In recent years a good source for finding financing for board game projects has been Kickstarter. Some of the biggest projects on the site have come from card and board games. I bring this up because today I am looking at one of the biggest success stories in the history of Kickstarter. First launched in January of 2015 Exploding Kittens was only hoping to raise around $10,000. The game quickly received a lot of buzz on the internet eventually leading to the game getting over $8 million in preorders. I originally heard about the game during its Kickstarter campaign, but I never gave it much thought as I always thought it was just popular for being popular. I normally would have ignored the game entirely, but I found a copy of the game at a thrift store for $0.50 and as a bargain shopper I thought it was worth giving it a shot at that price. Exploding Kittens relies on a lot of luck and is kind of random, but I was genuinely surprised that there is more to the game than I originally expected.
How to Play Exploding Kittens
- Remove all of the Exploding Kittens cards (4) and the Defuse (6) cards from the deck.
- Shuffle the remaining deck and deal four cards face down to each player.
- Each player takes one of the Defuse cards that were set aside. The remaining Defuse cards are added back to the deck.
- Add a number of Exploding Kitten cards back to the deck equal to the number of players minus one. Any extra Exploding Kitten cards are returned to the box.
- Shuffle the remaining cards and place them face down in the middle of the table. These cards will form the draw pile for the game.
- Choose who will start the game.
Playing the Game
A player begins their turn with the option of playing a card(s). Any card you play will be added to the discard pile. When you play a card that has instructions on it you will follow the instructions after playing the card.
To play cards without instructions you must play two cards of the same type. When you play a pair of no instruction cards you will choose one of the other players. You will then have the ability to randomly draw one card from the chosen player’s hand and add it to your own hand.
Players can play as many cards as they want. Once a player has finished playing cards they will draw the top card from the draw pile (unless they played a card that allows them not to draw a card). If the player draws any card other than an Exploding Kitten they will add the card to their hand and play will pass to the next player clockwise.
If the player draws an Exploding Kitten card they will check their hand for a Defuse card. If they have a Defuse card in their hand they will play it which will nullify the Exploding Kitten. The Defuse card is discarded. The player who drew the Exploding Kitten card takes the card and places it anywhere in the draw pile that they prefer (without looking at the cards). They may place it back on the top of the deck or anywhere else in the deck. The player can hide the deck of cards from the other players while they are doing this so the other players can’t see where they placed the Exploding Kitten card in the deck.
If a player draws an Exploding Kitten card and they don’t have a Defuse card they are immediately eliminated from the game.
The deck of cards features a number of different types of cards whose effects are detailed below:
Defuse: As detailed above Defuse cards are used when a player draws an Exploding Kitten card. By playing this card you avoid being eliminated from the game.
Nope: A Nope card can be played at any time to block a card played by another player. The two restrictions is that a Nope card can’t block an Exploding Kitten or a Defuse card. A Nope card can be used to block an instruction card, a pair of cards, or any type of combo. Any card that is blocked by a Nope card has no effect on the game. If the player whose card was blocked plays a Nope card though it blocks the other Nope card allowing the initial card(s) to be played.
Exploding Kitten: When a player draws an Exploding Kitten card they are immediately eliminated unless they have a Defuse card to nullify it.
Attack: An Attack card immediately ends a player’s turn allowing you to avoid drawing a card. The next player will then have to take two turns in a row. They will complete their normal turn and then play another turn. This means that the player will play cards and then draw a card. They will then have the opportunity to play more cards and then draw another card. If an attacked player plays their own Attack card they will skip the rest of their turn and the next player will have to take two turns.
Skip: A Skip card allows a player to immediately end their turn preventing them from drawing a card. If a player plays a Skip card after being attacked the Skip card will only skip one of the two turns. You would need to play two Skip cards to skip both turns.
Favor: When a Favor card is played you will choose another player to give you one of the cards from their hand. The player you chose will get to choose which card to give you.
Shuffle: A Shuffle card allows the current player to shuffle the deck before drawing a card.
See the Future: When a See the Future card is played the player will get to look at the top three cards from the draw pile. They should not show the cards to the other players. After the player looks at the cards they will return them to the deck in the same order that they were taken.
Non Instruction Cards: These cards have no special abilities. You can only play them in pairs/special combos. If you play two of them together you can take one card randomly from one of the other player’s hands.
End of Game
Eventually all but one player will draw an Exploding Kitten card that they can’t defend against. The last player remaining wins the game.
If you want a more advanced game you can add combos to the normal game. All of the other rules are the same except for the combo rules.
In addition to playing a pair of no instruction cards you can play a pair of any type of card with the same symbol in the corners. When you play a pair you can randomly take a card from one of the other player’s hands.
If a player plays three cards of the same type they have the option of asking for a specific card from another player. If the player has the card you asked for they must give you the card. If they don’t have the card you asked for you receive no benefit for playing three of a kind.
Finally a player can play five cards featuring different symbols in the corners. When a player plays these cards they can take one card of their choice from the discard pile.
My Thoughts on Exploding Kittens
The goal in Exploding Kittens is pretty straightforward. Basically you just don’t want to draw an Exploding Kitten card. Drawing an Exploding Kitten is basically an automatic elimination unless you have a defuse card. In a lot of ways you just have to hope that luck is on your side so you don’t draw one. Pretty much all of the gameplay of Exploding Kittens is based around minimizing the chances of you drawing one of the cards. Each of the cards give you some benefit that makes it easier to avoid elimination. You can use cards to skip your turn, force other players to draw cards, see the next three cards so you know what to expect, steal cards from other players, among other abilities. In a lot of ways Exploding Kittens feels like a traditional card game like UNO which has been combined with Russian Roulette. You can try to avoid having to draw cards, but you will still have to take chances and draw cards. Hopefully for your sake you don’t draw the wrong card.
One of the main reasons that I initially didn’t have much interest in Exploding Kittens was the fact that I thought it would rely on a lot of luck. In a lot of ways this first impression was spot on. Drawing the right cards is by far the driving force behind the game. It is better to be lucky in the game than make smart moves. You could make the best moves possible and still lose because there was no way to avoid drawing the wrong card. You could even know what is coming and yet you don’t have the cards needed to avoid elimination. You likely will have to make a smart play at some point to avoid one of the Exploding Kitten cards, but I could see a player easily winning the game just because they got lucky.
Avoiding the Exploding Kitten cards is not the only area where luck comes into play. There are cards in the game that are considerably better than others. By far the best cards in the game are the Defuse cards. These cards are basically get out of jail free cards as they prevent your elimination. When you have one of these cards in your hand you can’t be eliminated. Therefore the cards are really valuable. Everyone starts with one of them, but you can acquire additional Defuse cards during the game. You could end up drawing one from the deck or steal one from one of the other players. The cards that allow you to steal cards from other players are also valuable because they potentially give you the opportunity to take another player’s Defuse card. This takes away the other players second chance while giving you a third chance. Having two Defuse cards at the same time puts you in a very good position. This is one of the reasons that players are likely to gang up on the player with the least cards in their hand as you are more likely to get a good card.
In addition to saving yourself the Defuse cards give you an interesting opportunity. Since you were saved you now have the opportunity to add the Exploding Kitten card back into the deck. Instead of shuffling the remaining cards you get to pick where in the deck you want to place the card. Do you want to put it on the top of the deck so the next player has to deal with it? Maybe there is a player that you know who can’t defend against it so you will place it far enough down in the deck that they are forced to draw it? You could also just randomly put the card back into the deck, but what is the fun with that. What is even better is the fact that you can do this in secret so none of the other players know where you put it. If you play this correctly you can get players to waste valuable cards because they thought you targeted them. This mechanic might not seem like much at first, but I found it to be pretty clever.
It is hard to deny that Exploding Kittens relies heavily on card draw luck. I am not huge fan of this as I like games that give players more impact over their own fate. I have to say that I was a little surprised in this area as I enjoyed Exploding Kittens more than I was expecting. The reliance on luck is still a significant issue for the game, but I actually had fun playing the game. There is just something exciting about not knowing what will happen to you with the next card draw. You could draw a card that really helps you or you could draw the card that ends your game. This is kind of exciting especially when you get towards the end of the deck and you know one of the next cards has to be an Exploding Kitten.
I was also a little surprised that there is a little more strategy to the game than I originally expected. Exploding Kittens is far from a really strategic game, but the decisions you make in the game could make the difference between winning and losing. In most games you will have to make a decision that saves you from being eliminated. If you make the right decision in that moment you can win and if you don’t you will be eliminated. Drawing better cards is always helpful, but you need to be smart when choosing which cards to play. If you don’t need to you are almost always better off waiting to play a card. The problem is that not playing cards exposes you to more risk. You need to be willing to take risks in order to have a chance of winning the game. Choosing the right times to take risks and the right times to play it safe will likely determine how well you will do in the game.
Exploding Kittens’ greatest strength though is probably the fact that the game is really easy to play. Basically each player’s turn breaks down into playing a card(s) and then drawing a card. This is self explanatory. The only thing that is even somewhat difficult is the number of different cards and their various abilities. It takes a little time to understand what all of the cards do. Most of the cards’ abilities are self explanatory though so the game is still easy to learn. I would guess that you could teach the game to new players within just a couple minutes. The game is simple enough that pretty much anyone can play it. Basically if you can play a game like UNO you should have no troubles with Exploding Kittens. This simplicity also leads to the game playing pretty quickly. I would guess that most games can be finished in around 15-20 minutes.
Overall I would say that the game’s components are pretty solid. I thought the game’s artwork was pretty good even though I can see some people not being a big fan of the game’s style. The game’s style is meant be weird and it succeeds in that task leading to some genuine laughs. I will say that the print on the cards is a little hard to see though. I think the game should have made the print a little larger even if it is not all that necessary once you know what all of the different types of cards do. As for the card quality it is basically what you would expect.
Should You Buy Exploding Kittens?
I got to say that when I first heard of Exploding Kittens I didn’t have high expectations for it. It just felt like an internet fad that only became popular due to the weird theme. I thought the game would rely almost entirely on luck and my first impression was not wrong. Exploding Kittens relies on a lot of luck as the game comes down to not drawing an Exploding Kitten card. As all of the cards are not equal the player that draws the best cards is going to have a big advantage in the game. Despite the reliance on luck I have to say that I enjoyed Exploding Kittens more than I was expecting. There is just something exciting about not knowing what is going to happen with the next card you draw. You could draw a really powerful card or be eliminated entirely. There is also some strategy to the game as you try to figure out the best way to play your cards. On top of all of this the game is really easy to learn and play.
Basically if you think the premise doesn’t sound all that interesting or you have never really cared for basic card games like UNO I don’t see Exploding Kittens being for you. If the game sounds interesting to you though I think you can have some fun with it. For the right price it may be worth checking out Exploding Kittens.