Matt Carlson: Review of Cheeky Monkey

Cheeky Monkey GryphonCheeky Monkey
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Gryphon Games (rerelease)
Ages: 7+
Players: 2-6
Time: 20 mins

Reviewed by Matt Carlson
Review copy provided by Gryphon Games

Cheeky Monkey has been around for several years as a small box game, but the folks over at Gryphon Games have gone above and beyond in sprucing up the game by replacing both the game box and the token bag with a cute stuffed monkey plush doll!  (OK, it could be considered scary due to its complete lack of lower limbs…)  This over-production of cuteness takes a good Knizia (ie. math-y) filler title and propels it into an excellent family or gamer-newbie game due to the strong draw of the components.  As I frequently game with less hard-core gamers I find the new edition to be an excellent addition to my game collection.

For those unfamiliar with the game, on one’s turn a player draws chips out of a bag (now a monkey) until they decide to quit or draw a duplicate of ones previously drawn that turn.  In standard push-your-luck practices, drawing a duplicate forfeits all the tokens drawn that turn (but not in previous turns.)  Captured chips are placed in a stack in front of a player (in any order, although on top of any previous turn’s chips) and the top chip is “stolen” by any player who draws that particular animal chip on their turn.  Stolen chips can be lost by a later duplicate draw, just like any other chips drawn on a turn.  (Within our gaming group we call losing a stolen chip “poaching”.)  Once all chips are drawn out of the bag, players score one point per chip with each player with the most of a specific type of animal earning a bonus.

Cheeky Monkey_full game

True to any Knizia game is the underlying math.  The 8 types of animal chips range in rarity from the elephants (3 chips), all the way up to the monkeys (10 chips).  If you own the most of a type of animal, you earn bonus points equal to the initial number of those chips in the bag (stuffed monkey).  Thus, while it is easier to get a majority of elephants (2 will guarantee a majority), they only earn you 3 points while getting more of the 10 monkey tokens than anyone else will earn you 10 bonus points at the end.  (Ties go to no one.)  This gives the game much of its strategy.  If you draw an elephant, there is almost no reason to stop – since there will at most only be 2 more in the bag.  Drawing a monkey, however, can be more dangerous since there are up to 9 more waiting in the bag, just hoping to cancel out your turn.

The monkey chips also come with a special ability.  One can use monkeys as normal, and collect all monkeys showing on other players’ chip piles, OR a drawn monkey can be forcibly traded for any single chip exposed on another player’s pile.  I find particular pleasure in doing such a trade, then heading back to the bag to draw another chip in hopes of finding another monkey tile (and thus stealing back the monkey I just traded away!)  But that’s just my evilness coming to the front.

For a push-your-luck game there is a surprising amount of strategy present.  Players stack a turn’s chips in any order before placing it on top of their pile.  This can be important, as animals of the same type can be stolen in one swoop (if the top two chips are wild dogs and someone draws a dog chip, you would loose both dog chips off your stack…)  I find most of my “longer team” strategies rely on going towards those bonus points at the end of the game.  Sure, I could trade a drawn monkey for a rare, exposed elephant chip but the 10 point bonus for most monkeys is far greater than the lowly 3 point bonus for elephants.

It is these types of decisions that make the game for a mixed group of players.  New gamers can pick up and run with the game in minutes, having a blast.  Meanwhile, more experienced gamers have plenty of significant decisions that can be made throughout the game.  Sure, there is some randomness, but it is the rare game where I can point and accuse the game of denying me any real choices.  In most cases I can point to a few poor choices or moments where I was simply too greedy.  Cheeky Monkey appeals to such a diverse crowd, it will not be leaving my game collection in the forseeable future.  The new “fancy” stuffed monkey packaging makes it even easier to bring out and draw new players in.  I just wish I knew what happened to that poor monkey’s legs….?

Cheeky Monkey Gryphon

Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers

Nathan Beeler: Cheeky Monkey is a fantastic lunch time game: it’s short, fun, accessible to non-gamers, and has just enough skill involved to keep it interesting.  It feels a little clunky, which is what keeps it swinging on slightly lower branches for me than a true beast like Can’t Stop.  But as a cheekier person than me might say, I’d happily whip it out anytime.

W. Eric Martin: I’d happily whip it out anytime. I’d also being willing to play Cheeky Monkey as the game can be explained in two minutes and played in five to ten. The press-your-luck heart for this game is so pure that non-gamers have no trouble understanding how to play and it takes only a single turn for the light to go on. That doesn’t mean they play well, mind you, and luck can easily stab someone repeatedly, leaving them with no chips in play – which means they get desperate and tend to fail again since they’re pushing for more, but so be it.

I have only two problems with the game:
1. Sometimes the endgame is (relatively) slow as the bag will contain, say, five chips with two pairs among them. One player will draw a matching set, then another one will, then another one, and it feels a bit repetitive until folks finally realize why the “if you have chips of only one type, you can stuff them on the bottom of your stack” rule exists. Then you just take one, stuff it, and move on – which still feels a tad odd as you’re settling for less than you might get, but again the game is short and not every game ends like this.

2. My rules editing credit from the days of Face2Face Games was removed in the 2012 Gryphon Games edition. Sacrilege!

Jeff Allers: For all the reasons already mentioned, this is one of my favorite fillers for large groups of gamers or those not familiar with hobby games. It’s like Pickomino without the dice, or Diamant (Incan Gold) without the, um, diamonds. It’s not perfect, as Eric mentions, but definitely deserves to stay in print.

Ratings Review from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!  Matt Carlson, W. Eric Martin
I like it.  Nathan Beeler, Jeff Allers
Not for me…

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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