It was about three o' clock in the afternoon when I decided I would surprise the hipsters at my art school. We were just chilling outside, relaxin' all cool, until I suggested we play Barrel Of Monkeys outside of the school.
Out of the woodwork, after one of the guys announced he was bored - I just randomly put it out there: "Wanna play Barrel Of Monkeys?" - to which Derek replied "What the f*** man? You serious?"
"Dead serious." - I said. I pulled out the blue plastic barrel and he was just standing there with an open jaw.
"What is that manbag of yours, some kind of Batman utility belt?" - he said.
"You know it." - I said. Another random dude walked past who was baffled at the scene of grown men setting up what is widely regarded to be a children's board game.
But it's more than that. It's actually fun and portable - making it feasible to play in random situations such as this. The game itself is a linking game where you link the monkeys arms together. Seems simple enough until you realise you're supposed to link them without dropping them. You're allowed to move the monkeys but not hold them - so take advantage of this ruling on the one page of instructions unless you want hours of abysmal futility. It's loads of fun, especially if you're a board game masochist who expects a challenge from their game. Even better - the game can be played alone - but you'd have to be a real hardcore masochist for that.We set up the game and nobody could yet link up all the monkeys without dropping them.
That's the thing about Barrel of Monkeys - the cryptic old saying "More fun than a Barrel of Monkeys" implies either the game is not as fun as it looks - or there was something about that freaking game man was not meant to know. It's a really simple game with no parts bloat - in fact it's one of the simplest non-card game board games you can buy on the cheap. Its mystery really lies in how the game plays out - the hidden key is to not get frustrated or your hand gets sloppier and you drop the monkeys.
I thought that against the shaky - caffeine addicted hands of the art school hipsters I played with - I was a shoe in for winning this game. I was mistaken - even when not on a coffee high this game is a challenge - don't let its kiddie-friendly reputation fool you - this game is about as hard as your average Quick Play round of Talisman.
The actual moulding of the monkey pieces provided with the game make it very easy to pick up monkeys lying on top of each other - but mindbendingly insanity inciting when the final two monkeys stand alone. This is a game that has a family games reputation - but I think it's one of the most challenging and rewarding party games I've ever played. Like Operation - the game operates on pure skill. Sometimes you'll just get into a Zen calm that wins you the game - other times you'll be too frustrated to even link more than three monkeys without dropping them.
The average game of Barrel of Monkeys is supposed to take ten minutes. With grown men who think they are too hip as daddy-o's for a children's board game - the underestimation of the game's difficulty can lead to your opponent's downfall. You have to respect the game for you to win it. Otherwise the game won't respect you.
I eventually won the game playing against my First Year Integration helper and his girlfriend. The game took us an hour and a half for anybody to get remotely close to winning. About half an hour in there's a certain nihilism that sets in where you hope somebody will win - not because you're bored - but because if nobody can win then the game wins over a human being - and that's just depressing. Lucky I did win, because I would have been late for class.
Jacob Martin is a member of Fortress Ameritrash.