Coconuts

Dexterity – 2-4 players – 15 mins – Ages 3+ – Korea Board Games

Ever since I knew that I was going to be a parent, I have entertained fantasies of sitting down with my progeny teaching them all sorts of farcically abstract boardgames. There we’d all be, sitting round the gaming table, bathing in our brilliant family-ness happily playing some grotesquely complex Euro like say, Brass, with sons or daughters talking excitedly about future strategies the next day on the school run. One can dream eh?

Now my son is three, I’m happy to say that we are on that path, or sort of. My boardgames cupboard is unfortunately at the perfect height for him to open and peer into at will, lacking a childproof mechanism. Whilst he is thankfully past the stage of rendering chaotic entropy onto it, we do sometimes have scenarios like that of this morning, when I’m getting ready to take him to forest school at around 8 am. He triumphantly manages to pull out GMT’s latest opus Falling Sky out of the cupboard with élan, and then, having plonked it on the table with a questioning look in his eye, says “Can we play this Daddy?”

Attempts to play some of the more child-orientated games do hint at a bit more success. We last about 5 turns on Carcassonne or Forbidden Island before he gets bored and wants to play something else. But yes, before you start replying in earnest, I KNOW, HE’S ONLY THREE. This is true. He can’t read (yet) and can only count up to 20. It is obviously too much to expect him to be able to handle games of a certain complexity. I will have to be patient and wait until I can actually play meaningful boardgames with him – so I will have to suffer, by necessity, the crushing boredom of memory retention games offered by Orchard Toys and their ilk.

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But, wait, what’s this? A game with plastic toy monkeys, rubber balls shaped like coconuts and plastic cups? And where you are actively encouraged to steal from your opponents in order to prosper? REALLY?  Yes. Coconuts is a game with the potential to fill that huge hole that all boardgaming-mad parents have with their children between the age of say, 2 and 6.  Want an end to having your child frustratingly call time on your proceedings, a minute after you spent the previous ten setting it all up? Want a game that you can actually play properly with your child rather than having to let them win all the time?  Well read on, because there’s a good reason why this game occupies the #1 slot in the Kid’s games ranking on BGG.

The game itself is based loosely on the Chinese “Monkey” myth – except that it has coconuts in it and that’s where the link ends tenuously. What part of the Monkey myth entailed chucking coconuts over his head backwards into a plastic cup I’m not aware of, but yes I know, it’s a kid’s game, so there’s no need to buy that book on Chinese mythology to produce some sort of back story just yet. Accuracy is not important here.  Coconuts can be played with 2 to 4 persons, takes around 15 minutes to play and I can guarantee that everyone who sees this game will want to play it because it has just the right mix of robust components and hilarious chaos to make it fun for everyone.

First of all, there are the plastic monkeys themselves, which are solidly built and have that sort of cartoonish appeal in them that sees children’s eyes light up with glee when they see them. The aim of the game is to fire these coconuts (which have a rubbery sort of feel to them and look like slightly crooked maltesers) into plastic cups. Each player has a playing mat in front of them with spaces for the cups, which are obtained when you land a coconut in a cup. Once a player has built a pyramid of six cups, they are the winner. It’s as simple as that.  The cups are yellow and red in colour, with the latter scoring you another go if you manage to land a coconut in it. Depending on the number of players, the configuration of the cups will change. A little bit more sophistication to proceedings can be added through playing cards, which can hinder a chosen opponent, such as making them fire blind, or making them aim for a specific cup.

The real fun of the game though comes not only from the fun of landing a coconut in a cup, but from actively trying to steal from your opponents board in order to win. It’s this sort of tactical thinking that I feel should be encouraged in games aimed at children of this age. Instead of just being able to “block” someone, I do think to a certain extent that competitive thinking, whatever the consequences of a potential meltdown, are to be lauded. And as the game progresses, particularly with 3 or 4 players, as the number of “available” cups decreases, making successes harder to come by, this becomes a more viable option.

Furthermore, the relative randomness of the monkeys firing is fun in itself. Seeing your coconut bounce out of one cup and then circle precariously around the lid of another before ending up backspinning into another adds a frisson of excitement that is all too rare in most dexterity games aimed at this age bracket. My son is 3 1/2 and is able to beat me without any handicap on my effort, which makes it by far the most popular game in our household, and for good reason.  Minor strategic aspects of the game, such as not going for cups which have red ones underneath (thus allowing the possibility of a second go) and the general chaotic nature of play make Coconuts a standout title for children and one that all boardgaming families should own. At the time of writing the English language version is hard to find, but a German version by Pegasus Spiele, which is not language dependent, is readily available on Amazon.

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