they likely to come back for the next challenge, given the aggressive nature of the evening?

An e-mail dropped into my inbox a few days later: "I thought it was a great evening and I am glad that we were able to raise some money for something worthwhile. I shall however make sure I do not undertake too many joint ventures with you in future," it said.

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