By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on May 24, 2018
Welcome to the jungle, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Please keep your arms and legs inside of the vehicle at all time, because dangerous creatures roam these dense forests. Now, not a lot of people know this, but the single most nefarious and aggravating creature that lives here is... the common louse!
Take, for instance, the monkeys in the trees up there. Do you think they want to run around screaming all day long? No sir, it's the lecherous lice that make them do this! This jungle is experiencing an itchy infestation like no one has seen before. Yes, it's true, we've seen lice in the past, but nowhere as serious as we're experiencing now! Because the lice are back, and this time, they're organized and ready to claim as much territory as they possibly can!
Now, as you might suspect, we're not really in the jungle. So, why would I make it seem as though we were? Well, all of this deception was necessary to set the scene for the latest game by Dutch game developer, Black Box Adventures. After going on vacation with dictators in Revenge of the Dictators and duking it out with the deep sea creatures in Frutti di Mare, they thought it would be a great idea to set their sights somewhat higher and took to the trees. We might never know what exactly happened to them in the jungle but, whatever it was, it inspired them to make a tactical board game for up to four players, which is all about Saucey Simians and Combatting Cooties. Get ready to get itchy with Itchy Monkey!
In Itchy Monkey, you command you're very own squad of tough and power mad lice and set out to claim as many monkeys for your own as you possibly can. So, how can you claim a monkey as your own? That's easy; just get three of your worker lice on the same monkey and you'll have a colony. If you have a colony on any monkey, you may call that monkey your own... for now! Because the other players also have an small army of lice at their disposal and will not hesitate to knock your lice right off the monkey's fur, given the chance!
Let's start at the beginning. The double-sided board of Itchy Monkey features a dense jungle backdrop, complete with hanging vines and round spaces, some of them with colored flowers depicted on them. Now, these colored flowers are very important, because they denote where your various simians will start off. Where they end up, however, is another story all together; the end station of these monkeys is entirely up to you, but more about that later on! Why a double-sided board, I hear you ask? Well, because Itchy Monkey can be played with as little as two players as well as up to four players, there's one side that accommodates the two or three player variant, while the other side is suited to play the three or four player version of the game. So, choose your side, place the correct monkeys on the corresponding flowers and get ready to rumble... I mean itch!
Each player receives twenty-three wooden tokens that represent his or her lice There are three taller tokens; these represent your Queen lice, which we will talk about in a bit. The twenty smaller tokens make up the largest part of your army: the worker lice. Whichever player can do the best monkey impression, may start the game. Starting with the first player and continuing in a clockwise fashion, each player may, in their first turn, spawn one Queen louse, along with two worker lice on a monkey of their choice, provided no other player has placed his or her lice there already. Also, they may not place their lice on any monkey that is in the direct vicinity of, or in a straight line with, other monkeys with lice on them. After every player has spawned their first contingent of battle-ready bugs, the game of ape annexation can begin!
Each turn, a player must do two things: spawn more lice and perform an action. You may spawn a number of lice on any monkey, currently occupied by one or more of your lice. If you have only worker lice on a certain monkey, you may spawn one worker louse on that particular monkey. If you have one or more Queen lice on a monkey, you may spawn an additional worker louse per Queen. If, for instance, you have two Queen lice on a monkey, you may spawn three worker lice. If you have lice on multiple monkeys, you will have to choose one monkey on which you will spawn new lice. You may not place lice on more than one monkey per turn. If you have a total of six worker lice on a monkey, you may exchange these workers for one Queen louse.
After placing your lice, it's on to the second part of your turn: the action phase! In a turn, you can perform one of three possible actions: Jump, Bump or Nitpicking. Let's look at them one at a time, shall we?
When you choose to use the Jump action, you may move one of your lice to an adjacent monkey, provided this monkey is not occupied by another player's lice.
Being lice, your troops can tickle a monkey they occupy, which makes it move. You may move your monkey any number of spaces along a straight horizontal or vertical line. If your monkey collides with another monkey, you may move any number of lice to that monkey. If the monkey you collide with is occupied by an opponent's lice, you may only move your lice if you have an equal or higher number of lice than your opponent. In the event of a tie, both players' lice are taken off the board. When you have more lice than your opponent, his or her lice are removed and you may move your lice to the monkey they previously occupied. You may also choose to move no number of lice to the other monkey, but simply block off that monkey's movement options.
If another player has five or more lice on any one monkey, you may use your Nitpicking action. This means that you may clear that monkey of all of your opponents lice, even if you are not in the vicinity of that monkey.
After you've completed your action, your turn ends. For an even greater challenge, you make use of special Monkey powers and really get this monkey business started! To do so, you can flip over the monkey tokens, so that their special abilities become visible. Every type of monkey on the board has their own special ability, which is listed in the Itchy Monkey manual:
When moving the Spider Monkey, you may skip over one horizontally or vertically adjacent monkey and continue your movement in that direction. You can bump into another monkey after skipping over the adjacent monkey.
Whenever you use jump, you can move two of your lice to the horizontally or vertically adjacent monkey. All limitations concerning lice of opponents still apply.
Whenever you want to spawn new lice on a Mandrill where you already have lice, you can spawn two new lice if there is no Queen present. If there is one Queen, you can still only spawn two new lice.
When you have no more Queen on the game board, you may exchange three of your Worker lice on a Lemur for a new Queen.
After spawning new lice, you may push a horizontally or vertically adjacent monkey and move it up to two spots away. You can still move after using this ability.
Now, I can hear you wondering: "That's all well and good, but games were designed to win! So, pray tell, how do I win this awesome game?" Well, that is "simple", my friends. A player wins when they have a colony (a minimum of three worker lice per monkey) on:
5 different types of monkeys
4 of the same type of monkey
So, if you have managed to fulfill one of the above challenges, you may call yourself the true King or Queen of the jungle! This sounds easier than it is, because you're not the only one who wants the crown. The other players will try to thwart your plans in every way possible, so you'll have to be on your guard the entire time!
After playing a few rounds of Itchy Monkey with game guru and adventurer extraordinaire, Black Box Adventures' very own Bas Damoiseaux, I must honestly say that I love the fast-paced and thoroughly challenging gameplay, as well as the really cool artwork of the game board and the monkey tokens. It's one of those games that are easy to pick up, but in no way simple to win (depending, of course, against who you play). You can play it if you're looking for a quick and fun game, but also when you're looking for a decent tactical challenge; Itchy Monkey works both ways!
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; there are simply no two ways about it: Itchy Monkey is an excellent game of Saucey Simians and Combatting Cooties. The gameplay is fun and challenging and the game looks really good. In short: this truly is one awesome itch you definitely will not want to scratch... because it feels sooooo good!
If you wish to know more about this awesome game (and you know you want to!), just visit the Itchy Monkey Kickstarter page or the Black Box Adventures website and discover everything there is to know about Itchy Monkey and Black Box Adventures! As for me, I'm off, back to the jungle to command my army of lice and lead them to certain victory!
Black Box Adventures
Designer: Allan Kirkeby
Artwork: Maarten de Schrijver
Players: 2 - 4 players, ages 8 & up
Playtime: approx. 15 - 45 minutes