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Subject: Boardgame Heaven reviews: Itchy Monkey (a Battle of Lice) rss

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Raymond Haaken
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ABOUT:

Itchy Monkey is the latest game by Black Box Adventures, who we know from Revenge of the Dictators and Frutti di Mare: Veni, Vidi, Antipasti!. It's designed by Allan Kirkeby. I had never heard of him, so I had no idea what to expect from this game.
The artwork is done by Maarten de Schrijver, who also illustrated and designed Frutti di Mare: Veni, Vidi, Antipasti!.



I saw this first at Zuiderspel 2018 in The Netherlands, where Black Box Adventures were demoing a few prototypes of the game. I recognized it as an abstract, and being an Ameritrash fan, I wasn't immediately drawn to it, even though the artwork is very good, and makes the game pop.
So we talked a bit at the convention, and I learned this was a very strategic game. They are going to fund this on Kickstarter starting May 24th 2018, so after I did an interview with them about the game for my report on the convention, they asked if I wanted to try the game, and perhaps do a video review for it that they could post on the Kickstarter page.

I always like to support indy publishers, so some time later, Bas contacted me, and soon after visited me at my home, where he explained the game to me, and we played a quick match, which I lost in about 10 minutes due to beginner's mistakes. But the game is incredibly easy to learn, as it has just a few rules, but it has quite a lot of strategic depth. So we played again, and having learned from my mistakes, I started thinking ahead more, and this time I won. It was an interesting game that lasted about 30 minutes. We played 2 more times, and recorded a playthrough as well.

THOUGHTS:

So, having played this a few times, I can certainly say I loved it!

* Illustrations: the game is colourful, and nicely illustrated, with all the round monkey tokens having very distinct colours and monkey designs. Easy to make out.

* Components: This was a prototype, but if it was an indication of the final product, I'd say it's going to be a well produced game, with thick monkey tokens, and bright wooden lice cilinders that are easy to see and pick up. Each player has 20 worker lice and 3 queens. There are 5 types on monkey in the game (5 Spider Monkeys, 5 Mandrills, 5 Orangutans, 5 Lemurs and 4 gorillas).

* Rules: like I said, the rules are dead simple (check the rules here). You need to colonize monkeys with your lice, and a colony consists of 3 lice. There are 5 types of monkeys in the game (with a possible 6th if the stretch goal in the KS campaign is reached, but that would replace one of the base 5 monkeys), and you win by either:
- having 3 or more lice on 5 different monkeys (out of 5)
- having 3 or more lice on 4 of the same monkeys (out of 5)
- having 3 or more lice on 3 gorillas (out of 4)
On your turn, you do 2 things:
1. you spawn lice: spawn 1 lice on any monkey that has your worker lice, OR 2 lice on a monkey that has your queen lice, OR 3 lice on a monkey with 2 of your queens, or 4 lice on a monkey with 3 of your queens.
2. you choose 1 action out of 3:
a. Jump: move 1 of your lice from a monkey to an adjacent monkey (only orthogonally).
b. Bump: move a monkey with your lice on it any number of spaces orthogonally. If you stop next to another monkey, you may bump it, and move any number of your lice onto the other monkey.
If that monkey has an opponent's lice on it, and you move lice onto it with a higher total strength than the opponent has (a worker lice has 1 strength, a queen has 2), you remove those lice from the monkey and return them to the player.
If an equal total strength is on a monkey, both parties are removed from the ape.
c. Nitpick: if another player has 5 or more worker lice (queens don't count) on it, you may remove ALL lice (with any queens) from that monkey and return them to the player. So be careful with leaving too many lice on a monkey!
And there's also a free action you can take: whenever you have 6 worker lice on a monkey, you can exchange them for a queen. So this can happen when you Bump into one of your own colonies and move enough lice over to have 6.

And that's all! You literally learn this in a few minutes, and you can start playing.

* Setup: Setup is simple: the board has circles on it, and some circles have flowers. There are 5 colours of flowers, and they correspond with the monkey tiles' colours, so you place them accordingly.

* Gameplay: The game can play fast, especially the first few turns, but you also need to pay attention to your opponent's lice placements. So after a few turns, you already need to plan ahead and analyse possible next moves your opponent and you can make. In that regard it's like chess. But with lice-ridden monkeys.
And it plays 2-4 players, so with 3 or 4 players it can get pretty thinky. I can imagine though, that with 3 or 4 players it's also a lot more chaotic and fun. With 2 players it's certainly a challenging abstract, and I enjoyed playing it so much, that after losing, I felt I wanted a rematch right away.

* Conclusion: I can honestly say that I feel this could be a big hit. I've played Santorini, and that game also has many of the same strengths Itchy Monkey has: simple rules, a cute theme, great artwork, deep strategy. I hope Black Box Adventures will have a very successfull Kickstarter campaign, and that this will fund on day 1, because this game deserves nothing but praise. Make sure you check it out on Kickstarter starting May 24th, watch the gameplay video, and support this indy game publisher.
If you missed out on Frutti Di Mare, there's going to be a pledge level that has both Itchy Monkey and Frutti Di Mare, so you can grab both at a great price.

Here's my playthrough video: video

I'll be adding this to my collection for sure! 9/10 a solid abstract strategy game that's super simple to learn but is certainly not simple to master.
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