This is the eighty-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

The random number generators do not sleep. They have picked another random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality for our perusal: Monster Jaunt, by Sketch House Games. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

A minigame party that *won’t* ruin your friendships

What’s the point of having friendships if you’re not going to ruin them?

As the tagline implies, Monster Jaunt is a party game, ideally meant to be played by several people all together in the same room. I do not have any other people together in one room, but luckily for me, Monster Jaunt allows for AI-controlled players, so I was able to try my luck against the computer. In fact, Sketch House Games deserve praise for offering so many options when setting up a game. Monster Jaunt supports 1-4 players, and I was able to select how many AI-controlled players I wanted, and could set each of them to an easy, medium or hard setting individually. Then I was able to pick from a variety of game modes, and set the desired length (number of rounds). The full game is a sort of digital board game that persists across rounds, where players try to help the titular monsters have enjoyable vacations by bringing them to their desired relaxation spots. Minigames are played between rounds, with the winners given first pick of new monsters to chaperone. If players don’t want the full board game, they can instead opt for a random sequence of minigames, or even just pick a single minigame to try. Each player picks a character from a diverse roster of six, depicted in a cartoony low-poly style.

I was even able to play with the keyboard, even though the game is clearly designed with a gamepad in mind. I didn’t know that when I booted it up, and was too lazy to dig out my gamepad and hook it up. I was also worried that it wouldn’t recognize my ancient third-party gamepad. One day, I will invest in an actual, modern gamepad, but not today. Thankfully, playing with the keyboard wasn’t too annoying, but it was odd that the mouse isn’t supported. Several of the minigames involve moving a cursor around the screen to click on things, and would have felt much more natural with a mouse. But, I suppose some clunkiness is intentional. Much of the fun of these types of party minigames comes from players all wrestling with awkward controls, laughing as they barely manage to scrape together a few points.

Some of the minigames in Monster Jaunt feel like this, but others are too awkward for their own good. For example, Blasteroids is a minigame clearly inspired by Asteroids, in which the goal is to shoot asteroids just enough times to break them, and then collect (not shoot!) the nugget left behind. With everyone’s ships scouring the same field of (stationary) asteroids, and the number of hits left on each asteroid shown visually as soon as the first shot lands, there’s a lot of potential for denying other players points by blasting the nuggets they’re angling for, or swooping in and finishing off an asteroid that another player has been diligently shooting. In fact, that might very well ruin some friendships, now that I think about it. But I never got close to any antics of that sort, because flying my ship around was so odd. I expected the classic thruster controls from Asteroids, used so effectively in the second entry in this series, Asteroid Farmer. That is, rotating the ship clockwise or counterclockwise and firing the thruster once it’s pointing the way I want. Instead, I specified the direction of flight by pointing directly. To fly up and to the right, I pressed the up and right keys (or, presumably, point up and right with a gamepad analog stick). But then I still had to fire the ship thrusters with a button. It was so odd that I had yet to come to grips with it by the time the minigame ended, with the CPU-controlled players trouncing me.

Out of the fourteen minigames (with nine more variants added once players try them all at least once), there are a few more with a top-down view that feature similarly strange movement. But mostly they’re easier to control, and — as the tagline promises — light on direct conflict between players. Many simply give each player an independent task, with the winner being the one who does it best. Examples include timing button presses, repeating patterns, or even simply winning a race. Other minigames ask players to guess what the other players might do, in a kind of blind auction, which can be quite fun. Many of the minigames are more complicated than I expected, though. If you (like me) are imagining something like Warioware, with short and simple games that can be immediately understood and which last just a few seconds, you may be overwhelmed at first by the minigames in Monster Jaunt. While each starts with a tutorial screen explaining how to play, many have a good amount of nuance to them, such that I didn’t feel I’d really understood them from just a single play. They’re designed to be replayed, after all, with the group of players learning together as they go. I can imagine some of these minigames becoming enjoyable competitions, once players learn effective strategies. But playing each for the first time, I felt lost as often as not.

Some of that would likely be alleviated if I was playing with other people instead of against the computer. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the overarching board game that (optionally) connects the whole match together, which seems doomed to be awkward and clunky no matter what. The concept is fine: players draw cards representing monsters who want to go on a nice vacation. Each monster has certain things it wants (represented by symbols) which can be provided by different locations on the board, and each monster is worth a certain number of points if a player is able to get it everything it desires. Players must travel around the board bringing their monsters to appropriate locations, but they have a limited number of moves each round, so efficient travel and drawing monsters that can be satisfied by the same locations is key. But movement points are expended quickly, so one round of the board game goes faster than the minigames typically do. This makes it really hard to keep track of the board game while playing. Taking a break to race penguins down a 3D ice slide (a la certain levels from Super Mario 64) is fun, but afterwards I was left scratching my head as to what the heck I had been doing on the board. Any monsters that are not satisfied at the end of the round lose one of their potential points, and each monster can only be satisfied by a given location once, so I often found myself traveling somewhere only to find that my monsters refused to show any interest, despite displaying a matching symbol. I must have visited there on a previous round? That was before the penguin race, and maybe even before the log chopping competition. Who could possibly remember that? Add in the fact that doing poorly in the minigames means getting last pick for new monsters, and it’s easy to fall into a failure spiral.

Of course, players can simply skip the board game and just opt for a sequence of minigames instead. But while I saw promise in many of these, they weren’t enough to keep me excited. Many just felt awkward, like the aforementioned Blasteroids, or Zaptitude Test, which places players in an arena and tasks them with building up electrical charge and then unleashing lightning beams at each other. It’s an oddly confrontational minigame, and I never really understood what the strategy was meant to be. Also, players can be eliminated and then must simply wait and watch the others until only one is left standing. I did genuinely enjoy several of the minigames, though. My favorite was Smartography, in which each player controls a cursor over a (procedurally generated?) topographical map. Tiny sections of the map are displayed at the top of the screen in sequence, and players must try to find each spot on the larger map, with points awarded for speed and accuracy. I also liked Fish Bowling, in which players must hurl slow-moving fishbowls across the surface of the water, hoping to snag as many fish as possible with each throw. Other minigames seemed interesting but were hard to judge without playing more. Lootenany mocks the inventory system of many role-playing games, asking players to arrange awkwardly-shaped items within a rectangular grid, finding a way to pack in as many valuable items as possible. I thought I was doing OK until it ended and I saw that my opponents had scored way higher. Maybe with some more practice it would have clicked?

I think that Monster Jaunt would be a lot more fun with other players, but even then I’m not sure I’d want to use the whole roster of minigames. Many of them show promise, but too many felt too complicated for their own good. Of course, a party game with a bit more depth and strategy to learn might be exactly what certain player groups want. If that sounds like your group, definitely give Monster Jaunt a try. And while I’ve mentioned a few examples that sound overly adversarial, for the most part Monster Jaunt lives up to its promise of friendly competition, and it has a cute and friendly presentation that’s suitable for the whole family, which is clearly a plus. If you missed it in the bundle, Monster Jaunt is available for a minimum price of $13.50 for Windows and Mac.

That’s 83 down, and only 1658 to go!