When I saw Unexploded Cow at a recent board game sale I was interested in checking out the game. One of the designers Paul Peterson has created two games (Guillotine and Smash Up) that I have really enjoyed. Also how could a game where you use cows to trigger unexploded bombs not peak your interest based on how strange the concept is. Finding the game for a couple dollars didn’t hurt either. With all of that going for it, I had high hopes for Unexploded Cow. While Unexploded Cow has some interesting ideas, the game just doesn’t live up to its’ potential in my opinion.
How to Play Unexploded Cow
These rules are for the 2001 version of the game. The 2013 version of the game has slightly tweaked some of these rules.
Separate the city cards from the cow cards and shuffle each deck individually. Place the city deck face down on the table. Deal three cow cards to each player. Each player is given $2,000 and has to put $50 into the pot and $50 into the bank. Choose the first player in whichever way you prefer.
Playing the Game
At the beginning of a player’s turn they flip over the top city card if no city card is currently face up on the table.
The current player draws two cards from the cow deck. They are then allowed to play as many cards as they want. A player can play a cow card in front of themselves or in front of another player. Whoever the card is played in front of pays the corresponding price for the card (the smaller number) to the pot. When playing cards in front of themselves the current player can rearrange the order of their cards. If the card is played in front of another player the card can only be played to one of the two ends of their line of cards. Some of the cow cards have special abilities (written on the cards) that a player is able to use once per turn.
When playing an event card the price is paid, the text on the card is followed and the card is added to the discard pile.
After the current player has finished playing cards, they will roll the die. This determines the location of a bomb. Using the number rolled, the player starts with the card in front of them which is the furthest right and starts counting cards until they reach the number rolled. The card that corresponds to the number rolled is the cow that found the bomb in the current city. This cow is destroyed and the player who owns that cow receives the amount in the top left corner (the larger number) from the pot. If the pot doesn’t have enough money to pay out the entire amount, the player only receives what is left in the pot.
If a player rolled a number higher than the number of cows in front of them, they continue counting the cards of the player to their left and so on. If the number rolled is higher than the number of cards on the table, no bomb is found.
If the cow that is blown up is a spy, the player who owns the spy is the player who receives the reward from the cow.
If the cow’s value is negative, the owner of the cow has to pay that amount into the pot.
After the cow’s value has been paid, the cow card is put in the discard pile. If the current player is able to blow up one of their own cows on their turn, they get to take the face up city card.
End of Game
The game ends when a player takes the last city card. Players then add up the points on all of their city cards. The player with the most points takes all of the money in the pot and bank. If two players are tied for the most city points, the players share the pot and bank.
After the pot and bank have been given out, all of the players count up their money. The player with the most money wins the game.
My Thoughts on Unexploded Cow
could use more variety in cards
I would like to begin by saying that my review is based on the 2001 edition of Unexploded Cow. The game was later reprinted in 2013. While the basic gameplay remains the same, there does appear to be a couple small changes to the newer version of the game. There appears to have been a couple rule tweaks and for the most part they feel like improvements. The newer version of the game also has what appears to be significantly better component quality.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I had expectations for Unexploded Cow. I didn’t think the game was going to be the best game ever but it had a lot going for it. It had a designer that has made games that I have enjoyed in the past. The premise is a little strange/morbid but interesting nonetheless. Unexploded Cow even has some interesting gameplay mechanics that I haven’t really seen in other games. With all of these different elements Unexploded Cow should have appealed to me. For some reason it just didn’t though. None of these elements come together quite right which prevents the game from being as good as I hoped it would have been.
Unexploded Cow has a lot of the mechanics in place to be a good game. The game is quite easy to play. The rules take minutes to learn and are simple enough that players who don’t play many card games shouldn’t have too much trouble picking up the game and playing it in a couple minutes. Unexploded Cow is meant to be a filler game and is a decent one if you have 20-30 minutes and you don’t want to put too much thought into the game.
The game’s mechanics show potential. Unexploded Cow is similar to most card games where you play cards in front of yourself and in front of your opponents in order to hinder them. The players then pay the associated cost to the pot. While these mechanics have been done in many other games, the one somewhat unique mechanic is the idea of the bomb die where the card corresponding to the number rolled blows up rewarding the player with the corresponding amount of money. This mechanic mostly just adds luck to the game but it is still somewhat interesting as you try to lay your cards in a way where you hope to maximize your earnings.
While Unexploded Cow is far from a bad game, it just feels like something is missing from the game. Unexploded Cow feels like a game that really needs some house rules. The game has a good base but needs a little more to make the game a little more interesting. If someone wanted to play Unexploded Cow I wouldn’t have a problem with playing it but there are many other games that I would prefer playing.
I think the biggest problem with the game is that each player gets too much money. Usually I love having a lot of money in games since it gives you a lot more options on what you can do on your turn. This doesn’t work in Unexploded Cow though because you are rarely if ever in danger of running out of money. Money is never going to force you to make a decision that you otherwise wouldn’t make. In the game I played I don’t think a single player fell below $1,000 which is half of what you start the game with. Having basically an unlimited amount of money takes a lot of the decision making out of the game. Outside of holding cards to play on future turns or not playing cards since the game is almost over, there really is no reason not to play all of your cards on your turn.
This was a huge missed opportunity in my opinion since I think the game would have been a lot more interesting if you actually had to make decisions with regards to money instead of just playing every single card you want. It would have added strategy to the game having to decide which cards you really wanted to play and which cards you would have to wait to play. With limited money you would have had to decide between playing several cheap cards or one expensive card. With so much money you might as well play all of them.
With a lot of the decisions taken out of choosing which cards to play, the game relies a lot on luck. Basically whoever draws the best cards, rolls the die best, gets to play earlier and wins the best city cards will likely win the game. Some cards are considerably better than other cards so the player who draws the best cards have an advantage in the game. Players who get to play earlier have an advantage over players who play later since they will get to play more cards. Rolling the dice and hitting one of your own cows is a huge advantage. Being a light game it is not surprising that there is quite a bit of luck in the game but I wish it would have been balanced out with more strategic decisions. I really don’t see a game of Unexploded Cow ending where the luckiest player doesn’t end up winning.
One thing I really don’t know what to think of is the fact that there is a lot of “take that” in Unexploded Cow. I generally don’t like these type of mechanics but people who do might really like Unexploded Cow. There are a lot of different ways to mess with the other players. A lot of the event cards let you steal/replace cows owned by the other players. Second every player will play their negative cows to other players since there is no reason not to. Third the spy cows force another player to pay for a cow and you get all of the benefits from that cow. Finally at the end of the game you can play a ton of cows in front of a player forcing them to pay for them when they won’t be able to blow them up and get their money back.
Finally I want to address the components for Unexploded Cows. This mostly only pertains to the 2001 version since the components in the newer version appear to be considerably better. As a whole the name of the publisher for Unexploded Cow (Cheapass Games) does a pretty good job describing the quality of the game’s components. This is somewhat by design since the publisher’s goal was to make cheaper games that focused more on gameplay than aesthetics. I actually really like the concept of eliminating the frills in order to make games cheaper but I think Unexploded Cow took this concept a little too far. While the components are not terrible, you can tell that they were cheap. The card’s artwork is pretty good but all of the cards are in black and white and there is not a lot of variety in the cards. The 2001 edition doesn’t include the die and money you need to play the game. The die is easy to find but it is a pain trying to find play money to use for the game. I think the game would have been better served being slightly more expensive and including some cheap paper money.
Should You Buy Unexploded Cow?
Overall I think Unexploded Cow is a very average game. It is not a bad game but it is not one of my favorites either. The game has a quirky theme and some easy to understand mechanics. You can have some fun with the game but I just feel like there is something missing. The game gives the players too much money which eliminates a lot of the decision making from the game. This makes the game rely almost entirely on luck. At times it just feels like you don’t have much impact on the game.
As far as a recommendation I see Unexploded Cow as a game that some people will enjoy while others won’t really care for it. If the premise sounds interesting to you and you don’t mind a game that relies a lot on luck with few strategic decisions I think you will enjoy Unexploded Cow. I would highly recommend picking up the newer version of the game though.