Our family enjoys playing games, but sometimes it feels like our game preferences are best described by a Venn diagram. Angela likes casual party games. Tess likes those, plus a few others kinds of games. Jonah really likes deep strategy games, and a few of the games that Tess likes. I’m happy to play darn near anything, most of the time.

With this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I backed Monikers on Kickstarter. It’s clearly a casual party game, so I was worried that Jonah would find it boring. I was also concerned that Angela might find it less casual than she would like.

The game arrived last week, and I revealed it to the family. The kids had a snow day the following day, so Tess and her friends took it for a spin. Angela reported much laughter from the group, so that evening we decided to give it a shot. We had to tweak the rules since with just the four of us the normal games’ team concept wouldn’t work. Nonetheless, we found ourselves laughing uncontrollably! We immediately made plans to host a game night with more friends specifically for this game.

The game itself is simple: each player is dealt 8 cards, from which they select 5. Each card has a title, and a small bit of explanatory text. Each player adds their five cards to the current deck, and their unused cards go back into the game box. Then the game is played in three rounds.

In round one, each player has 60 seconds to get their team to guess as many of the cards as possible. The player can say or do anything other than explicitly state the name of the card. When time is up, the stack of unread cards passes to the next team. This process repeats until all cards have been guessed. Cards are worth varying points, based on difficulty, so scores are calculated for round one.

Round two uses the same stack of cards, so all players should now know what’s in the deck. The restriction this round is that players are only allowed to say one single word in order to get their teammates to guess the card. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes this is amazingly hard. When this round is complete, scores are again calculated.

Round three again uses the same stack of cards, so all players have now seen all the cards twice. This time the player is forbidden from saying anything: the round must be played as a regular game of charades.

The rounds system works extremely well. Players are given a chance to familiarize themselves with the cards, so that rounds two and three aren’t too hard. Don’t be fooled, though: they’re still hard! What we’ve seen happen is that there is often sufficient similarity between at least two cards that the round two clues can be interpreted in several ways, causing no small amount of frustration to the active player!

Similarly, running jokes tend to emerge during rounds one and two such that the round three charades often have as much to do with the running joke as the actual name of the card. In our games, round three always has the most laughter.

The other really great thing about Monikers is the variety of subjects on the cards. There are famous historical figures, Internet celebrities like Doge and Grumpy Cat, as well as oddball things that defy explanation. For example, the card for Lisa Nowak does not mention her name, but rather says something like “That crazy astronaut who drove across the country in a diaper to kill someone”.

The sheer variety of subjects makes it possible for players of most ages to participate. Players are encouraged to pass on cards during their turn, so being a trivia expert isn’t a requirement. Additionally, each card’s explanatory text can help provide the necessary clues during round one.

We found Monikers to be extremely well balanced, and everyone who has played it with us has had a wildly good time. We’re all looking forward to the next opportunity to play. If you get the opportunity to play (or buy!) Monikers, I strongly encourage you to do so.

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