Exploding Kittens Review
The most heavily funded game in Kickstarter history.
Think about that for a moment. Kickstarter is in bed with the board games industry in a huge way–hundreds of games are launched via Kickstarter, and it’s reached the point where there are several well-known designers and publishers that operate solely through Kickstarter, such as Stonemeier Games. In fact, Stonemeier Games made headlines this year when their newest project, Scythe, shot up to the 1.8 million mark, a truly impressive number for any crowd-funded board game.
Exploding Kittens made five times as much as that.
Clearly, there is something about Exploding Kittens that’s worth talking about.
Exploding Kittens is a very recent title, released this last year with overwhelmingly successful numbers. The game was designed by Elan Lee, Shane Small, and Matthew Inman. The former two have experience working with the Xbox brand, and the latter is a webcomic artist with a loyal following known as “The Oatmeal.” Together, these three created the game, marketed it, crowdfunded it, and set it on its way to becoming one of the new staples of party games, not unlike Cards Against Humanity, which was similarly Kickstarted a few years ago (albeit with much smaller numbers).
So, Kittens obviously isn’t lacking in the hype department, but there’s one question that remains, and it’s the only question that matters:
Is it good?
The answer (spoiler alert) is yes, but there’s obviously more to it. In this Exploding Kittens review, I’ll try to break down why.
This review is in accordion format; feel free to shrink them and jump around to whatever sections interest you the most.
YOU PUT THE CARDS FACE DOWN ON THE TABLE AND TAKE TURNS DRAWING FROM THEM. IF YOU DRAW A KITTEN CARD, YOU EXPLODE. WHEN YOU EXPLODE, YOU DIE AND YOU ARE OUT OF THE GAME.Exploding Kittens Rulebook
See that quote above? That’s the game. If there is one thing that can be praised about Exploding Kittens, it’s that, when it comes down to it, it’s remarkably simple and easy to learn.
Exploding Kittens promotes itself as “a highly strategic kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette,” and in that description, I’d say they’re pretty spot on. There is, of course, a little more to it than that (but not that much), so let’s get on with it.
Death By Kittens
Let’s start with the “if you draw a kitten card, you explode” part. In Exploding Kittens, everybody has a hand of cards that is randomly distributed, except for the “Defuse” cards, of which everybody has one copy. The game begins, and players take turns in a clockwise order, and each turn consists of the following structure:
-Play Cards (or don’t)
-Draw a Card
Players can choose to play a card from their hand. Or two. Or three. There’s actually no limit to how many cards you can play, so if you want, you could drain ’em all on your first turn. Not that you should, but it’s an option. There are several types of cards with various effects (more on that later), so there is some strategy that’s involved with this. Also, you don’t have to play a card, so this part of the turn can be ignored if you so please.
After you’ve played a card, you end your turn by drawing one. This is different from most card games, which typically have you drawing the card at the beginning of your turn.
If you draw an Exploding Kitten, you immediately lose the game. UNLESS…
…unless you have a defuse card. Should you have one in your hand (everybody starts with one), you can take the Exploding Kitten, and shuffle it back into the draw deck wherever you please. This can be kept secret, so if you’re really malicious you can screw over the next player by placing it on top.
If a defuse card is used, it’s discarded. No more freebies for you; the next Kitten might as well be Alderaan, because it’s blowing up unless you get your hands on another defuse. So, what then?
There are ways to make your odds more favorable, and that’s why it’s important to know the cards.
Pick a Card, Any Card
Aside from the defuse, there are six different types of (playable) cards, and each of them can help you out by allowing you to slightly mitigate the luck factor.
Attack cards allow you to immediately end your turn, and then force the next player to take two in a row.
Skip cards allow you to skip your turn.
Favor cards force an opponent to give you one of their cards (of their choice)
Shuffle cards allow you to randomly shuffle the draw pile.
See the Future cards allow you to peek at the top three cards of the deck (and put them back in the same order).
Cat cards have no particular effect on their own, but if played in pairs, allow you to steal a random card from a chosen opponent.
Finally, there’s a special type of card called a Nope card, which is a reactionary card that can negate anybody’s action (save for exploding kittens and defuses). Additionally, you can “nope” a “nope,” making a “yup,” and so on.
Using the cards in your hand is the key to success in Exploding Kittens. The object of the game, quite simply, is to not get blown up. Because there is a finite number of exploding kittens in the deck, the game will always end before all of the cards are used, meaning you’ll never reshuffle the deck. As a result, the deck will get smaller and smaller as the game goes on, increasing the chance of violent kitty death. The smarter you are with your cards, the more likely you’ll be from blowing up.
Mixing Things Up
Finally, there are “special combos” for “advanced play.” I use the quotes because there’s nothing particularly “advanced” about these rules, but they still add more than what you’ll find in the basic ruleset. If you want to make your game more interesting, you can play with these combos:
Two of a kind: ANY type of card can be played as a pair now (to steal an opponent’s card), not just cat cards.
Three of a kind: Same effect as pairs, only now you can name the card you want from your opponent. Great for stealing defuse cards.
5 different cards: If you play five cards that are all different from each other (as denoted by icons in the cards’ corners), you can go through the discard pile and pick a card of your choice. Nice!
Exploding Kittens, for all intents and purposes, is a “lol so random” game. I’m sure there’s a much better way to describe these kinds of games, but that’s all I’ve got for now. The “lol so random” brand of humor is becoming increasingly prominent in modern party games, where the game embraces a silly, ridiculous, random, and often crass tone. These games aren’t new to the market. Killer Bunnies is one of the most obvious examples, and many would say that it’s an obvious inspiration to Exploding Kittens. Munchkin, and its 4,000 variations, also falls into this category. Cards Against Humanity, while lacking the visual element, also openly embraces this type of humor (albeit to a more explicit degree), and was a heavy influence in popularizing it.
I hated Killer Bunnies, and Cards Against Humanity, despite being a game that I personally love, has more or less run its course. I expected Exploding Kittens to be similar to Bunnies, where the “lol so random” style of humor translated into the gameplay itself–random, ridiculous, and unpredictable. I was surprised to find that Exploding Kittens has a surprising amount of satisfying strategy, while also being remarkably easy to pick up and play.
Exploding Kittens is a “push your luck” game, but it’s still a game, instead of some bizarre exercise of throwing funny cards down just for laughs. There is definitely a certain level of skill that’s required if you want to win Exploding Kittens, but it’s obviously light enough to be easy to play by anybody and everybody. I very much enjoyed this about Kittens. It’s so easy to play, but it still challenges you, and the choices you have to make become exponentially more tense and important as the game goes on.
The game really does feel like a ticking time bomb, and it feels so satisfying when you know you have a 50% chance of drawing an exploding kitten, and then you completely avoid your fate through a series of well-played cards, passing on your death sentence to the next player. This kind of interaction is what made Exploding Kittens really fun for me.
The game feels like a Mario Party minigame.
For those who have played Mario Party, you’ll know that most games are a free-for-all every man for himself scenario, where players will do anything and everything possible to ruin the other players’ chances of winning while ruthlessly climbing to the top themselves. In other words, if you want to have peace with your fellow players, you don’t play Mario Party. Exploding Kittens is aggressive in the same satisfying way. As the draw deck slims down, it’s fun when you draw that next card, and the zealous eyes of each player are locked onto yours, coupled with twisted grins as they know that your card will be a kitten. It’s great, then, when you draw the card and it’s not a kitten, and you see the next player’s smug expression suddenly melt down into agony, and now you’re the smug one.
Exploding Kittens is very much a “take that!” game. There are tons of “take that!” moments, and these, as everything else in the game, are increasingly more exciting the farther you are into the game. Kittens isn’t a passive game; interesting things happen almost every turn, and the play that you think you’re going to get away with most likely won’t come into fruition. You might be attacked, stolen from, and manipulated into drawing the next kitten all within a few turns, in which case you have to react by attacking, stealing, and shuffling the deck yourself.
The best games of Kittens in our group have been the ones where, when it comes down to just a few cards left, the remaining players have an arsenal of cards at their disposal to change their luck. You might “see the future” and see that the remaining three cards have two kittens. You play an “attack” card, forcing your opponent to take two turns in a row. She plays a “nope!” You play a “nope!” back! She plays ANOTHER “nope!” Well shoot, now you have to draw a card. You pull the kitten, but boom, you have a defuse! You grin devilishly and slide the kitten back on top, forcing your opponent to draw the kitten. She plays a “skip,” passing the hot potato back to you. You feign agony, and draw the card, but then you reveal the last card in your hand, ANOTHER defuse from the draw pile that she didn’t know you had, and you grin even more devilishly, and slide the card back on top again.
I could keep going. She might be at a loss here, or she might have one or two more cards to change her fate. The point is, when it comes down to it, everyone is sweating beads. The two remaining players are nervous wrecks, potentially ready to explode at any second. The eliminated players have each taken their own sides by now, silently (or very audibly) rooting for the loss of the player that screwed them over earlier. THIS is what makes Exploding Kittens an entertaining game. It’s perfectly aggressive in the best way, and rekindles the feelings of swift vengeance and competitive “take that” moments that we felt back in the good old days of Mario Party.
The best part? The game plays very quickly, so it doesn’t suffer from its aggressive nature in the same ways that other “take that” games do. Getting eliminated from Risk, for example, is just the worst. Getting eliminated from Kittens really isn’t a big deal, because the game will be over so quickly that you’ll be able to hop right back in.
If you’re looking for a party game that really brings out the interaction in your group, then look no further than Exploding Kittens. It’s a great game that’s easy to pick up, quick to play, and chock-full of satisfying moments and reasonable strategy.
If you want variety, you can always add the Exploding Kittens: NSFW Edition to your game. This is the same game, only the art is more, uh, adult-friendly than the original. It can be easily combined with the original game, which will increase the player count and variety of cards. Given that the cards are generally highly entertaining to look at and read, this may not be a bad choice for diehard fans of the game.
Unlike Codenames, the last party game that we reviewed, the look and feel of Exploding Kittens is half the game. The cards are quite a riot, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t take the time to look at their art and read their flavor text.
Another thing to say about Exploding Kittens is that you’ll likely either love the art and general style, or you’ll hate it. The bottom line is that, if you already have an opinion on this type of art and humor, Exploding Kittens won’t change it. It is, like I said, a “lol so random” type of humor, both in the text and artwork. There is a fair portion of the population that’s pretty tired of this humor, and if that describes you, then you have your answer! The game’s not for you! If you find yourself laughing, or sharply exhaling from your nose as you read some of these cards, you’ll probably enjoy it. For better or for worse, it probably won’t change your opinion, so at this point, you’ve probably already been able to determine to some degree how much this game appeals to you.
I’m not a huge fan of Exploding Kittens’ style in excess, but in small dosages, it’s great, and I found myself really enjoying the cards here. When you play a “Nope” card, Nopestradamus might swoop in and lay down some truth, or a Nope Ninja” might fly in and swiftly deliver a “wicked dragon kick.
I also loved how they handled the exploding kittens themselves, as well as their defuse counter cards. The explanation from the game’s creators is enlightening here:
We love the name Exploding Kittens, but we don’t want to hurt kittens. We also don’t want the kittens to be hurt by anyone else. […]In the end, we realized that everyone understands feline shenanigans, and that could be our solution. Our kitties would not blow up out of malicious intent or negligence, but by doing the things that kittens do, like running across keyboards or chewing on things they shouldn’t be chewing on.Exploding Kittens Kickstarter Description
It’s fun to see this realized in the cards. Kittens walk across nuclear lunch terminals, clog up warp cores with their fur, and innocently chew on explosives. They’re just doing what kittens do best! As a result, it’s also entertaining to see the “defuse” solutions, such as distracting these kitties with laser pointers, luring them away with catnip sandwiches, or give them belly rubs at the expense of your own health and happiness.
The other cards are great too. The blank “cat cards” are so stupid and random and ridiculous that I wish there were more of them. None of these, of course, are normal cats. You’ve got the “beard cat,” the “rainbow ralphing cat,” the “hairy potato cat,” the “cattermelon,” and let’s not forget the “tacocat,” who is eager to remind us that they’re a palindrome.
I could go on, but I feel like it’d be redundant to run through every single card. It suffices to say that, at the end of the day, Exploding Kittens’ cards are highly entertaining, both with their artwork and humorous flavor text. Whether you’re taking your friend “beard sailing” as a favor, “engaging the hypergoat” to skip your turn, or “awakening the bear-o-dactyl” to attack your opponents, good times will be had while playing Exploding Kittens.
$20 is as good a value as you’d expect for a game like this. I can easily recommend it for this price; the game will surely be played many times over, and $20 is totally worth the investment for a game that’s as accessible as Exploding Kittens. The argument could be made that other card games can be found for cheaper, but it is what it is. Whether or not the game should be priced lower, it’s priced at $20, and that’s a good enough price for me.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, despite its booming success, Exploding Kittens is still a Kickstarter games, that might not have as many shortcuts and connections as big-time publishers do. With this in mind, $20 is reasonable in my mind.
You can also find the NSFW Edition for the same price, which, as mentioned in the above sections, is the same game with more adult-centric art.
The most legitimate criticism I can think of about Exploding Kittens is that it’s easy for players to be bullied. The hottest commodity in the game are undoubtadly the defuse cards, and it’s a given at the start of every game that each player has one of them. Given that you’re able to steal cards from other players, the most logical decision is to choose the player that has the smallest hand, as that will give you the highest odds of stealing their precious defuse. If one player has four cards while everybody else has five, they will be an obvious target. If they’re stolen from and then go down to three, they’re an even more obvious target. Aggressive as the game may be, it’s not really fun if you’re bullied into giving away all of your cards relatively early, only to draw a kitten and be powerless to stop it.
As a counterpoint, most clever groups would be wise to avoid these tactics. While the chance of getting a defuse is higher with a smaller hand, it’s also very dangerous to allow players to accumulate large hands. If a player has five or more cards at the end of the game, they’re practically guaranteed a victory–picking on one player often allows this to happen. Ultimately, Exploding Kittens is a fun game when you actually get to play it. If your opponents rob you of that ability, it’s kind of a bummer.
Other than that, the game is what it is. Do you like the artwork? Do you enjoy vengeance and aggression? Do you like push-your-luck games? If you can’t answer these questions in the affirmative, you might find plenty of things to hate about the game, in which case the obvious solution is just to skip it. If you do like these ideas, Kittens is right up your alley.
Not unlike Codenames, Exploding Kittens is the new up-and-coming party game that has a lot of hype to live up to. It is, after all, the most funded game in Kickstarter history. As with any other game that’s surrounded by hype, there’s an important question that must be answered: “What does the game do to deserve it?”
Exploding Kittens is a game that just hits all the right notes, for the game it’s trying to be. It’s not the perfect game, but it also doesn’t have any glaring flaws. Everything just kind of works together in a great little package. It’s a push your luck game that doesn’t feel too lucky. It’s an aggressive “take that” game that’s not too aggressive. It is neither too long nor too short. It’s random and silly and stupid, but it’s not obnoxious. In the end, Exploding Kittens throws several ideas together, and it does them well.
I received Exploding Kittens as a Christmas present, and to be 100% honest, I wasn’t thrilled at first. I was grateful to have a new game, and I was excited to have something to write about for the website, but I wasn’t convinced that I, personally, would enjoy the game. I’ve played other games in Kittens’ “genre,” and they didn’t do much for me. I’m happy to say that this one proved me wrong. Exploding Kittens is a great time, and it’s now my de-facto filler game.
“Filler game,” in fact, is the best way to describe Kittens. It’s something that you can pull out on a whim, play for a few minutes, and pack up at any moment’s notice. If you want it to be the main feature of your game night, it works, but it’s also one of the best choices if you’re looking for something to kill a few minutes. The game functions so well as a “quickie” filler game, that we’ve found ourselves playing it during the downtime in our Codenames games.
Exploding Kittens’ strength as a filler game, combined with its excellent balance of aggression and player interaction, makes it a fantastic title that’s well worth its $20 asking price. If I hadn’t known any better, would I have guessed that this is the highest grossing Kickstarter game of all time? Probably not, but I at least would have been able to say that it’s a fun game that I’d gladly play again. In the end of the day, I can’t ask for much more than that.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You enjoy pushing your luck
- You like “take that” moments
- You’re looking for a good filler game
- You like games that can be learned and taught within a matter of minutes
- You have fond memories of the “Bowser Bomb” minigame in Mario Party 2
- You’re really NOT a cat person
- You’re familiar with, or a fan of The Oatmeal
- You’re looking for a cheap game
YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- The prospect of kittens exploding makes you sad
- You’re easily prone to heart attacks in stressful moments
- You’re annoyed by the art style and humor that you’ve seen in the pictures in this review
- You dislike games where players pick on each other
- You’re just so over party games
- Bad luck easily enrages you