When I tell people I like Monikers, they generally look at me and say: really? I’m more of a Rachel, or Phoebe kind of person. Then we sit in awkward silence for a while. Anyway, Monikers is a party game for 4-20 people designed by Alex Hague and published by Palm Court.
How to Play
Monikers starts by splitting the group into two teams and giving everyone a stack of cards, the size of which is determined by player count. Each player chooses some cards and discards others, until you have a carefully curated deck of 40-50 cards.
These then form the basis for rest of the game, and comprise of famous historical people, pop culture characters, internet memes, and for some reason a few gay sexual positions – not that I’m judging. Each card has its own point value, which can be used for scoring.
The game is played over three rounds, where one person on a team gets two minutes to provide clues as to the title of the card they’re holding, with the rest of the team trying to guess. If the team gets it right, they keep the card and the associated points. If a card is too difficult, or your team is just not getting your expertly crafted clue, then the clue giver can skip the card, placing it on the bottom of the deck for later.
After the two minutes are up, what’s remaining of the deck is passed from one team to the other. This continues until all cards in the deck have been guessed correctly.
Between rounds, the rules change and make clue giving more and more illiterate:
- The first round is played like Taboo: the clue giver can use words, sounds, or gestures, but can’t say the name of the card.
- The second round is like Code Names: only one-word and not mentioned in the title.
- The third round is like Charades: in that the clue giver does charades.
After each round, add up the point totals, with the winning team being the one leading on points at the end of the third round.
Introducing the game by mentioning memes, and sex positions isn’t doing it any favours. Lay rest to your fears though: this is not Cards Against Humanity. This is more, knowing what you know, knowing what your team knows, and then bridging that gap. It doesn’t devolve into a game of depravity, and appeals to the gamer inside of me, not the five-year-old.
Because it’s half trivia, half charades, it appeases that innate nature we all have of feeling smart. When you answer a question right, that no one else got, or when you piece together a difficult clue, it makes you feel clever. The looks from the rest of the group, as they ask astounded: how did you get that? Never fails to put a wry smile on my face.
Speaking of trivia, they’ve done a fantastic job of picking contemporary people and events. Growing up I hated playing Trivial Pursuit because the questions were directed at people who’d grown up in the fifties and sixties, leaving millennials like myself high and dry. Not so with Monikers.
This board game is often called an in-joke manufacturer, and that’s a great description. There’s a combination of reasons why, but it’s mainly because it focuses your groups creativity on the same items, again, and again, and again. It’s the repetition that allows the group to create their own symbolism for what a card means. An example of this happening, is that we had the card Bubble Boy from Seinfeld, and I mimed someone stuck in a hamster wheel – my team didn’t guess it. Then on the other team’s turn, the clue giver got the same card, and mimed the exact same thing. At this point everyone just burst into laughter.
Lastly, and what I think is a fundamental concept of being a good party game, is that the rules are dead easy to pick up, and you don’t have to front load them. Instead you can explain the rules for round one, do round one, explain the rules for round two, etc. This helps hide the charades part of the game, and get player buy in before you tell them that they must act out Alex Trebec without a moustache.
As with any games that make you look silly, there’s trepidation, and it requires commitment to get over the social hurdle of embarrassment to get to the good stuff. Thankfully, Monikers does a great job of easing you into the sauna of charades, by the time the third round starts you’re already invested into doing the best for your team. Keep in mind that it still may not be enough for some people, despite the great job this game has done.
The other big negative about Monikers, is that it’s a trivia game. I have nothing against trivia games, some of my best friends are trivia games. However, because its questions are based contemporary pop culture, by the time my little boy grows up – he’s 5 months old! – he won’t get the references. Much like how I didn’t get the trivial pursuit questions and references when I was a boy. It puts a time limit of a decade or two on this game, although it might have more staying power thanks to the well written descriptions on the card.
Now some more general stuff that you should be aware of:
- The game contains adult themes. If you still want to play, but don’t want to know what a fluffer, a furry, or a power bottom is, then you can remove the offending cards.
- Monikers rewards those who have great short-term memory. Remember to separate the gold fish and humans when balancing teams.
- Being partly trivia, if you don’t know your trivia, you may be out of luck. Having players choose cards to begin with somewhat negates this, but it’s still prevalent.
After you get over the initial bump of: are we doing charades? Monikers is great, it’s a smart game about dumb topics and works exceptionally well when paired with close friends. My voice is hoarse from laughing so hard last night playing this board game, and for that, I give it a Critical Hit rating.
Have you played Monikers? What’s your favourite question card? Have any great stories? Let me know!