Andrew: Last night, Jess and I had a chance to head on over to The Uncommons (THE board game café in Manhattan…I feel like I’ve said that before) for a very special, very romantic evening of ok, look, no more clever nonsense, we got to play Exploding Kittens, the ultra-omega-smash Kickstarter success story from The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman), Elan Lee, and Shane Small!
Want a sneak peek? I thought you might…
Jess and I got to the Uncommons ridiculously early. The house was packed (it always is), but Greg May, founder and operator of the (incredibly awesome) venue, was on hand to shepherd would-be playtesters around until such time as their kittens were ready to be exploded. For a while, we listened to the riotous laughter coming from the private quarters of the back room, where the first group of twenty players were busily testing the heck out of this already record-breaking game.
In case you’re new to board games (in which case, hi!, welcome, and we love you!), or just someone who doesn’t read the internetz (in which case, um, how are you seeing this?), Exploding Kittens assaulted Kickstarter in January of this year. After hitting it its meager funding goal of $10,000 within EIGHT MINUTES of opening, the juggernaut of a campaign would go on to close with a sanity-shattering $8.7 million (that’s $8,782,571 for those of you who wanted to see it written out) raised by over 219,000 backers, making it the most backed project on Kickstarter ever.
Obviously, numbers that staggering were due in great measure to The Oatmeal’s massive following, but hey, it’s a card game about kittens and bombs and bear-o-dactyls and some sort of unicorn enchilada?
What’s not to love?
Finally, 8 PM rolled around, and we watched the laughing mass of previous playtesters shuffle out. We took our seats and met Chris and Katie, our ‘Kitten Consuls’, who had won the right to run the evening’s event (presumably by sacrificing and/or eating an entire goat made of cheese or something). On the table in front of us, lounging like a lazy god, was a simple red tuckbox, emblazoned with the Exploding Kittens logo. A few minutes of yelling to figure out who wanted what beer, and then, suddenly, we were starting.
We were warned that some groups had been given the rules of the game, while others (including ours) had been given ‘the rules, but shorter’. This was a playtest, after all, and the rule set we were given was designed with less text and slightly more ambiguity in mind (to encourage house rules, or maybe just really, really bitter bickering between your friends). A few moments of skimming through cards and reading, and we were into it.
The format of the game is sublimely simple. You start your turn by playing as many cards from your hand as you want (or not), and then you must draw a card (unless one of your played cards said you didn’t have to).
If that card isn’t an exploding kitten, then yay! You survive another round! If that card is a titular Exploding Kitten, well, you’ve got two options. Play a ‘Diffuse’ card to distract said kitten (putting it back in the draw deck secretly and in any position you want), or get blown up hilariously, and game over for you.
Everyone starts with a ‘Diffuse’ card, and there are exactly one fewer kittens in the deck than there are players. Other cards let you shuffle the draw deck before drawing (in case you suspect a previous player manipulated the kittens against you), skip your draw phase entirely, force another player to draw more, or the ‘Nope’ cards, which cancel other people’s special cards (except Exploding Kitten and Diffuse, because either of those would be stupid-overpowered).
There are a handful of other cards in the deck, like Tacocat (he’s a palindrome!) or the unfortunate (but still beautiful in its own horrific way) Overweight Bikini Cat, which don’t actually do anything on their own. However, they can be played in pairs, triples, or other combos to trigger extra actions before you draw, most of which revolve around stealing from other players’ hands or the discard pile (and they also clutter up your own hand, for when people start stealing from you).
And that’s it! Play if you want, draw, distract a kitten if you must or blow up if you can’t. The game is simple, straightforward, and extremely quick. The art is signature Inman, with his perversely proportioned figures and adorable yet horrifying concepts. We giggled a lot.
Exploding Kittens is tons of fun.
Well, ok, it’s tons of a very specific kind of fun.
Exploding Kittens isn’t deep at all, and it absolutely isn’t trying to be. It’s a game of Russian roulette, using adorably drawn kittens as bullets. The game can become incredibly tense as the draw pile wanes and the kittens still haven’t shown themselves (our last game ended with all four kittens as the last cards of the draw pile – Exploding Kittens, Sudden Death Edition!).
All the card manipulation in the world won’t save you when you have to draw a card and you know it’s a kitty, just waiting to blow your ass up. Skip gets played, Nope cancels that, then Nope cancels THAT, and then you get blown up, and everyone laughs, and you watch and laugh as the next poor fool ties to avoid her kitteny fate. She won’t, either, and soon you’ll be shuffling to deal again.
But the beauty of Exploding Kittens (aside from Overweight Bikini Cat, obviously), is in its brevity. The game is quick and light (some will undoubtedly call it shallow), but it’s a party game, a lunchtime game, a filler game. It’s not even as heavy or as time-consuming as Cards Against Humanity, another incredibly popular game of the same ilk.
Exploding Kittens isn’t a game you’re going to play endlessly – it’s a game you’ll bring out for a few hands with the right group, or as a warmup for game night, or as a game to teach non-gamers and kids (omitting, obviously, the NSFW pack, which we didn’t see last night).
It’s an uncomplicated little game that won’t challenge your definition of fun, but simply doesn’t need to. Exploding Kittens will make a table full of adults laugh and point and curse and laugh some more, and that’s plenty enough for me.
So please, won’t you think of the kittens? The nightmarish, explodingly dangerous kittens?