Wednesday, 24 February 2016


Plays: 4Px2, 3Px1.

The Game

Only when I started to write about Coconuts did I realise it is currently ranked number 1 in the children's game category on BGG.

The core of the game is just this - you use a toy catapult (in the shape of a monkey) to project coconut-shaped rubber balls into plastic cups. With four players, you set up the game as above. Nine stack of cups in the middle, some consisting of only one cup, and some two. Each player has his own player board. On your turn, you launch a coconut, and if it lands in a cup, you claim that cup and place it on your player board.

There is a difference between red and yellow cups. If you score a red cup, you get an extra turn.

At the start of the game, everyone draws two cards. During the game you can play these cards to help yourself or to interfere with an opponent. The first card in this photo forces an opponent to launch his coconut with eyes closed. The second card lets you blow at a coconut launched by an opponent to try to deflect it.

Cups you win need to be stacked in a 3-2-1 pyramid formation. The moment you complete the pyramid, you win. However opponents can try to launch coconuts into your pyramid-in-progress. If they succeed, they take your cup from you, setting you back.

One important rule is once a coconut lands in a cup, it is not taken out. If all coconuts are used up (i.e. they are all in cups), the game ends. This is an alternative ending. Whoever has the most coconuts at that point wins. So coconuts are victory points. In this photo, cups with two or more coconuts mean more than one player has scored them, i.e. they have changed hands due to competition between players.

Chen Rui (right) is aiming at my cups.

The Play

This is such a simple game, yet it is also such pure joy. The catapult is not very precise. Sometimes the launched coconut veers to one side. Controlling the distance, i.e. how far to pull back before launching, is not easy either. Even if you get the coconut into a cup, it may bounce out, because it's rubber. And then sometimes after it bounces out it lands in another cup. The catapult makes you feel there is skill involved and yet sometimes the outcome seems random. You just do your best and hope for the best. It gives all players the perfect excuse - when you score a cup you congratulate yourself on your skill; when you fail, you console yourself saying it's just a little bad luck.

The game can be quite competitive and confrontational, since you can take aim at others' cups. A leading player easily becomes public enemy number 1. However targeting others' cups is often harder than targeting neutral cups, because they are usually further away, and sometimes they are stacked higher.

The fact that some cups may contain more than one coconut creates incentives for players to target these cups. The red cups are also more attractive. Not all cups are equal.

Scoring a cup is exhilarating, because it's not easy to do. This is more scoring a goal in football (soccer) than scoring in basketball. You want to stand up to do a fist pump. When I played with my wife and kids, we played three games straight.

In one of our games, a coconut fell into Chen Rui's milkshake. My first response was to ask her to finish it quickly so that I could retrieve the coconut. Chen Rui, without thinking, quickly obeyed. My wife Michelle gave me a what-the-hell look and said y u do dis. The coconut has passed through the hands of many customers and has probably rolled on the floor and under the sofa many times too. Who knows where else it has been. This is why mothers don't trust their husbands with their children.

Quite a few times one of our coconuts bounced off the table and flew towards the next table, and we had to trouble our neighbours to help us get the wayward coconut.

I had collected four cups, and now Chen Rui was targeting me.

You win when you claim your sixth cup to complete the pyramid.

One of the cards forces an opponent to make a long-distance shot.

This is one very lively game.

Scoring is a great feeling.

The Thoughts

I enjoyed Coconuts tremendously, and so did my children. It was better than I had expected. I can't really explain why a game based on launching balls into cups can be so engaging. I know there is competition between players. I know it is a race. I know there are game elements that make some cups more valuable than others. Yet all of these on their own don't explain why the game is so much fun. The game is more than the sum of its parts. The whole thing comes alive when everything clicks together.

Coconuts is not only a children's game. It is also a party game, and a family game. It reminds me of Loopin' Louie, which is also very simple. It's a good change of pace for hardcore gamers. Sometimes one needs to take a break from heavy strategy games and just have some silly fun and relax.

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