We’re becoming more aware of our online time, and how that could be affecting our social lives. That’s causing people to want to connect with their families in a different way. Family board game night is increasing in popularity around the world, and it has many benefits including helping with family bonding.
You probably have fond memories of playing board games when you were a child. For many people that is the old favorites like Clue, Monopoly or Scrabble. While those games are classics for a reason, games developers are continuously embracing new ideas to keep things fresh and new at the gaming table.
One of the biggest successes of recent years has been the kid-friendly card game, Exploding Kittens. You may have heard of it because of its runaway Kickstarter success or perhaps you’ve played a game at a friends house and been badly outclassed. Either way, in this article we’re going to give you all the information you need to get started playing Exploding Kittens, and to learn how to dominate in this random and hilarious game.
What is Exploding Kittens
What happens when you put together a video game pioneer and the artist from one of the most popular cartoon sites? The answer is Exploding Kittens. The card game is the brainchild of Elan Lee (of Xbox fame) and Matt Inman, famous for The Oatmeal.
Lee was the man behind the Xbox project and the game, Halo. But after visiting his family and finding the kids playing video games rather than interacting, he developed a bit of a guilty conscience. He developed a card game called Bomb Squad and was playtesting it with friends.
That’s when he showed it to Inman, who liked the gameplay but not the theme. He decided rather than simply making the game about bombs, it should be about…well, exploding kittens.
The pair launched a Kickstarter, hoping to raise the funds for a limited production run of around 500 decks. 9 days later, they had pledges for more than $9 million from around 290,000 backers.
Lee describes the game as, ‘basically Russian Roulette with a deck of cards.’ Still, the combination of a deceptively simple game, part skill, part chance, the engaging characters which Inman created, and the fact that it is a family-friendly game have conspired to make Exploding Kittens a commercial success.
But is it fun? Will your family enjoy it? Should you buy the game? Read on to find out.
Review of Exploding Kittens
The box for Exploding Kittens tells you that it is, ‘A card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats.’ This one sentence should warn you that you are not about to embark on a run of the mill card game. This is one with a quirky sense of humor.
As well as promoting itself as the most-basked Kickstarter ever, the box also recommends the game for ages 7+, for 2-5 players, and claims to take just two minutes to learn. This is reinforced by the rules leaflet inside the box, which tells you that, ‘reading is the worst way to learn how to play a game,’ and suggests you watch an instructional video instead.
If you choose to ignore that advice, a quick read of the leaflet will soon have you up and playing. The instructions are presented in infographic format, and quickly explain how the game works, how to set up your deck (which is different, depending on how many people are playing) and then the basics of gameplay.
On the other side of the leaflet is more in-depth information about the types of card you will find in your hands, and how to use them in combos. The makers suggest you leave this last item until after you’ve played your first game.
When we sat down to play this game with one adult and two children (12 and 7) we were very quickly able to get started. We’re card game fans, particularly liking Uno, Sushi Go! and similar combative titles. To be honest, the kids understood the mechanics of this one before I did.
There are nine types of cards in the original game. For most of these, you only need a single card to take action. Here’s a brief overview of the purpose of each card:
Exploding Kitten – If you pick up this card, you’re dead. Well, unless you happen to have a…
Defuse – This will save you from an exploding kitten, at least for now. The kitten card is put back into the deck at a random spot, secretly.
Nope – Did another player use a card to try and make you do something you don’t want to? Just say no; which works unless they also have a Nope card, that can counteract yours.
Attack – End your turn without drawing a card, and force the next players to take two cards.
Skip – End your turn without drawing a card.
Favor – Force another player to give you a card of their choice from their hand.
Shuffle – Pick up the deck and give it a good shuffle.
See the Future – Take a peek at the top three cards, but put them back in the same order.
The remaining cards in the game are the cat cards. There are 5 different cats, Beard Cat, Cattermelon, Rainbow-Ralphing Cat, Hairy Potato Cat and our personal favorite, the palindromic Tacocat. If you have a pair of any one of the cats you can steal a random card from another player.
For us, the genius of Exploding Kittens is in its silliness. While some other games can get tense or competitive, the sheer silliness of the cards and their fun illustrations made sure the game stayed light-hearted. It’s hard to get bent out of shape at being attacked by a Catterwocky or Bear-a-dactyl.
Exploding Kittens soon became a family favorite, managing to compete with the wonders of YouTube and Xbox, at least for a little while. The game is suitable for 2-5 players, and we’ve tried it with every number of players. The 2-player variant is just as much fun as when playing with 5, and I would imagine this would make a fun couples game with cold beer and snacks.
In summary, I enjoyed reviewing this game. Exploding Kittens is a cross-generational good time that I can imagine us playing for a long time to come. That said, the sense of humor behind the game isn’t to everyone’s taste so if you are particularly literal or sensitive then it might be best to borrow before you buy.
Strategy Tips to Help You Dominate in Exploding Kittens
Here are our top tips to help you get playing Exploding Kittens like a pro from the very first game.
Track the Cards You might not be able to track a regular deck of cards like a Vegas pro, but there are far fewer cards to think about in an Exploding Kittens deck. You get to see every card that gets played, so if you know three attack cards have been played and you hold another, you know no one else can attack.
Combine Cards Once you’ve spent some time getting to know what all the cards do in isolation, it’s time to think about combos. Let’s say you use ‘See the Future’ and find an Exploding Kitten at the top of the pack. You could then attack, skip or shuffle to remove the danger. If you don’t have one of those cards, or a defuse, you could play a force card and hope you get something useful from another player. Don’t play ‘See the Future’ unless you have a card to combine it with, there’s no point in knowing what’s coming if you can’t change it.
Hold ‘em Close It can be tempting to play those cool cards, but it’s better to keep them in your hand. There’s no limit to the number of cards you can hold with Exploding Kittens, and often the best move in the early stages is to pass. Then when you get to the later stages of the game, you have plenty of defense or offense options.
Take No Prisoners Exploding Kittens is a great game to play with friends and family, but they need to be the sort of friends who will take it well if you do the dirty on them in the game. The only way to win in Exploding Kittens is to ruthlessly steal cards from other players using a force card, or one of the cat combos. Likewise, don’t be shy about using those Nope cards. Exploding Kittens is not a polite game, you don’t need to do what you’re told.
Feint Let’s say you’ve used a, ‘See the Future’ card and the next three cards are all nothing to worry about. Play a skip card anyway. Why? Because it will worry your opponents; they’ll think there’s a kitten coming up and play some of their useful cards to avoid it. That’s fewer cards to save them later in the game.
The makers of Exploding Kittens have gone on to create two expansion packs for the game, Imploding Kittens and Streaking Kittens. These bring with them new cards, which help to give you a fresh and funny game experience. Also, if the family-friendly version is a bit tame for you, the makers have also created an NSFW (not safe for work) game with more edgy humor.
Exploding Kitten has been such a success that the makers have gone on to create more games, too. There are the family-friendly Bears vs Babies, and the more adult You’ve Got Crabs.
The Bottom Line: Yea or Nay?
Exploding Kittens has received a lot of hype over the years, due mostly to its amazing Kickstarter success. Most of us have been burned by over-hyped products or movies before, so it’s natural to be cautious. When it comes to this game, the hype is totally on point.
If your sense of humor is aligned with the makers of the game, then Exploding Kittens is definitely worth the money. This isn’t a game that you will only play once, it’s the sort that you will want to play over and over again, and to get visiting friends and family to play too.
Should the day come when you’re finding the core game a bit dull, then you can freshen things up with one of the expansions.
Exploding Kittens is a game that can bring generations together for good-humored competitiveness. The cards themselves are amusing and well drawn, and the gameplay is simple to learn and interesting enough to hold interest over multiple games.
Sarah Dixon is a freelance writer and author who lives in York, England. A Couch to 10K veteran, she takes full advantage of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside to get outside, hiking, geocaching or just playing games with her two children