Friday, July 16, 2010

Board Game Review - Monkey Lab

There's something about a game that includes monkey madcap adventure that screams 'Play Me!' Seriously, monkeys are fun. That's why Speed Racer had Chim Chim and The Man in the Yellow Hat had bleeding ulcers. Even the Murders in the Rue Morgue were more fun because the killer was an ape. Heck, look at 28 Days Later - throw a monkey into something, and it's instantly more entertaining.

In Monkey Lab, you're all genetically altered monkeys who are bound and determined to free their friends who are still locked up in the lab. You dress in ninja garb and sneak into the lab, using tools at your disposal to open cages and free your banana-loving comrades. You'll swing from electrical cables, bash things with boxes, and fight the other ninja monkeys with scalpels (and a monkey with a scalpel seems pretty intimidating. I would be scared of a monkey with a scalpel).

The theme of Monkey Lab is a hoot, though I don't think it translates to the board very well. This is mostly a maneuvering game where you try to get different objects into the various rooms to score points for freeing the caged monkeys. It's not that it's bad - it's actually clever and a little cute. It's just that I never really felt like I was a monkey ninja. A monkey logistics coordinator, maybe, but not a ninja.

A smart combination of limited actions and special card actions makes Monkey Lab an interesting game, even if it's not a mind-blowing must-have. You might move, check out a box, and then grab an item you need, or you might shag it across the board to be close to an opponent when he opens a box. Because you can score by being around when another player grabs some points, there are a variety of strategies that could grant success. You might focus on beating everyone else to the pieces you need, or you might just hang on coattails and earn your points by helping your opponents score. You can also send the idiot security guard to slow down a particularly irritating monkey foe, a move that could be anything from slightly irritating to downright nasty.

The problem with Monkey Lab is that it doesn't take advantage of the fact that you've got monkeys. If I play a game with monkeys, I want unpredictable hijinks, not carefully planned moves meant to optimize scoring opportunities. It's not that Monkey Lab isn't a good game, because we did find it enjoyable, and I would definitely play it again. It's just that it's too dry for a game with monkeys. I wanted to pull cheeky grins before punching a grown man in the privates.

The pieces in the box do everything possible to make the theme come to life. The monkeys are brightly colored, specially sculpted figures that are delightful little monkey ninjas. The security guard is a hefty plastic goober. The art is fun, and the production is excellent.

I don't think I would take Monkey Lab to a room full of drunk buddies bent on playing games that make them either laugh or punch somebody, but Monkey Lab is still a good game. It's got long-term planning, problem-solving, and tricky decisions. The pieces are delightful, the art is cartoony cute, and the game play is fast and fun.

It's just too bad I never got to fling poo.


Interesting and fairly engaging
Cute art and great pieces

A little dry, especially for a game with monkey ninjas

If you're looking for a good family game that everyone at the table can enjoy, you should run over to Dogstar Games and pick up Monkey Lab:

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