Play Time: 15 mins.
Exploding Kittens is a light reverse-Uno style card game released in 2015 from designer Matthew Inman.
Exploding Kittens is some sort of crazy anomaly.
We here at BoardGameBuds spend a lot of time checking in on Kickstater. The crowdfunding concept has revolutionized Tabletop Gaming, allowing room for the game designer to breathe and present some creative and unique ideas. Now, a few years into a bit of maturity, Kickstarted Tabletop Games have seen some startling cases of success. A few of our recent favorite games have come from Kickstarter, like Blood Rage and Mistfall.
On the other hand, sometimes creative and unique means absolute steaming piles of garbage. It’s even possible in some cases that the steaming pile of garbage is never delivered to the backer, or delayed for months of even years. We didn’t get the chance to back Myth when it was on Kickstarter, but we did pick up a copy afterwards. The stain and stench of pure poopy still hangs around the game collection from that turd.
Still, despite some hits and misses, the overall impression of quality and innovation we’ve found from the Kickstarter platform has been tremendous. CoolMiniOrNot has had more than a few highly successful campaigns, with backers pledging multiple millions of dollars.
Exploding Kittens, however, was able to earn about twice as much as CoolMiniOrNot’s highest-backed campaign – to the tune of $8 Million.
Just reading those two words back to back, and acknowledging them as a title and theme for a Tabletop Game gave us pause for a few moments. There’s definitely a subset of Kickstarter games that have attempted to make humor a main aspect of the product. Most of them, that we’ve played, also seem to fail on a spectrum that ranges from “a near miss” to “miserably unfunny”
Yet somehow, this small box of a game managed to blow away even the next closest competitor in terms of pledges. My curiosity was piqued sufficiently to order a copy of the game and check it out, and along the way hopefully figure out whether that seemingly inexplicable level of success was, in fact, explicable.
So, let’s go blow some cats up.
Gateway Game - On Par with UNO in terms of difficulty.Exploding Kittens is a perfect game for either starting or ending a game night. It also works great as a bit of filler between other games.
It’s also incredibly easy to introduce to non-gaming friends, or even younger gamers who seem to really enjoy it. There is some rather weird art and card titles, so keep that in mind if thinking about picking this game up for kids.
Also, there is a NSFW (Not Safe For Work) version that should definitely be avoided if you’re going to buy Exploding Kittens for someone under 18!
Exploding kittens has a very small footprint. The box is actually a bit oversized, as it contains a simple set of cards.
Right away the box also greets you with the brand of humor that is contained and consistent throughout the product. This is actually a positive, as it gives anyone who looks at the front of it a pretty good idea of whether you’ll enjoy the humor, or hate it.
The cards in Exploding Kittens are the meat of the game. This is obviously the area where the quality of the product has to be right, and I can happily say that they are excellent.
First off, the feel of the cards is perfect. They are just the right amount of gloss and thickness to stand up to multiple plays.
The artwork is another critical aspect of Exploding Kittens. I was already a fan of Matthew Inman’s work on The Oatmeal before, and that’s probably a reason why this was a positive aspect. There is a ton of variety to it, and it gives each player a little bit of fun to just sit and read over some of the goofy pictures and titles while waiting for the other players to take a turn.
Some of the stuff is pretty weird, but I also think it treads that line of “not trying too hard” just right. It’s just something else there to make the actions of each card a little more engaging.
There isn’t a picture, unfortunately, but the insert is also pretty poor. For a game this small, that only has to deal with cards, it’s really simple: give us an insert that can hold all of the cards and a little space above them so they don’t go sliding around everywhere when you pick up and move the box.
This kind of oversight is hard to believe for a product that earned over $8 Million in backers. A Deck of playing cards costs $3-$5. A copy of Exploding Kittens costs $20. Make the physical product worth it.
Editor’s Note: After posting this review, the publishers informed me that future print runs have a deeper tray for the cards. Consider this flaw fixed going forward!
Exploding Kittens instructions are another highlight of the product. It contrasts nicely with a game like Love Letter Batman.
In Love Letter: Batman, the instructions are similarly incredibly simple. They also went with a small booklet format, which only puts a tiny bit of information on each page. This ends up leading to a lot of silly, unnecessary flipping. It also ends up requiring passing around from player to player (although it’s easy enough for one player to explain in most cases)
Exploding Kittens, by making a seemingly simple change to a foldout format, streamlined the instruction process elegantly. It is still very easy to digest, and being able to see all of the basics at once and simply turn it for someone else to read works great.
It seems silly to spend four paragraphs praising such a simple feature, but it’s a great simple little feature that helps stand out, and exemplifies the production value.
Exploding Kittens is a slightly more complex version of Russian Roulette, without live ammunition. It does feature player elimination, hand management, pressing your luck and take that mechanics.
The primary goal of the game is the be the last player left standing. You do this by avoiding the Exploding Kitten cards. These cards will immediately knock you out of the game when drawn, unless you have one other special type of card in your hand when you draw it: The Defuse Card.
Each player starts out with at least one of these Defuse cards, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be knocked out right out of the gate. The other cool aspect about the Defuse card is that it allows you to place that Exploding Kitten card back into the deck, wherever you choose!
This is one of the neat little mechanics of the game that make it a bit more interesting than something like UNO. You can choose to put the Kitten right on top, making the next player deal with it. Maybe you want to put it as the second card from the top, expecting the player after you to skip the top card, or playing a longer game to take out someone more spaces away. One of my favorite strategies is to place them at the very bottom, or one or two cards from the bottom. If you make it that far into the game, you’ll have some extra knowledge about where that Exploding Kitten is!
The initial deck construction always contains one less Exploding Kitten card than the number of players. This ensures that all but one person will be eliminated by the end of the deck. Discarded cards are never put back into the deck, although they can occasionally be re-drawn through certain gameplay elements.
The basic turn structure in Exploding Kittens is also quite simple, but has some nuance to it. You first are given an opportunity to play a card, or set of cards on the discard pile. You also can elect not to play any cards at all. After the card playing phase, you then must draw one card from the deck.
As the game goes on, it becomes apparent that having a big hand can be a huge advantage. Having a big hand makes it harder for the opponents to take more powerful cards from you, and it also gives you plenty of options when your turn comes up. In that respect, Exploding Kittens resembles a bit of the opposite of UNO, where you want to get rid of all of your cards.
Even this strategy can get you into trouble, though, as not playing cards can leave you blind to what is coming up next. It becomes a game of pushing your luck to see whether or not you can get through every draw without pulling a Kitten.
The other cards provide plenty of interesting elements along the way. They break the rules in some cases, as well. Skip allows you to end your turn without drawing a card. Favor forces another playe to give you a card of their choice. Even the basic cards can be combined in a set, using the advanced rules, to allow card stealing, or drawing from the discard pile.
My personal favorite card has to be the Nope. This one is played at any time to cancel the effect of any card or combo that an opponent is playing (but not a defuse!). Nope is like the Cancel card in Fireball Island. It provides hilarious opportunity to screw over your friends at the moment they are most vulnerable. You can also throw another Nope on top of a Nope, and so on!
Exploding Kittens probably isn’t the game that you’re going to play more than four or five times in a row. It’s also the type of game that is easy to pull out and play one or two rounds every now and then. It fits the category of filler game really well, and provides some pretty hilarious moments – especially if playing it as a drinking game.
In terms of value, I have to knock the game just a bit for the pricing of it. While there are a lot more cards in it than something like Batman Love Letter, it is also twice as expensive. Similarly, it probably has as many cards as a game like Sushi Go, but even that game can be found in the $10-$15 range. Exploding Kittens deserves to be in that same price range, given the content delivered.
All in all, the pricing is a pretty minor gripe. Overall, the game does deliver a fair amount of value for the price. The novelty of it seems to be where the extra pricing is, but in terms of sheer gameplay and replay value, it lands right in line with other games that are a bit less expensive.
Exploding Kittens definitely delivers the feeling of tension from a player elimination game where that knockout punch can happen at any time. There’s a feeling of relative safety that you have when holding onto a Defuse card, but it never really lasts for long.
The mechanic of replacing the Exploding Kittens when playing a Defuse also just increases that tension as the game progresses. The deck simply grows smaller and smaller while the same amount of Kittens lie in wait to blow up in your face. This ramping up of the tension while physically seeing the deck running out is one of the best aspects of Exploding Kittens.
Watching your opponents draw cards and also trying to figure out what their plan is turns out to be a lot of fun as well. Especially when adding the more advanced rules in allowing card pairs and combos to be played, it creates situations where you can’t just sit back and hold onto all of you cards and wait out the storm. An opponent picking up another Defuse card could spell a very easy victory for them, so acting earlier could be necessary just to keep the game tight!
There really isn’t a ton of complexity to Exploding Kittens, but the combination of cards included does create a bit more of a game than I first imagined when reading over the rulebook. I suspect that many others will also find a similar experience when playing it, and giving it a go!
Exploding Kittens has points of excellent production, and can provide hilarious moments of painful elimination with a good dose of ramping tension in a small package.
What we Loved about Exploding Kittens.
– The Nope cards turn the game on its head and destroy well-laid plans.
– Seeing the deck shrink and knowing that next Exploding Kitten could be just around the corner.
– Excellent card production value.
– A Tabletop game that Succeeds at Humor!!
What we didn’t Love as much about Exploding Kittens.
– Deserves a better insert. Edit 6/28/2016: The publisher has fixed this with deeper insert in future printings.
– A tiny bit overpriced for the product delivered.