Programming games have an established tradition in the hobby, from Richard Garfield's seminal RoboRally (Wizards of the Coast) up to more recent titles like Space Alert (CGE), Colt Express (Ludonaute) and Mechs vs Minions (Riot Games); these games leverage the 'programming' angle for fun, without further pretensions. Recently, though, some games have been released which fully intend to be used as semi-educational coding and programming primers: Robot Turtles (ThinkFun/Korea Boardgames) was a great success when my son was younger (4-7). It's into this niche that Tyto Games have released Code Monkey: Going Bananas, serving also as a gateway to the Codemonkey educational software platform.
Designed by Sharon Katz and with very cute art, Code Monkey: Going Bananas is for 2-4 players of ages 7+ and plays in around 20-30 minutes. Upon opening the small, square box, you'll first notice the gorgeous trees and monkeys which, along with the somewhat plainer three-hex tiles, form the mainstay of gameplay. After setting up a spindly jungle map, players simultaneously roll their dice and prepare to run.
Always in the game are Down and Swing programming tiles, while the Loop can be added if you feel your little monkey can cope with it. To program your turn, a tile, die, or even a tile and die must be placed in each of the three spaces of the player’s CodePanel. Movement matches die pips but can be augmented with a Swing through trees; climbing is a case of coding a ‘7nana’ - die face plus numbered hex equals seven - on a hex next to a Banana Tree; the Loop lets you rerun the round’s preceding program.
When all are done, the programs are revealed and, from the first player, executed in order. As two monkeys can’t occupy the same space, blocking is possible - accidentally or otherwise - as is grabbing the last banana in a tree. The trees themselves are numbered and, when a monkey takes a banana from a tree, the player also takes a matching number token; they must visit a different tree before taking fruit here again. This continues until all bananas are gathered; the player with the most wins.
Also available In the basic game are Traps, which can be laid after completing a 7nana to slow other monkeys down and make them lose a collected banana. Two further modules give more variety: Missions create a sequence of Banana Trees that a monkey must gather from, while Magnetic Magic Cards add a one-off mystery 'take that' from all opponent players by booby trapping an unknown Banana Tree per player.
Code Monkey: Going Bananas works at its fundamental level of making players plan - program - their move using the dice and action tokens. Its simplicity works but does have drawbacks. At two players it can be the case that there is little interaction and both get six bananas without slipping up; this is less likely with more players. However, something that remains true at the majority of the game’s ‘levels’ of play is that bad dice rolls can be the biggest factor in winning or losing; just using two dice often means waiting around near a tree, especially later in a game, hoping for the right roll. This is mitigated by adding the optional third die in from the get go.
While the Loop adds to the game by injecting more depth and options, the Traps feel like they are overly complicated for the effect they have and maintenance they require. The Missions are fine; but the Magnetic Cards are irksome: the magnets kept slipping, though that might just have been an artefact of our pre-production review copy.
Code Monkey: Going Bananas comes in an appropriately little box for little gamers. Teaching coding/programming in a fun environment is a laudable aim and certainly Code Monkey: Going Bananas is unobtrusively didactic to the point that kids will have fun without noticing they're 'learning'. That said, it has more of a puzzle feel to it as the primary race game strategy is to block other players, which might lead to coping issues; albeit that's another skill worth learning, too. So, throw in that third die, perhaps give younger kids a reroll per round, and let them Go Bananas over programming.
(Review by David Fox)