While playing Logistico at the Spiele Faire, my good friends Magnus and Sus Lundgren of Sweden introduced me to Peter Hansson. Peter had just designed a new card game and was attempting to promote it at the Faire. He graciously gave me a copy with the request that I play and review it. I must admit that I was immediately taken aback by the title: Spank the Monkey. I asked Peter if he knew that in America (and perhaps other places) this phrase was a euphemism for, well, a male solitary sexual act. He did and apparently thought using this phrase as the name for the game would be fun. Hmmm …
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Still, I had an obligation to play the game, so late one night at our hotel in Dusseldorf, I opened the package and read the rules. I must admit … I was pleasantly surprised. There seemed to be a decent game inside the package. My expectations were raised even higher by the professional appearance of the artwork and packaging. This certainly didn’t seem like a silly design with poor production qualities. It actually appeared that the game just might be fun.
First, let me state that I will resist the nearly overwhelming temptation to resort to innuendo, puns and sophomoric humor when describing the game. The theme centers around a pesky monkey that has taken-up residence in the friendly confines of a junkyard. The boss has charged his employees with ridding the yard of this nuisance. Unfortunately, the monkey is keen on climbing high atop junk piles, so the only way to reach him is to construct towers of junk, attempting to reach the rude beast and soundly spank him, thereby winning the favor of the appreciative boss. Of course, competition to be the first to reach and spank the monkey is fierce, so the employees also will attempt to tear down the towers of their opponents. Nasty work.
The deck of 120 cards depicts a variety of junk, which will be stacked atop each other in the construction of the towers. Each piece of junk may also be reinforced with special “reinforcement” cards. Of course, there is also a wide selection of items that can be used to attack opponents towers, including boomerangs, bowling balls, anvils and the like. Fear not, though, as there are also numerous items that can be used for defense against such vile attacks, including Styrofoam cartons, tennis rackets and even force fields.
The game begins with the primate perched atop a pile of junk at a height somewhat randomly determined. The monkey will move up and/or down during the course of the game according to instructions on many of the cards. We also play with an optional rule wherein players roll after each turn, with the monkey moving up one level on a roll of a ‘6’ or down one level with the roll of a ‘1’. The monkeys height is tracked on a special card. Sadly, there is no monkey token included in the box.
Each player receives five cards to form his starting hand. On each turn, a player follows the following sequence:
1) Draw cards. A player draws 2 cards if he has 4 or less cards in his possession, and one card if he possesses five or more cards.
2) Build. The player may add one item of junk to his tower. Each junk card not only depicts fun artwork displaying the actual piece of junk, but also lists its strength and the number of levels it adds to the tower, which ranges from 1 – 6. Many cards also have special actions that occur when played, or trigger certain events when attacked or destroyed.
The player may also play a reinforcement card, which adds to the strength value of the piece of junk to which it is assigned.
3) Attack. The player may attack as many times as he desires, but needs an attack card to do so. Attacks target specific pieces of junk in an opponent’s tower and is resolved by adding the strength of the attack card to a die roll and comparing this to the defense value of the targeted piece of junk. If the result is greater than or equal to the defense value, the targeted junk is destroyed and removed from the opponent’s tower. This can cause a collapse effect, quite possibly destroying further segments of the tower or perhaps the entire tower itself.
Attacks come in three varieties: hand, throwing or special. The hand attacks are the most restrictive and can only be targeted against junk that is at the same height as your tower.
4) Spank the Monkey. If your tower is at the same or greater height than the current level of the monkey, you can attempt to spank it. A roll of 2 – 6 will succeed if you are at the same height, with the chances decreasing with each higher level. Spank the Monkey and you win.
5) Discard. The player may discard up to two cards per turn. Although there is no hand limit, it is often wise to discard cards you don’t need in order to get your hand to four or less cards. This will allow you to draw two cards on your next turn.
There are other facets to the game as well. Each piece of junk belongs to a particular category, such as ornaments, furniture, vehicle, etc. Certain reinforcement cards provide increased strength to certain categories of junk, while certain attacks are more or less effective depending upon the type of junk it is used against. There are also numerous optional rules to add further twists to the game.
The game reminds me of Friedemann Friese’s Wucherer (Landlord). Players play cards to build their towers (apartments in Landlord) and then attack their opponents towers (apartments). Like Landlord, the game is filled with fun occurrences and unexpected twists. One’s towers are always in peril and careful planning can quickly be upset. The game seems to be designed for fun, free-wheeling play, with a decidedly “Take that!” attitude. Our group enjoyed it so much that we played it three times in succession, and it proved equally as popular with a different group on a subsequent playing.
The challenge for many will be getting past the name. My advice: get past it. Hidden behind a dubious name choice is a game that is fun to play. No, it won’t set any new records for strategy or depth, but certainly will bring a new level of appreciation to the possibilities inherent in junkyards.
Jim, Keith and I played three games. Our first game was over very quickly, with my rapid construction of a tower thanks to a lengthy flagpole. The monkey had descended a few levels, allowing me to promptly spank the beast. Our second and third games lasted considerably longer, with the monkey climbing as high as the 20th level during the third game before finally being spanked at level 14. The longest game was about 30 minutes, so the monkey does not wear out his welcome.
Game 1: Greg
Game 2: Keith
Game 3: Greg
Ratings: Greg 7, Jim 7, Keith 6.5