Empty Calories

Reiner Knizia has long been known to go back to the well for new releases. Rethemes, with or without rules tweaks, are a necessity in a physical medium. Publishers want their product to seem new and exciting and if that means tweaking its look and feel a bit, that’s perfectly fine! What we have today is a new iteration of an older game called Cheeky Monkey with just a couple changes, and –

Wait, wait. This isn’t a Knizia game? It makes no mention of Cheeky Monkey anywhere in the rulebook? Oh. Oh no.

This is the only photo I took.

Nacho Pile‘s one positive quality is its look. It comes in a crinkly old-school Doritos-looking bag, which is also a game component. Very cute! That combined with plastic triangular chips makes for an eye-catching affair, especially when copies are displayed in a grocery-esque cardboard box provided to game stores by the publisher.

Unfortunately said production is also where the problems start. The bag has to be ripped open in order to open it and ziplocked shut afterwards which works about as well as you’d think. This tears some words in half on the top, which doesn’t bother me but I imagine it’d drive some folks crazy to look at and store. The chips themselves are made of slick curved plastic which means they stack terribly, and as will become clear momentarily this is a significant playability issue.

Nacho Pile has a relatively simple push your luck framework. You pull tiles one by one until you choose to stop. If you ever pull a duplicate you bust and get nothing, returning everything you took to the bag. If you stop before this happens you hang onto your pulls, as well as take any matching tiles that anyone else has in front of them. You only get to bank your pieces if they’re still in front of you on your next turn, so you’re praying for everyone else to bust so you can keep your stacks.

So here’s the thing. That description in the previous paragraph? That’s actually for a Reiner Knizia game called Cheeky Monkey. Now there are some differences which I will detail momentarily, but I want to be clear: Nacho Pile is barely different. To make a game this similar to a much older title, which itself has been published multiple times over the years, seems like more than coincidental parallel development to me.

It doesn’t help that every single change this game makes is for the worse. Not being able to stack pieces without them sliding everywhere means that banking them on your little cardboard plate is a pain. Numbers are no longer distributed unevenly because the scoring conditions have been altered There are “special” tiles now, which let you do stuff like instantly bank tiles early or steal a stack, but all of them just break up the game’s flow and stick out like tortilla shards in your gums.

But all of these, while annoying, are nothing compared to the baffling change to scoring. You don’t just score points at the end, no no, that’d be too easy. The win condition is different and awful: the only chips that count are the ones that match the last chip in the bag. So for example if a 5 is the last chip, the only chips worth a point are banked 5s. Do you have any way of learning this beforehand? Hell no, and the odds of completely eliminating a number early are slimmer than you’d think. This reduces what was already a light lucky affair to a completely random mess, the gaming equivalent of empty calories spent on a snack you don’t even like.

What was so wrong with scoring points that this was considered a reasonable alternative? You could just ignore that rule and try to use the original scoring, though it’ll work worse since the number distribution is all the same instead of varied. But you shouldn’t have to! This game was already done before, and better, multiple times! Cheeky Monkey was cheap while it was in print and you could import Family Inc for about the same cost as Nacho Pile, which is a phenomenal pseudo-sequel from the original designer that makes numerous improvements and turns the game into the best version of itself. Why would you waste your time fixing this one when it’s demonstrably worse and arguably a lift & shift?

I did some digging and found a designer diary on BoardGameGeek. There’s no mention of the Knizia games anywhere in it. Other folks are noted as having influenced the design process, which seemed to have started in a fairly different place before eventually just turning into Worse Cheeky Monkey ™. What’s worse is that at time of writing, an article has just been published at Dicebreaker on how Pandasaurus is maybe not the best publisher to work for or with. There are a lot of variables to take into account here. I don’t know what degree of responsibility the designer, developers, or publisher hold in this thing’s creation or how blame should be shared. I just know the result is junk, and not the kind I find myself jonesing for at the convenience store.


A copy of this game was independently purchased for review.