Full disclosure: A review copy of MonsDRAWsity was provided by Deep Water Games.
This is it! Another title for Spooky Games Week! We’ve got Dominion: Nocturne, Betrayal at Mystery Mansion, and MonsDRAWsity, a new title from Deep Water Games! I don’t normally get into party games, but I got to try this one at PAX Unplugged back when conventions still existed, so, gotta hold on to that memory for as long as possible. Was interested and got a chance to try this one out, so let’s dive in and see what’s happening!
You are the latest recruits for the Department of Recording Anomaly Witnesses, a name that is very convenient for acronyms and was just a fortuitous naming coincidence. Lucky you. You’ve gotten reports that anomalies are happening all over and people are seeing monsters pop up. You need to figure out what these monsters look like so that you can refer them to the proper authorities, but, frankly, your witnesses are a bit unreliable, so you’re going to have to work your artists pretty hard if you want to end up with the right depictions of your anomalies. Will you be able to correctly describe and find the right monsters? Or will you mostly end up drawing a blank?
Not a ton of setup required. Give each player a marker board:
They’re numbered 1 – 8, so you can write players’ names on the score board as well:
Shuffle up the Monster Cards:
You should be about ready to start!
In MonsDRAWsity, players work to accurately draw various “anomalies” that have been seen by Witnesses in order to better identify them. You know, just in case they come back around again. Your goal as Artists is to depict these anomalies; your goal as a Witness is to describe the anomalies as accurately as possible.
To start a round, the Witness has 20 seconds to look at a new monster card; let them take it all in, really just absorb every detail. They can’t say anything, yet! They just need to look with their eyes.
After the Witness has finished up on time, the Artists start! They have two minutes to draw as faithful of a monster as they can, with only the Witness’s descriptions to guide them. The key thing is that the Witness cannot look at the card again. You just have to hope that the Artists represent your vision.
When time is up, it’s time to reveal! I generally offer players an extra 10 seconds to name their monsters, but that’s a personal variant. Either way, have players reveal their monsters to all other players. The Witness should take this time to vote for the monster that they think is the most accurate depiction of the “anomaly”. After that, the Artists vote simultaneously on which monster they think is the most accurate, but they get to see the picture first! Artists cannot vote for themselves, as well.
The player(s) who get the most votes from the other Artists get one point each. If the Witness voted for any Artist who got the most votes, the Witness gets one point for being a credible Witness! Either way, the player the Witness voted for gets a point, too, even if they already got a point from the other artists. If there are only three players, only the Witness gets to vote, and the player they select gets a point.
Each player should get to take two turns being the Witness. After that, the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
This one does play pretty well across player counts, though I’ve definitely got preferences. I think on the lower end of the spectrum, frankly, I don’t love that there’s less for the artists to do at three, since there aren’t enough people to make an artist vote work. As a result, only the witness votes, and that means only one point gets assigned each round. With the right group, it’s fine, but with the wrong group, it opens the game up to a bit of metagaming, which is unfortunate. It’s sort of like playing Quiplash on Jackbox with only three players; it just means that one person makes the decision, every time. It’s fast, but more fun if there’s more to choose from and more people coming to a conclusion. As player counts increase, the game will get longer, which is just a function of “everyone gets two turns”. I like faster games, so I have a slight antipreference for, say, eight players, but it’s still a lot of fun at eight. Overall recommendation is probably for 4+, but that’s mostly because I like getting to vote even if I’m not necessarily the witness.
- It’s a drawing-themed party game. Try not to overthink it. I have some thoughts here about which players you vote for and etc, but, I gotta be honest, this is a lot like trying to come up with a winning strategy in a Jackbox game. If you’re coming in with that energy, you might be playing a very different game than other folks are playing. I think that my best “strategic” advice is to do whatever contributes to players overall having the most fun. If that means that you occasionally want to vote for someone who isn’t getting a lot of votes and take the time to tell them why their drawing rules so that they feel included, that’s a lot better of a thing to do than to try and min-max how much advice you give so that players don’t all converge on similar monsters and make it hard for you to predict who will be the audience favorite. That’s just my take, though; I always like having a strategy section, and for party games where it’s more about the shared experience my best strategic advice is just find ways to ensure that you and your co-players are having a good time; the points will fall how they’re going to fall.
- As an artist, ask questions. Don’t just draw in silence. This is a fairly common pit that new players fall into; they kind of get an image in their mind and they don’t really clarify. It can be important! Learn things about the monster’s mouth shape or whatever. If you’re not sure, don’t sit on it for too long.
- Also, wireframing can be your friend. Don’t spend too much time on details, because you only have two minutes. If you’re finding yourself getting stuck on certain details, just kinda … sketch something quickly and move on.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like that this game doesn’t overwhelmingly reward “good” artists. There’s always that fear when you’re playing a game that your artist friend is going to break out their tablet and start just annihilating other people. Thankfully, the short time limit prevents players from being too overwhelmingly detailed and perfectionist, and even then they’ve got to work against their memories and the witness’s memory, so even the best artist might miss a crucial detail or highlight the wrong thing. It happens! But that does a nice job of evening the playing field for everyone else.
- The monsters that everyone draws are often hilarious. Like they’re very good, pretty much no matter what. Even if they’ve got a “sorry mouth” or whatever Eric was calling it. Not me, different Eric. Lots of board game Erics. Everyone gets a different picture in their brain of what it’s supposed to look like, and I think that’s amazing. It’s also good when multiple players converge independently. So really, there’s no losing scenario.
- I like that players tend to gravitate towards their own genre preferences, be it cute, funny, wholesome, terrifying, or otherwise. That’s probably one of my favorite things about the game is how many different lenses the suggestions are filtered through. You may be surprised as to how sinister someone makes something that you thought would be super cute! Unfortunately, I can’t do horror in the slightest so all the monsters I draw (including the ones I drew for this review so I would have art to show y’all) just look like friends or cute. It’s a curse and there’s no way around it.
- Fairly portable; even more so, if you don’t bother with the included whiteboards. If you don’t bother with the whiteboards it’s just cards. Portability matters a bit less right now, because pandemic, but in the hopeful future you could very easily slap this in a backpack or deck box or Quiver and be on your way.
- It also works great remotely. It’s really the only party game I’ve been able to play remotely. I tried Among Us. It’s not my kind of game. I just play Jackbox and this, now. You just need to make sure nobody looks at the card and that someone keeps time (preferably someone who isn’t also drawing, because, perverse incentives / it’s hard to look at the clock when you draw).
- I love the monster art, too! They really got a great collection of artists for this. I’d love to hear more about the art direction for this game and how they chose what they wanted the monsters to look like. They’re very unique in an occasionally-nightmarish way.
- I do tend to like drawing games a lot, even though I wouldn’t say I’m particularly good at drawing. Some part of exercising that part of my brain that doesn’t work very well is very appealing to me, I think. Plus it’s really great to see what everyone else drew. I would not call myself an artist, but I appreciate that that doesn’t matter that much in this game.
- The game continues to be fun, but it, like many games I find mildly frustrating, takes longer when you have more players playing. It’s just a thing that lots of games do that I don’t like. It’s fair, in this context, but it almost makes me want to play more games with smaller groups rather than one very long game. We were fortunate to have a GM during my first full game, so that helped as well (since they handled the timer and showing the cards).
- It can be kind of a “feels bad” if a player gets entirely shut out during a game. Just be careful with games that require voting on the “quality” of creative expression. It can occasionally be taken personally if nobody ever says anything good about one player’s art. To that end, I usually try to say something complimentary about a random player’s monster each round (there’s always something; these monsters are great) to try and make sure that players are getting positive feedback even if they’re not always getting the group vote.
- At three players, it really is just one person picking which drawing they like better, which can occasionally feel a bit personal? It’s essentially a variant (since you can’t have a group vote, as it would always be 1-1). I’m not as convinced with the three-player game; I’d rather just play it at four so there’s still a group vote. If the witness always decides, it also can create weird min-max incentives that make the game less fun, in my opinion.
- It’s hard to take good pictures of this game and show you what I’m talking about, because the photos would essentially be spoilers for the gameplay. It’s just a bummer because I love the monsters and want to show you them, but if I do then you’ll have seen them and that might affect the gameplay if you ever bust out your own copy. So they’ll have to remain a mystery and you’ll have to subsist off of my own drawings of them, which, hopefully that’s enough. I’ve named them all, so if you have a favorite, let me know in the comments. If you think I’m a bad artist, well, why do you think I went into photography, the least drawing-oriented of the arts?
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think MonsDRAWsity is a rare treat of a party game! It delights me the same way I was delighted by A Fake Artist Goes to New York, when I first played it. Something about the idea of the drawing game combined with some fun spin really elevates it for me, but it’s made considerably better in that we’re drawing monsters. I would probably have very little fun with this if we were trying to draw people, but the monsters end up looking even more monstrous no matter how “good” of a job I think I’m doing, so it all shakes out. It’s a fairly low-stakes party game, almost to the point where the points don’t really matter and everyone wins just for playing, which I enjoy. And I think, if you want to play it that way, you really can, though you’ll miss out on some important interactions as the witness. I think what it does well, though, is capture the spirit of party games, which is players doing silly things and producing fun artifacts and laughing the whole time. I think there’s a lot to be said about running with a simple concept and executing on it exceptionally well, and I think MonsDRAWsity has done that. It’s a real feather in the cap for Deep Water, as well; this and Fantastic Factories are a strong one-two punch that are, I think, just all-around great titles. Either way, if you’re a fan of drawing games, you need something to liven up your virtual Halloween gathering, or you just want to draw some very silly monsters, I’d highly recommend MonsDRAWsity! I’ve had a blast with this one.