Behold, the Phthiraptera in its natural habitat, also known as the common louse or head lice. The lice live on the monkeys, and the monkeys eat the lice. Although its quite a nasty symbiosis, its also a perfect example of something we refer to as the circle of life beautiful!
In Itchy Monkey, several families of lice try to become the more dominant type. Each turn, you spawn new lice and jump over to nearby monkeys. Alternatively you can tickle the monkey, which makes it move and bump into other monkeys. That way more of your little friends can jump over! But beware of your rival families because nobody likes nit picking. The family lice that can build a colony on three gorillas, four of the same animal, or five different species of monkeys wins!
Itchy Monkey is an easy to learn, but very strategic and tactical game, with various starting positions, optional abilities, and a fair amount of monkey business...
Black Box Adventures is a company we came across at UKGE in Birmingham this year. Their games are quirky and very attractive. The main tenant of Itchy Monkey is that each player is a family of lice. The aim is to colonise a particular arrangement of monkeys to win the game.
It is suitable for those over eight and we played it with our 12-year-old daughter. We have also had a few games as a two – and it does not suffer on the two-player version.
The game board consists of two sides depending how many players there are. The monkeys are set out in the arrangement specified for that particular board by the flowers. Each player gets a family of lice. For the first stage of playing, this is all that is needed.
As a player, you need to pick where your louse will start. This is something which will really affect your gameplay, but at the beginning, it will be potluck. You place the one queen louse and one worker louse.
There is a more complex version of the game if you turn the monkeys over, where they get additional special powers. Added to this, you can use the Emperor Tamarin monkey who can harness other monkey powers. I would recommend you get the hang of the basic game first.
The person to start is meant to be the one who does the best imitation of an itchy monkey. For families especially this can be an additional cause of hilarity – I would suggest keeping your clothes on though!
There are two phases to each move: spawning and moving.
To spawn, you pick a monkey. The amount you spawn depends on the number of queens you have on that Monkey. If there are no queens you spawn one worker, one queen spawns two workers and so on.
Secondly, you move. There are three moves you can make; jump, bump or nit picking. When you jump, you move one of your lice, worker or queen onto an adjacent monkey. If the monkey is occupied, you can try to overpower the current colony which sends them scurrying home.
To bump you pick a monkey occupied by you and move it in a straight line vertically or horizontally until it bumps into another monkey. At this stage you can move any number of your lice there and if it is occupied you can overpower as before.
Finally, you can nit-pick. If someone has five or more worker lice on a monkey you can remove all of their lice from that monkey and return it to them.
To win the game you need to colonise any of the three patterns: a colony on three gorillas, a colony of four monkeys the same, or a colony of all five different monkeys. To classify as a colony it must have three worker lice on it.
The components in Itchy Monkey are cute. There are no two ways about it. The monkeys are cartoonish, the Mandrill being my favourite. This is why it is so funny that the game actually centres on lice.
No cartoon lice are available – these are wooden pegs – I think for obvious reasons. There are sufficient bags in the box to pack everything away, which is a feature we always appreciate.
There are several ways to play Itchy Monkey. There is a list in the instructions of variations you can add by adding additional special abilities in. We have not played it enough with the child yet to go down that route with her but in a two-player game it worked well and brought the game to a different level.
Other variations include confiscating the lice that you oust by bumping and nit picking. There is also an expansion pack available that contains spy lice or you can reverse play and play from the point of view of the monkey.
Interactions and Engagement
Warning! Itchy Monkey can cause arguments and general grumpiness! There were cries of ‘you’re picking on me’ when bumping into others monkeys or when nit picking. I kept trying to be nice about it but in the end, you need to bump to win. Generally, the nit picking did not happen much once we had the hang of it because you would not want to expose yourself to having all your hard work undone.
One of the problems I anticipated was that if everyone used the same tactic every time then the game would quickly become formulaic. However, after repeated plays this does not seem the case. There is always an urge to shake it up a little trying out new positions and tactics mean that the game play length and your satisfaction in your moves varies. This is especially true once you start using the special powers of the different monkeys.
Final Thoughts on Itchy Monkey
The strapline for Itchy Monkey is: "Easy to learn but hard to master." That is definitely true. The ability to add complexity to the base game, and to experiment with different strategies means that the possibilities are endless.
It has made me keen to try their other games; we did also try Frutti di Mare at the expo, which we enjoyed as well – although we were not as sure about its replay value.