Monkey Preview

Monkey is a new card game from the makers of one of our favorite little card games, Gyrating Hamsters. This time around, players are tasked with taking on the roles of different monkeys, each trying to be the first to scale the tree and complete the treetop challenge.

Monkey Business

Now you won’t have to actually leave the ground. Instead, all of your climbing is accomplished through cards. Players start with a hand of three cards that come in a variety of colors and numbers. On a player’s turn, they will draw a card, then see what spell the monkey wizard Kurgill casts on them.

Yes, if you’re taking this game seriously, you need to relax a little bit.

Spells are cards that can positively or negatively impact players, and they range in the intensity of their impact. Some just allow you to draw another card. Others might allow you to peek at other cards on the table. Still others will knock you out and force you to miss the rest of the turn.

Reach for the Top

But of course, climbing is what the game is all about, so how do you do that? Well, this is a very special tree these monkeys are climbing, because it’s made of face-down cards. If a player wants to climb, they flip over the card for the section where they are currently located. They must then play cards that have a total value greater than the tree trunk card. These cards must be a different color than the color on the trunk card, unless it’s a black card! In that case, only black cards will do.

If a player is able to compile a greater value than the trunk card, they win and they move up to the next trunk card. Should they lose, though, they move back down the tree. With the trunk cards always being face-down, this can occasionally lead to some high-intensity moments, especially when none of the players know what’s on the numbered side of a trunk card.

Get Out of My Way!

Now, since you’re all climbing the same tree, there’s bound to be some interference, right? This player interaction comes in the form of monkey traps. On your turn, instead of drawing a card or trying to climb the tree, you may try to trap your fellow players. Doing so adds a card to their character, and as they try to defeat sections of the trunk later, the trap cards are going to make it a little more difficult for them.

All of this climbing and trapping continues until someone makes it into the treetop challenge. At this point, players must face three different cards in a row, and if they are able to defeat those, they have to face an additional challenge from the evil monkey wizard. However, if they come out victorious, they win the game!

Monkey See, Monkey Do

The game’s rules are simple and straightforward, and I think most players will pick them up in a round or two. They also decently balance luck and skill. You’ll be able to plan appropriately to face each section of the tree trunk, but one weird spell from the evil monkey wizard can make you pay. I think the spell deck feels a little weird thematically, but it helps to add some spice to a game that might be too straightforward otherwise.

I think that the game does a good job of providing a variety of play styles for gamers to check out. You can adjust the way that the board is set up so that each player has their own trunk to climb instead of sharing with the other players. There is also a substantial solo variant for those that prefer to climb trees alone. While I haven’t played the solo version myself, I hear good things.

Given the game’s simplicity, Monkey can be a bit disengaging at times. Since the trunk cards are not replaced after a player defeats them, you’ll often know what you’re facing, and you’ll be able to make a plan that easily avoids any negative consequences. If other players end up moving a few spaces in front of you, you can easily plan several turns ahead, which can cause you to lose interest for a while as you wait for the other players to finish their turns. Traps seek to add in more player interaction to counteract this, but we often found the traps to be ineffective, so players stopped using them.

For All Your Young Monkey Friends

A few years ago, I brought out Gyrating Hamsters at a school game night and it was a huge hit. Since that day, students often ask me to stop class and play the game.

Like seriously in the middle of class. Like I just finished explaining how to find the end behavior of a polynomial function and now you’re asking me to get into a rodent card fight with you.

Now I never oblige that particular request but if we have a break later in the day, we often take the box off the shelf and play a few rounds.

I think that Monkey could become that same type of experience for younger gamers and their families. The game lacks many of the backstabbing, take that! moments of GH, but I think that’s perfect for a game with kids who may get more frustrated when they feel that other players are picking on them. The mechanics are also pretty straightforward, so I think a younger player could master it easily. While my high schoolers may not have enjoyed Monkey quite as much as Gyrating Hamsters, I bet a round with their younger siblings might go a little better.

So all in all, if you’ve got younger gamers in your house and are looking for something to take the place of those repetitive, simple card games that you’ve been playing non-stop, Monkey is a solid choice for you.

You can check out the Kickstarter for Monkey, which launches on May 14! The wonderful folks at Gyrating Hamsters provided us with a free review copy of Monkey. This in no way affected our preview.