Those cheeky monkeys are always getting into trouble. And there are so many of them! Whenever they show up, you know that mischief can’t be far behind.
How It Works
Cheeky Monkey is a press-your-luck game for two to six players. Players are trying to amass the most points by drawing chips from a bag and knowing when to stop. The player with the most points wins.
To begin, the chips are placed in the bag and mixed. The animal cards are placed in the center of the table. The number on each indicates the number of that type of chip in the bag and also how many points that tile is worth at the end of the game. Play begins.
On a turn, players will draw chips from the bag until either they choose to stop or they are forced to stop. If a drawn chip matches a chip already in front of the player, the player has to throw all the chips in front of them back into the bag. Otherwise, if the chip matches the top chip of any other players’ stacks, all players give their matching chips to the player. The player can keep drawing, endangering their gains, or stop, placing all chips in front of them onto their stack.
If a drawn chip is a cheeky monkey, the player has an additional option: instead of taking all the monkeys on top of other players’ stacks, the player may swap the cheeky monkey for any player’s top chip.
If all chips in front of a player are the same animal, the player may instead put those chips below their stack instead of on top.
The game ends once all chips have been drawn from the bag. Whoever has the most chips of each animal type claims the card showing that animal (and the corresponding points), and each chip in their stack is worth a point. The player with the most points wins.
When I first played Cheeky Monkey several years ago, I didn’t see the point. I’m a Reiner Knizia fanboy, and even I wasn’t taken by this quick press-your-luck game. “Why would I ever choose this,” I said, “when Circus Flohcati is an option?”
What can I say? Tastes change. People change. Circumstances change. And perhaps most notably, children get older. As such, I now see the greatness in Cheeky Monkey.
Cheeky Monkey is a stripped-down press-your-luck game with a light and inoffensive theme, and for that it makes a wonderful kids game. The rules are simple enough for my five-year-old to grasp, and the trappings and personalities of different animals are enough to keep her attention.
But the real star here is the luck-pressing, which is facilitated in Cheeky Monkey through pulling tokens from a bag. Now, earlier I said Circus Flohcati, another Knizia luck-pusher, is the better game, and I would still say that’s the case. But it’s undeniable that pulling a heavy token from a bag is more exciting than flipping a card from a deck. And that tactile flair is exactly what draws my kids to the game.
That, and the joy of taking tokens from other players’ stacks and seeing them go bust.
(And they don’t realize this, but it’s also a good lesson for them: they get to see how adults handle having things taken from them in a game, and when their luck runs out, they have an opportunity to respond in kind.)
Cheeky Monkey, as a press-your-luck game, also has some natural balancing. Because it is a game of probabilities, there’s some skill involved, and older players will usually do well. But as anyone who has seen their grand army fall to an inferior rival in Risk will tell you, probabilities are one thing; actualities are something else. Adults, forearmed with all the probabilistic thinking on their side, can still draw the wrong token at the wrong time, and children, blissfully unaware, can follow their gut to victory.
While this may limit Cheeky Monkey’s appeal at game night, it makes it an ideal family game. That being said, I think it’s a decent filler even for game night, as long as the crowd is right. Especially with the special rules about cheeky monkeys and putting chips on the bottom of your stack, there’s enough that’s clever in the game to make this an interesting diversion, even for a group of adults, and the game is so fast that it’s over before players can become annoyed at the swings of luck.
The components vary from edition to edition. I have the boxed first edition, with thick and sturdy chips and a nice draw bag (that isn’t shaped like a monkey). Later editions have switched to monkey-bag storage; thinner, stickered tokens; and even, in the latest bookshelf edition, thick punchboard tokens. I’m not sure how these changes affect the experience of a game whose enjoyment is in no small way tactile. All I can say is, I’m very pleased with the quality of the components in the edition I have. That being said, there are several typographical errors in the animal information on the back of the tiles. This doesn’t affect play, but it does mean that the game as loose educational tool doesn’t quite work in my copy. (This is fine with me, but it’s worth being aware of.)
Cheeky Monkey is a short, simple press-your-luck game that knows what it’s about and won’t outstay its welcome. It’s simple enough a five-year-old can understand it, but clever enough that a thirty-five-year-old can appreciate it. If you’re in the market for a game the whole family can enjoy, Cheeky Monkey just might be top banana.