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AFFENTENNIS

Reviewed by Ben Baldanza

(Braun-Kohl Verlag, 2 players, ages 8 and up, 30-40 minutes; about $50)

 

Affentennis, or “Monkey Tennis”, was a curiosity game at Essen 2006. How on earth could a game with that name and funny little monkey characters holding racquets actually be a good game? It may not help the case to know that the game was originally designed as “Smurf Tennis”, but Jürgen Kohl, the college teacher designer, could not get the legal rights to use the Smurf characters even though ones holding tennis racquets were readily available. He was relieved to find similar characters using a Monkey from German television, and Affentennis was born.

Now the truly best part: this is an excellent game! Silly figures aside, Jürgen Kohl has designed a well thought-out dexterity game and certainly the best tennis simulation ever invented. The Monkeys stand on triangular bases and are used only to point to the space on the hex-court where the player stands. The ball is hit with a “racquet” that is a rubber-band powered device. To hit, a player lines up the racquet, pulls back, and releases to propel the ball forward, hopefully in the direction and speed attempted.affentennis

The court is made of felt with a hex grid on it, and this allows the game to be “rolled up” and stored in a simple bag. You need a fairly large table to hold the court, though. The game plays like a real tennis match with certain rules adapted to make the board game reflect the physical realty of the outdoor game. The serving player must position their Monkey behind the baseline on the proper side of the court, while the receiver can position their Monkey anywhere. The point that the Monkey is positioned in determines from where the racquet will be swung, and this is either of the two rear adjacent hexes. Following the shot, the hitting player can reposition their Monkey up to five spaces in any direction.

The receiving player can move their Monkey up to six points worth of spaces in order to get to the just-served ball. Each forward space costs one point, a diagonal backward space costs two points, and a direct backspace (directly toward the baseline) costs three points. This models the exertion and momentum shift needed to make these movements happen, and accurately reflects that the player was out of position either due to their mistake or the particularly good shot by the opponent. In of the of the best-designed rules of the game, a player who needs more movement to get to a return can “borrow” up to five spaces from their next “after hit” allotment. But, if they do this they are returning the ball under constraint and are limited to the direction that they can shoot from. This also accurately reflects how a player would be limited in their shot selection if over-exerting to get to a ball that would otherwise be out of reach. After the shot is returned, the player can reposition up to five spaces less any borrowed to make the return.

Using just these basic hit and return rules would make for an interesting enough game with a lot of strategic play potential, but Kohl, an athlete himself, has gone a step further to add some of tennis’ best features: the volley, lob, and smash. When close to the net after a hit, a player can use two reposition points to place the Lobby Block, a piece of wood that creates a physical barrier to shoot around for the opponent. After the opponent’s shot, the block is removed. The opponent can attempt to lob over the block by using a ramp, and this is a lot of fun and works very well. Lastly, a Monkey can smash a return when in the proper positioning by setting up a “Smash Block” on the opponent’s baseline, and knocking it over with their shot. These three options work very well in the game and give the game a true tennis feel, while adding a good deal of shot and positioning strategy.

A few years ago, Goldsieber produced Tennis Masters and this game remains an enjoyable two-player dexterity game. But Tennis Masters is more about getting good with flicking the plastic racquet and uses fuzzy balls that stick to the court. Affentennis is a much more fluid and realistic game, and the clever attention to details and how they are implemented makes it a far superior game. A limited supply of the games was produced and Kohl was eagerly demonstrating the game throughout the Essen fair. Most people approach assuming it would be a fun break, but then left recognizing that there was much more here than just a silly Monkey game. Kohl is a volleyball player, and originally wanted to produce a game about that sport but found tennis to be more approachable. If he can work out the details of a volleyball game as well, it will undoubtedly be worth a good look. He is now producing a second production of the game so hopefully it will become available soon for those who want to add this super new dexterity game to their libraries. You can see more details and photographs of recent displays and tournaments at www.affentennis.com. – – – – – – – – Ben Baldanza


 

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Winter 2007 GA Report Articles

 

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