Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 2 September 2016

Kitten Killing Kidding

It raised $8,782,571.

A card game about detonating cats raised a stupid amount of money. A stupid amount of money that was a record for Kickstarter.

And it was all for card game about blowing up cats.

So the question is, now that the card game has landed in the hands of its two-hundred-and nineteen thousand, three-hundred and eighty-two backers, has all of that support and money been worth the effort? In other words, is it a good game?

Published by Exploding Kittens, LLC after an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, Exploding Kittens: A Card Game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats is a designed to be played by two to five players aged seven and over, is very easy to learn, and can be played in about fifteen minutes. It is a tactical game of kitten-fuelled Russian Roulette in which players push their luck in an attempt to avoid detonating cats using kitten distracting things like laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches, whilst trying to stop their rivals doing the same. If a player is faced with an IEK (Improvised Explosive Kitten), then he can use a ‘Defuse’ card—the aforementioned laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches—to save both himself and the kitten. Or at least, just himself. Otherwise he must accept both the kitten cuteness and the explosion, go boom, and be knocked out of the game. The last, unexploded player wins the game.

Play begins with each player receiving a hand of five cards, including a single Defuse card. On his turn, a player draws card. If this is an Exploding Kitten card, then he must use a Defuse card or be blown up and out of the game. If not, the card goes into his hand and his turn ends.

Before that though, a player is free to play any and as many of the cards from his hand. These have a variety of effects. ‘Attack’ cards force the next player to take your turn and their turn—that is two turns on a row, thus drawing more cards; ‘Skip’ cards ends a player’s turn without having to draw a card; ‘Favour’ cards forces another player to give you a card of their choice; ‘Shuffle’ allows a player to shuffle the Draw Pile; ‘See the Future’ lets a player look at the cards at the top of the draw pile; and ‘Cat’ cards are played in in like pairs or trios or quintet to steal cards from other players or take from the Discard Pile. The effect of any cards played can be blocked by a ‘Nope’ card.

As much as Exploding Kittens is about avoiding IEKs, it is as much about preventing the other players avoiding them. This can be done most obviously by playing ‘Nope’ cards to counter their actions, but ‘Attack’ cards force them to draw more cards and increases their likelihood of drawing ‘Exploding Kitten’ cards, as do ‘Skip’ cards. ‘Favour’ and ‘Cat’ cards reduce the cards a player has and thus the number of actions he can take on his turn or his ability to play Defuse cards.

This reduction of a rival’s options becomes ever more critical as the game progresses and the Draw Pile is reduced and the likelihood of an ‘Exploding Kitten’ card being drawn increases. Here the use of the ‘See the Future’ and ‘Shuffle’ cards come into their own because they allow a player some degree of control over the Draw Pile in manipulating the Draw Pile in his favour.

Physically, Exploding Kittens is vibrantly produced. Everything is in full colour and comes in a box that is both sturdy and amusing*. Similarly, the game’s cards are silly and amusing. For example, ‘Deploy the thousand-year back hair’ and ‘Attack of the Bear-o-dactyl’ (Attack cards); ‘Rub Peanut Butter on your Belly Button and make some New Friends’ and ‘Ask for a Back Hair Shampoo’ (Favour cards); ‘Feast upon the unicorn enchilada and gain its enchilada powers’ and ‘Deploy the Special-Ops Bunnies’ (See the Future cards); ‘A Plague of Bat Farts Descends from the Sky’ and ‘An Electromagnetic Pomeranian Rolls in from the East’ (Shuffle cards); ‘Don the portable cheetah butt’ and ‘Commandeer a Bunnyraptor’ (Skip cards); ‘Feed your opponent a Nope Sandwich with Extra Nopesauce’ and ‘A Jackanope Bounds into the Room’ (Nope cards); and ‘Cattermelon’ and ‘Beard Cat’ (Cat cards). 

*Note that your cats may not necessarily agree about how amusing this actually is. 

So gameplay is simple, even simplistic. Which begs the question, what is the appeal of Exploding Kittens? Part of the game’s attraction is the fact that it is illustrated by The Oatmeal, the comic and blog artist for the eponymously named website. The artwork for the game’s cards is silly, funny, even nonsensical, and there is no doubt that it will make you laugh out loud. The game’s title, let alone its full title—Exploding Kittens: A Card Game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats—should be enough to indicate that.

Yet is Exploding Kittens a good game?

For the gamer, it is not. Exploding Kittens is too light, too lacking in substance, and its ‘knock out’ mechanic will leave players with nothing to do but watch. For a family audience, its weird humour may be too odd for some and its adult expansion—Exploding Kittens: A Card Game for People who are into Kittens and Explosions and Boob Wizards and sometimes Butts—is definitely not suited to a family audience. Well, it does carry the minimum age of thirty plus… There is also the matter of humour which plays a major part of the game. Yes it is silly and it is funny, but it is not enough to bring a player back to playing Exploding Kittens more than a few times, because simply, the humour will pale over time and the game lacks depth for repeated, long term play. For the casual player, Exploding Kittens will be a much more appealing prospect as the very light and silly diversion that is.