Life. It’s hard, right? You’re minding your own business, maybe trying to find a Tacocat (they’re palindromes, you know), or rubbing the belly of a magical pig-a-corn, and the next thing you know, BOOM! You’ve stumbled across a kitten chewing on dynamite, and you’ve been blown up.
Maybe you just have weird hobbies, or maybe you’re playing Exploding Kittens.
Exploding Kittens is a self-published card game by Matthew Inman, Elan Lee, and Shane Small. For two to five players, the game mixes elements of hand management and set collection, with a very strong press-your-luck risk flavour. Think Russian roulette, but with kittens and bad humour. (I say bad as a descriptor, not a value judgement… The humour is hilarious. Just bad.)
The basic rules of the game are simple – so simple that it takes almost no time to explain or learn. On your turn, you can play one or more cards from your hand (but you don’t have to) and resolve their effects that are listed on the cards. At the end of your turn, you must draw a card from the deck. If you draw an exploding kitten, you lose and are out of the game.
Of course, it doesn’t play out quite so linearly as that. A number of the cards you can play let you skip your draw turn, steal an opponent’s cards, or force an opponent to draw more than once. There are even cards that let you survive an exploding kitten… once. So the game turns into a matter of risk and luck; do you risk drawing the card that’s on top, hoping it’s not a kitten? Or do you use your Attack card to make your opponent draw it, and hope that it does explode?
The game is certainly fun, and I enjoyed playing it a lot. However, most of the enjoyment – for me, at least – comes from the sheer ridiculousness of the cards. With the exception of the simple cat cards that you are meant to match, each card’s art and name is unique. So, while there are 4 Attack cards which all have the same mechanic, one pictures the players Awakening the Bear-O-Dactyl and another Unleashes the Catterwocky. Even the rules lean towards the absurd; one example of a possible way to determine the start player is to choose the player with the longest spleen. I’ve played it a few times now, and at least one player has laughed out loud each time just looking at their hand. Even now that I’ve seen all the cards, it’s hard not to chuckle at the idea of skipping you turn by Donning a Portable Cheetah Butt and running away (hey, I said it was funny, not mature).
Humour aside, though, the game can get repetitive over multiple plays. The rules are designed so that there is always exactly one less Exploding Kitten card than there are payers, which means that you never have to reshuffle the deck… But it also means that, unless a few different players get quite unlucky and hit more than one Exploding Kitten card in a row (remember, you can Defuse the first one you get), you’ll likely get near to the bottom of the deck before the game ends. So you’ll see most of the cards on your first play through. And, of course, there’s the spectre of elimination hanging over this game, which isn’t something I like in many games. In a game with several players, if you go out early, you might as well go get yourself a snack, because it could be a while before the next game gets started. Mind you, I know some people really like elimination games. Maybe I’m just sour because I tend to push my luck a little too far too early, and tend to explode first.
In all, I do like Exploding Kittens. It’s fast, both to learn and to play. It’s ridiculous. And, though there are some cards that let you effect other players or skip your draw turn, it really comes down to sheer luck. That might be a negative point for some, but as a quick, light filler between heavier games, Exploding Kittens is perfect. However, since it really plays the same every time, it might not be a game that you want to play over and over, or play every time you get together to game.
Not unlike its Unicorn Enchilada’s (the eating of which lets you see the future with its enchilada powers), Exploding Kittens is something of a sometimes snack. Great once in a while, but hard to get through three meals a day.