What’s the connection between a squeaky banana, a hotel reception bell and K-pop megastars BTS? The answer is a hugely entertaining party game you might’ve missed.
Fruit Punch was originally released in 1990 under the name Halli Galli - from a German term, halligalli, apparently meaning revelry or merrymaking - with a hotel desk-style bell instead of its later edition’s plastic fruit (or berry, for you banana pedants out there).
Israeli designer Haim Shafir’s design is almost laughably straightforward. Players take it in turns to flip over one card from the top of their individual decks, creating a face-up pile in front of each person. Like a simplified deck of playing cards, each card has between one and five pieces of matching fruit - one banana, two limes, three plums, four strawberries and so on. If there are ever exactly five pieces of the same fruit on display - either on a single card, or in total between multiple players’ cards - the first person to smash the bell/banana in the middle of the table claims their opponents’ piles of face-up cards. The person with the most cards at the end of the game, wins.
That really is it. The game’s simple challenge puts it right alongside the likes of the later Jungle Speed - where players grab for a central totem when two cards match - and symbol-spotting hit Dobble as a game that relies on the tension of reacting quickly and inevitable slip-ups from maintaining your attention to provide its entertainment. Among those hooked by the intoxicating race to ring/squeak your way to victory are the members of K-pop group BTS, who have played Halli Galli multiple times on their reality show Run BTS. (The band are noted board game fans, also playing hidden role games The Resistance: Avalon and Mafia/Werewolf on camera.)
And good gosh, is it entertaining. As players settle into the game’s rhythm, the momentum gradually builds like a watermelon (or spherical fruit of your choice) tumbling downhill. The rules specify that players must reveal cards by flipping them towards their opponents, avoiding any risk of a split-second advantage in seeing what’s coming up. The natural pauses between each card reveal as everyone continually scans the table, calculating the current total of fruit, are punctuated by whipcrack reveals as some players try to catch their rivals off-guard with a fast play or teasing moments as others wait for all eyes to settle on their hand before flipping.
When the fruit begins to add up, another layer of the game’s room-filling energy crackles in. Strung tightly by the need to slam on the bell/banana fastest, players start to pre-emptively reach for the middle, only to withdraw as their brain catches up with their limbs and realises there are more/fewer than five matching fruit. Sometimes, it’s too late, resulting in - frankly, hilarious - tiny squeals of disappointment from both banana and player as a single finger or halfhearted slap makes contact. The in-game penalty for a false slam is relatively minor - you hand a card to each of your opponents - but the feeling you’ve been thrown off your focus is often deflating enough to result in crucial milliseconds of hesitation next time around.
I don’t really need to tell you that smashing the banana - or, as the game euphemistically puts it, “bopping the banana” - is itself a joy. Like a rubber chicken, the yellow arc of plastic gleefully honks as it disappears under a chaotic flail of hands, quickly drowned out by groans, laughs and cheers from the assembled banana-boppers. While slight injury remains a risk as fingers, nails and palms collide, the swap from the harsh metal of Halli Galli’s bell to a soft toy makes Fruit Punch decidedly less of a bloodsport.
Like the squeaky banana that becomes its centrepiece, Fruit Punch is a party game of simple pleasures. Comprising little more than a plastic banana and a deck of cards, it’s far greater than the sum of its basic parts, adding up to five minutes of loud, ridiculous fun. For my money, it’s worth a place in any collection; my recommendation is to make this one of your board game five-a-day.