Monday, September 7, 2015

Exploding Kittens Review

I've enjoyed getting review articles out on the blog, and I have a lot of games to review. In this article I'd like to look at a new game, Exploding Kittens. Exploding Kittens had a historic kickstarter at the start of 2015, delivering to over 200K backers eight months later. On my wife's urging I was one of those backers, and my family is very happy that we backed it. Some of you may have heard the game review on Gamers Lounge episode 111, but for those who didn't let's dive in and see what all the fuss was about.

What is Exploding Kittens, Who makes it?

 Exploding Kittens is a non-lethal adaptation of Russian Roulette which uses cards, quirky humor, and cute kittens. This game overcomes the morbid overtones of a push your luck suicide game (Russian Roulette) by filling the 56 card deck with cute and humorous art in the style of the web comic The Oatmeal. Exploding Kittens has both a regular and Not Safe For Work (NSFW) deck, both of which can be combined to expand the game to 9 players.
This is the first game I have encountered where the advertised learn time (2 minutes to learn) and play time (15 minutes) are completely accurate. This is an incredibly simple game to learn, and a fairly quick game to play based entirely on the players at the table. A single persons turn can take less than a second to complete, all the way to taking possibly 90 seconds if they play lots of cards.

How's it play?

Thanks to the medium of the written word, this explanation of how the game plays will likely take longer to read than actually learn the game. Considering that, I will take joy in describing the game and endeavor to do the best in keeping things clear and concise for you, the reader.

Exploding kittens has a 56 card deck, which includes four different types of cards. These cards consist of Exploding Kitten Cards, Diffuse cards, Action Cards, and cards with cool art on them. To start the game, the Exploding Kittens and Diffuse cards are set to the side then the rest of the deck is shuffled.  Each player is then dealt 4 cards to form their starting hand. A diffuse card is dealt to each player to complete their starting hand, then the remainder are randomly added to the shuffled deck. Exploding kittens are added to the deck (also randomly) until there are one less exploding kitten card than the number of players in the deck. The remaining Exploding Kittens (if there are any) are set aside. 

Players are allowed to play as many cards as they wish, then they end their turn by drawing a card from the deck. A player who draws an exploding kitten and cannot successfully defuse it is out of the game. Play continues until only one player remains and wins the game.

Let's take a look at the cards and what they do.

Exploding Kittens are not only the card which the game is named after, but also the way to determine the winner of the game. The art on these cards is devilishly creative and cute, sure to bring a chuckle (or even a full out laugh) to anyone familiar with cute, cuddly, mischievous kittens. Each of the cards has art of a kitten playing with someplace or at someplace they should not be, thus causing an explosion. During game play, when an exploding kitten is drawn and cannot be diffused (see below), the player who drew the card is out of the game.

Diffuse cards are the single way to avoid a losing the game once you have drawn an Exploding Kitten card. Diffuse cards allow you to not only avoid the Exploding Kitten card, but then to secretly place the card back into the deck for someone else to draw. This is one of the tactical parts of the game, a place where it's permissible to count the cards in the deck to place the exploding kitten exactly where you wish.

Action cards keep the game unpredictable and add in a number of things you can do to screw your neighbor and protect yourself. There are cards such as Attack and Skip cards which allow you to avoid drawing on your turn and move directly to the player following you. Cards which allow you to look at the next 3 cards in the deck so you know what's coming up, and even cards that allow you to reshuffle the deck completely. There is also the Nope card, a card which allows you to cancel the action card of another player, including their attempt to play a diffuse card on an Exploding Kitten.

Cool Art cards fill out the remainder of the deck. These cards have some great names and art on them, which is all kitten themed. Additionally these cards can be matched in 2 and 3 card sets then played as an action to take a card from one of your opponents.




What's innovative or different? What's fun?

Exploding Kittens is a game that once played you'll have trouble figuring out why this has not been done before. Perhaps I have lived a sheltered life and just not seen other games that use the mechanics here. It's a very simple game, yet has enough depth to be enjoyable to play with it's combination of push you luck, screw your neighbor, and a bit of bluffing rolled in.

This game really shines with 4 - 5 players although it can be played very quickly with only 2 people. It's a fantastic filler game, living up to it's promise of 15 minutes to play, but can be played multiple successive games to provide a fun "party game" experience. 

Overall quality of the game

The game quality is excellent, delivering a nice box which can hold up to 2 decks along with good quality cards. The art is very nice, although you need to be a fan or at least accepting of the particular comic style of The Oatmeal artist. The rules are simple and leave no room for confusion or conflict. Overall the quality of the game is excellent, especially considering the $20 price tag.

Recommendation and thoughts

My family really enjoys this game, but you need to accept it for what it is. This is a light, fun, quick to play game that fills in as something quick to play. This is ideal for filling time between other games, or for a fairly quick party game to fill 30 - 45 minutes with a group of 4-5 players. It's not a game to take seriously,  but instead is best in with a crowd who can laugh together at both the art on the cards and the absurdity of losing a game by being exploded by a mischievous kitten.
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