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Itchy Monkey Kickstarter Preview


Quick Look:

Designer: Allan Kirkeby
Artist: Maarten de Schrijver
Publisher: Black Box Adventures
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 15-45 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Itchy Monkey. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.



Review:


Itchy monkey is an abstract strategy game where you will spread parasites across a variety of delicious monkeys. It's an adorable game with a disgusting theme and deeply strategic gameplay. I kind of love that. 
Beneath the cute art and silly theme lies a complex abstract strategy game that is quickly becoming one of my favorites. 




Rules and Setup:

Setup takes about 3 min.

Give each player the bits in their color. Place the board in the center of the table and the monkey tokens on the flowered spaces that match their background color.


The first player will place one queen and two lice on any monkey.



Other players follow suit, but with some limitations. You can't place directly next to an inhabited monkey, or on any monkey on the same row horizontally or vertically.

The rules for the base game are one page long, clear, and easy to explain. There is a second page with variants, but they are still tweaking them. In the variant, each type of monkey has a different ability. For instance, one can push another monkey out of its way, another can jump a monkey during movement. There are five species, an each has a handy special ability. The base game has plenty of depth, but it's cool to have the option. At the moment, they recommend only using one or two abilities per game. So say Gorillas and Lemurs would be more highly sought after.

Playing with special monkeys is at least as enjoyable as the base. It's hard to say if it's better, but it speeds it up a bit if you choose the ones that make it easier to get around. They're great for a sneakier game.

If Itchy Monkey doesn't sound bloody enough for you, there is also a Last Louse variant where killed lice are out of the game, and you win by eliminating other players.


Theme and Mechanics:

At first glance, this looks like it would be a cutesy kids game, but it's really not. Kids will love the well-implemented theme, but this is a fairly advanced strategy game.

The rules are simple.

Starting with the first player, everyone takes turns until someone triggers game end. Turns consist of two parts.

1. Choose a monkey to spawn on and place lice on it. If there are only lice, add 1 louse. If there is a queen present, place 2. If you have additional queens on the monkey the subsequent queens add one more. 1=2, 2=3, 3=4.

2. Take one of these actions:
Jump - move one queen or louse to an adjacent monkey.
Bump - you tickle the monkey, so it runs orthogonally. It moves in a straight line and stops when it hits the edge of the board or another monkey. If it hits another monkey, you can transfer any number of lice or queens onto that monkey.
Nitpicking - if an opponent has 5 or more lice on one monkey, you can remove them all from the board. I guess thematically your lice spend their turn praying to the parasite god to level the playing field.

A couple more things to know:

On your turn, as a free action, you can remove 6 of your lice from one monkey and replace them with a queen.

Lice battle if you Jump or Bump onto another monkey that has opponent pieces. Queen power is 2. Louse power is 1. If both sides have equal power, all pieces are eliminated. If one side has more than the other, the lower power is eliminated and the winner loses nothing.

Colonies are a group of 3 or more lice, excluding queens.

The game ends when a player has either:
Colonies on 3 Gorillas
Colonies on 4 of the same species
Colonies on 5 different species.

Game Play:

There's a lot more going on here than you think. You have to plan several moves ahead while tracking what other players are going for, protecting your monkeys, and eliminating the competition. Even with only three actions, there are so many options you might get a little AP. It's still easier to pick up than Chess. This would be a great game to get kids interested in the genre. Even before you figure out what you're doing, it's fun to ride the monkeys around screwing over your opponents. The more you play, the more it clicks. Once you get used to the logic and everything flows pretty fast. It's unique and fun. As soon as we finished our first game, everybody wanted to play again.

You can get a pretty good idea of how Itchy Monkey plays if you stare at this picture for a little while.


In this image, Red has just won by having colonies on all 5 species. But imagine one of red's monkeys was empty. Look at this setup. Imagine you're blue. Consider your options. Where do you spawn? You could win in two moves if nobody gets if your way, but this is a very agro game. If red or green noticed how close you were, they could make it hard on you. Green could also win in two moves.

Most games with a spawn phase produce on all spaces. Only spawning on one adds another dimension to your strategy. It's a small thing, but the impact is massive.

But how does it play with two? Still awesome, but a little less agro. This is the two player setup.



The board is two-sided to support varying amounts of players, but there's a lot of room on the two-player board. If you're careful, you can protect yourself fairly easily. If neither of you is attacking, it's going to be over pretty fast. Special monkey variants really shine one-on-one.

Four players games take a good bit longer and involve a lot more violence. However many players you have, this is a lot of fun.

Artwork and Components:

I like the art a lot. It's cute and easy to tell what is what. Since this is a prototype, I can't say much about the quality of the components.

The Good:
It's fun, cute, balancd, and deep.
Quick to teach and play.
It's an abstract strategy game that plays well with more than 2 players.
It's very original. I can't think of anything that plays like this. If I had to come up with a comparative description, I would probably say it feels like a mashup of Ricochet Robots and Chess, but that doesn't capture it at all.
This is a great gaming experience that will evolve and get exponentially better the more you play.
It's the most fun you'll ever have spreading parasites! Well, hopefully.

The Bad:
The color palate has some minor issues. The red player pieces and Gorilla backgrounds are too similar. The upside for red is that this affords a bit of camouflage. The downside is it shortcircuited my pattern recognition a little bit. Backgrounds are pink, peach, red, orange and black. Player colors are red, yellow, green, and blue. When I was counting up my spaces and trying to figure out what I needed, it was like "red+pink, red+peach, red+Black, red+orange, wait, isn't that everything, no it's just 4. Red+red, red+orange, red+peach, red+black, red+peach, wait did I count a peach already?" This is a minor subjective issue. It probably won't bother most people, but it's the only negative thing I could think of.

If I wanted to nitpick, I could point out that not all the primate varieties are monkeys. "Itchy Primates" doesn't have the same ring to it. Some of them are monkeys, so let's let that one go.

Final Thoughts:

This is a fantastic game with a lot of elements. It's a bit of programming/puzzle game, a bit of area movement/control, and a bit of tactical wargame. It is fairly combative, but the point isn't to attack another player. You simply do that to keep the other players from meeting their goals before you. Starting positions and strategy are very important, but there is a lot of elasticity in the gameplay. You're constantly having to adapt to what other players are doing in the shifting landscape of monkeys running around the board bumping into each other. If you're looking for an immersive strategy game you can play with a broad spectrum of people, this is definitely one to check out. It left us itching to play again.

For Players Who Like:
Abstract strategy.
Well-implemented, humorous theme.
Games with light rules and beefy gameplay.


Check out Itchy Monkey on:

               

On KICKSTARTER now! Campaign ends June 21, 2018.



Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Itchy Monkey Kickstarter Preview Itchy Monkey Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by S T Gulik on May 24, 2018 Rating: 5

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