Game Review: Exploding Kittens

Exploding Kittens is a fast paced “don’t draw the wrong card” type of game where you have some limited Uno-esque powers like skipping turns, undrawing cards, and set matching. It’s easy to see why the game was such a success on Kickstarter, because it offers a visual feast along with a side of absurd humor. To top it off, the game takes about 10 minutes to play tops. I love it, but my innate tendencies say I have to pick it apart…

from http://cdn.slashgear.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/avoid22.jpg

hehe… cheetah butt

When I first picked up the game, it reminded me of Pokemon cards because I didn’t care about the game, I just want to look at the pretty pictures. Pokemon cards – despite my years of collecting – never drew me into the game proper. Here though, after the initial picture lust wore off (after about 2 games – there aren’t a lot of different cards and they all come in the same package), there was a nice little gem of a game sitting below the surface. Something entertaining, quick, and fair.

Now, lets be upfront about this – This isn’t a new game. I’ve played this same game a million times through Uno (in the sense of 90% of the game mechanics), through MTG (in the sense of bad cards), through Go Fish (card matching for bonuses), and a bunch of other games. What this is, is a refined version of those mechanics. The people who made the game took what they liked from other games and condensed and condensed until there wasn’t any more room in Exploding Kittens for anything else. I don’t know if they have expansions planned (I mean, they probably do – I should probably do some research instead of just speculating) but if they do, I’d be worried about upsetting the balance of the game. It’s almost perfect as it stands.

The almost part of “almost perfect” comes from the luck factor. I don’t hate luck, I just can’t commit my whole heart to a game that would callously throw me under the bus 2 turns in a row just because I have the misfortune of being the guy that draws garbage cards to put into garbage hands. Most of the time when I come out on top in a game it’s because I did something to get there (made an early trading alliance (Catan) – negotiated a mutual defense agreement (Risk) – turned the other players against each other (every other game)). This is a game where you don’t have a lot of agency in changing whatever ailment the game inflicts upon you, the game is so short and steady that you can’t influence other people’s actions because they already decided what they’re going to do 2 turns ago, and that means I lose every game.

Which, to be honest, isn’t the game’s fault necessarily. I just have that weird ego/id collision that tells me “you should win this.” What my brain doesn’t account for is poor plays – they always take me by surprise. Luck is a huge factor in the game, but human error plays an equal part in the strategy. It’s almost a gambling game in the way that you deal with other people’s hand of cards. You never know what they’re holding, and you have to either bluff your way into victory or let randomness decide the outcome of every interaction. It’s a tightwire act to keep this type of gameplay fun, but they did it.

Despite this review, which is RAVE by my standards. I don’t really have the urge to play it again. If someone whipped out two games at a party and said, “Alright everyone pick one and only one and we’re going to play it for the next 2 hours – Exploding Kittens or Cards Against Humanity”… I would be chomping at the bit to play Exploding Kittens. But I can’t see myself ever suggesting it as the game I want to play the most. It’s a great introductory game, with a nicely refined set of rules borrowed from other games, and the art is amazing (I wish there were more of it). I’m going to give it a thumbs up. Definitely play this with kids and adults alike, there’s a lot to love here.

from http://www.albany.com/byesline/its%20good.jpg

It’s good!

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