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In Monopoly, there are two utilities. They cost 150, and rent is 4x the dice roll if one utility is owned, or 10x the dice value if both are owned.

2 cards: Electric Company and Water Works (descriptions summarized above)

Are the utilities something I want to purchase if possible? Or are they junk? How valuable are they compared to the other properties on the board?

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

The utilities are decent "fire and forget" properties, which pay for themselves quickly. Think of them as equivalent to owning two railroads, but paying a bit better because you can't improve them further. They don't have the same explosive-growth potential of railroads or properties, but they're cheaper. You're not going to bankrupt anyone with them, but they can be decent money-makers over the course of the game. They're better in the early game for fast and easy income, but later on they're more valuable simply as squares you can land safely on; everyone has become too rich to care much about such small rents.

A few comparisions:

Number of Utilities:

  1. Cost $150, pays $28 (average roll of 7), pays for itself after ~6 rents.
  2. Cost $300, pays $70 (average roll of 7), pays for itself after ~5 rents.

Number of Railroads:

  1. Cost $200, pays $25, pays for itself after 8 rents.
  2. Cost $400, pays $50, pays for itself after 8 rents.
  3. Cost $600, pays $100, pays for itself after 6 rents.
  4. Cost $800, pays $200, pays for itself after 4 rents.

Owning the light blue properties as a monopoly (much harder to get than just a utility or two!):

  • 0 houses: Cost $320, pays ~13, pays for itself after ~24 rents.
  • 1 house: Cost $470, pays ~$33, pays for itself after ~15 rents.
  • 2 houses: Cost $620, pays ~$93, pays for itself after ~7 rents.
  • 3 houses: Cost $770, pays ~$280, pays for itself after ~4 rents.

Edit: Someone has done a lot more math than I have:

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That page is quite intimidating. What did they discover about the value of utilities? – ire_and_curses Sep 29 '12 at 17:11
The page doesn't directly answer the question, but from what I can see, it agrees with me: the utilities make more money than the dark purple, light blue, and light purple properties (on a per-opponent-roll basis) for up to one house on the property. After that, it makes less money-per-roll, but by that time you've invested a fair chunk of money in those properties. It supports my general argument that the utilities are easier to make profitable on the short term, and pay for themselves faster, than most other properties. The "expected rolls to recoup cost" table is closest to what I said. – Paul Marshall Oct 1 '12 at 2:16

Utilities are worth buying, especially early in the game (before the house building phase starts. Their main drawback is that unlike the color groups, they can't be upgraded further.

Consider Electric Co., which sells for $150, and is sitting between St. Charles Place (cost:$140) and Virginia Ave. (cost: $160). But the average rent on Electric is $28 (4 x 7, the average die roll), versus $10 for St. Charles and $12 for Virginia. Only if the purchase of one or the other maroon completes the monopoly is Electric Co. worth less.

Likewise, the two utilities together cost $300, but an average rent of $70 (10x 7, the average die roll). That's more than the $50 you can collect on Boardwalk, which costs $400.

Two utilities are even worth more than two railroads ($50 rent at a cost of $400). It's the third, and particularly the fourth railroad that really adds value to them.

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No, they are not worth buying.

Based on the work done by Truman Collins (linked to by Paul Marshall in his answer), Tim Darling devised a strategy that pretty clearly states to never buy utilities.

It takes too many dice rolls by your opponents to recoup your investment and there are way more interesting things you can do with your money.

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The other answers point out the return on investment of holding the utilities, but I would argue that their value is in trading, which is more subjective as it depends on the players involved rather than pure mathematics.

Here are my observations:

  • Trading for a higher value property is obviously good for you. My opponents often swap a train station for a utility, which is higher value and landed on more frequently, as well as having a higher mortgage value
  • If you can swap so that you have a housing monopoly and your opponent gets the utility monopoly, then they may feel it's a fair trade (i.e. you both get a monopoly), but you with the housing monopoly have better long term prospects, as you can develop them
  • As mentioned in the other answers, the utilities pay for themselves quite quickly, so mortgaging a utility can be a useful way to free up funds, e.g. to buy houses
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I don't follow your logic on the 3rd bullet. If the utility is mortgaged, there's no way it can pay itself out of mortgage. – John Mar 8 at 17:10
@John - sorry I didn't make myself clear. I meant the property can be mortgaged with a clear conscience after it has paid for itself – Zombie_Gamer Mar 9 at 9:16

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