Coconuts game has no business being as much fun as it is

Coconuts is a goofy dexterity game from South Korea that has no business being as much fun as it is. Jon Seagull says its appeal is a testament to the power of great product design.

By Jon Seagull

Coconuts (Mayday Games, 2-4 players, says ages 6+ on the box but really more like 3+) is goofy dexterity game from South Korea that has no business being as much fun as it is. Its appeal is a testament to the power of great product design.

Players use plastic catapults that look like monkeys to fling little rubber coconuts into a grid of plastic cups in the middle of the table. A successful shot enables you to claim that cup and move it in front of your monkey. First to get six cups wins, but you can steal other players' cups by landing a shot in them.

In other words, Beer Pong, or some midway game at a carnival. I'd played this game before. I wager you have, too. I think there's even most of the broken pieces of something similar sitting in an unloved corner of the toy chest around here.

Except the components are perfect. The monkey catapults are the Platonic Ideal of plastic catapults; the entire range of pullback produces useful results, and they have a metallic springiness and snap that just makes you want to fling stuff. The rubber coconuts you shoot are dense and bouncy and just irregular enough to inject uncertainty into the catapulting with just enough frequency – a perfect shot might bounce out of a cup, or a marginal one might bounce in - that it feels dramatic rather than random.

The rules are perfect, too; the game is 10-second-explanation simple while having enough decisions to keep the game fresh through the 10-minute playtime. Do you try to steal your opponent's cups, or go for a red cup that gives you an extra turn? Playing a card that lets you ineffectually try to blow on a coconut in midair to alter its course is genuinely funny because it can only happen a time or two per game. The self-serious backstory in the rulebook about the Monkey King angering the Buddha is just exactly weird enough without being precious or forgettable.

Above all, everyone I've played this with has enjoyed the hell out of it. My 3-year old and 7-year old want to play over and over at home. When it comes out during a playdate, parents start “filling in” at the table and noticeably not leaving. When there are no kids around, people who are old enough to know better start bringing shot glasses and a bottle of something to the table. I even took it to a Serious Heavy Grown-up boardgame group where it was a hit (“I had a rough week; I'd totally rather do this than industrialize the Ruhr Valley tonight.”)

And if you need further endorsement, perhaps this video of the dramatic final shots in a Korean Coconuts tournament somehow involving an audience and professional competitors will convince you.

Coconuts Crazy Monkey Dexterity Game

Published 4:00 am Fri, Aug 29, 2014

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About the Author

Jon Seagull is an illustrator based in Philadelphia who plays rather a lot of games.