Exploding Kittens blasted across the internet in 2015, when it became the Most Backed Kickstarter project of all time, with over 200,000 backers. And it’s easy to see why – with illustrations provided by The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman, this game was a winner.
Exploding Kittens is an exhilarating, fast-paced game of survival, full to the brim with tension and bursting at the sides with laughter. It plays like mash up of Uno, Poker and Old Maid, with an explosive Russian Roulette style ultimatum at the end of every turn.
Released with two editions – the Standard (Family Friendly) Edition and the Not Safe For Work (NSFW) Edition – Exploding Kittens really does provide something for everyone.
Off the box:
- Players: 2 – 5
- Ages: 7 years and up [NSFW version – 30 years and up!]
- Playtime: 15 minutes
- Designers: Elan Lee, Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) and Shane Small.
- Publisher: Self Published
- Key game mechanics: Hand Management, Player Elimination, Set Collection and Take That!
How do you play?
Exploding Kittens is a card game where you try to be the last player standing, by avoiding cute (yet catastrophically clumsy) exploding kittens. It all comes down to the end of your turn, when you must risk you life by drawing a new card from the deck and hoping you don’t encounter an exploding kitten – because if you do, you might be eliminated from the game.
So, how do you avoid a cat-astrophe? The only things that can help you are the cards in your hand. On your turn, before you draw, you can play as many cards as you like to increase your chances of survival and put your opponents in the firing line.
The most important of these are the Defuse cards, which unlike the other cards are only played after you draw a card (at the end of your turn). Defuse cards are your safety net, and will save you if you draw an exploding kitten. Playing the defuse neutralises the kitten and allows you to insert the kitten back into the draw pile, in a location of YOUR choice (giving you opportunity to try and blow up your opponents!). Once the kitten is back in the deck, your turn ends and it’s on to the next player.
Cards that you can play before you draw include a handful of action cards:
- Attack: this ends your turn without drawing a card and forces the next player to take two turns. This means that they get two opportunities to play cards, but they also have to draw from the deck twice, doubling the chance of getting an Exploding Kitten.
- Skip: end your turn without drawing a card.
- Favour: ask any player to give you one card of their choice.
- See the Future: take the top three cards from the deck, look at them, and then return them to the deck in the same order. This allows you to be more strategic in the cards you play.
- Shuffle: shuffle the deck. This is particularly useful after seeing the future… if you didn’t like what you saw.
- Nope: a nope card can be played at any time (even when it isn’t your turn) and cancels out the card that has been played before it, preventing the intended action occurring. Unless another player plays nopes your nope: two wrongs may not make a right, but in Exploding Kittens, two nopes make a YUP and the original card can still take effect. That is, unless somebody nopes the nope that noped the nope…..you get the picture.
Note: Any player can play nope cards at any time – you don’t even need to be the target for the card being played.
Finally, there are 5 different types of collectible cards that you can use on your turn, which give you special abilities:
- Two of a kind: you can steal a random card from the player of your choice.
- Three of a kind: you can ask a player for a particular card, and if they have it they must give it to you.
- 5 different cards: you can search the discard deck for a defuse any card.
These ‘collectable’ rules can actually apply to any cards in the game (e.g. the skip and nope cards) – but as a house rule, we stick to only using the action-less cards.
Once you know what the cards do, there isn’t much else to the game. Just remember: you can play as many cards as you want before you draw a card, but once you do draw a card your turn ends.
How complex is it?
Like all games, Exploding Kittens has an initial learning curve. This is more to do with learning the special combos (two of a kind, three of a kind and 5 different cards) rather than the rest of game play and after a few rounds this will become like second nature. The turn order adds another complexity to the game; it’s quite unusual for the turn order to be ‘Play a card’ and then ‘Draw a card’, it is much more common the other way around. All that being said there’s a welcoming familiarity with Exploding Kittens; its mechanic can be compared to some well known favourites (Uno) and this makes you feel comfortable with the game almost immediately. I would say Exploding Kittens scores low on the complexity scale and is easy to play with friends and family of most ages, which makes it a great party game.
Do you need to be good at strategy to win?
In Exploding Kittens, your chances of winning are heavily influenced by the cards you draw, and this depends on how lucky you are! Luck is a key factor in the game, but a bit of strategy does come into it, especially after a few turns. The main strategy comes with deciding how to play your cards to try and stop exploding: which cards should you play, and in what order? However, it really does depend on whether you have drawn the right cards in the first place. For example, if you only draw ‘See the future’ cards and have nothing else, all you can do is watch your impending doom without being able to stop it, unless you can draw something more useful.
How many other players do I need to have a good game?
Exploding Kittens is a game for groups. We have our best games when we play with 4-5 players. As a 2-player game, it still has some entertainment, but is no way near as fun as with a group: part of this is due to only having one exploding kitten in a full deck of cards, which reduces the tension and makes a longer, less exciting play where nothing can happen for many turns. With more players comes more exploding kittens, and with more exploding kittens comes more explosions! The higher chance of drawing an exploding kitten, the more tension you feel and the better the game.
Exploding Kittens is 5 players max, but you can add additional players to the game by buying a second copy of the base game (either the Standard or NSFW) and combining the two decks to double the player capacity. We bought a second deck at the UK Games Expo this year for exactly this reason, but haven’t yet played with a group big enough to test it. You can also buy the Imploding Kittens expansion, which adds an additional player and has new illustrations to enjoy.
What do you think of the game components?
The cards consist of high quality illustrations with a good overall card design; if you’re familiar with The Oatmeal then you will know what you’re buying into. If you’re not familiar, check it out online first: if you like what you read, you’ll probably appreciate the Exploding Kittens designs, and if you’re not so keen you might want to give it a miss. I must have been living under a rock somewhere because until we got Exploding Kittens I hadn’t really heard of The Oatmeal, and although I find some of the humour on the cards a little bizarre, on the whole I appreciate The Oatmeal’s particular brand of humour.
I really appreciate that you can buy this game in two different versions: the Standard ‘family friendly’ edition, and the NSFW edition. We now have both versions, which allows me to pick the version I think will be most appreciated by the group, without sacrificing the humour. Although be warned: even the Standard edition can toe the line slightly on what could be viewed as appropriate – personally, I think they pitch it just right, but I appreciate that it might not be to everyone’s taste.
Unfortunately, I feel the card quality does not reflect the quality of the designs. We’ve had our NSFW version for a couple of years now, and the deck showed signs of wear around the edges very early on. We play a lot of card games and Exploding Kittens are the only cards that are wearing out in this way.
In contrast, the game box is made of high quality sturdy card and has a modern, stylish design. This is true of both the NSFW and the Standard editions. My boxes are starting to show some wear and tear but, I think this to do with how often we take this game out with us in a bag rather than the quality of the manufacture.
When would you play this game?
Exploding Kittens is a quick and versatile game that can be played anywhere. We play it most when we are out at the pub or a bar catching up with friends or family. Due to its quick set up, humourous designs and exciting gameplay it’s a great game for these kinds of occasions. We’ve also used it as a ‘warm-up’ game before playing something bigger, although admittedly there are other games that I would rather use for this purpose.
I’m not usually a massive fan of games with player elimination, however, I can easily look past this due to the quick playtime (and eliminated players still seem to enjoy watching ‘til the end).
How replayable do you think this game is?
Exploding Kittens is an interesting game. It’s a regular that comes down off the shelf and hits the table frequently. I’m happy to play a few rounds pretty much anytime and these few rounds are extremely fun and exciting. But that is exactly it; it only stays on the table for a few rounds before we move on to something else. It’s short and sweet, and good for party groups, but doesn’t take long for your eyes to wander back to your shelf for the next game.
Is it good value for money?
At the time of writing this review, and when I bought the game myself, Exploding kittens is £20.
I think Exploding Kittens provides a great gaming experience. It gives an exhilarating fast-paced game which is full of tension and laughter. I don’t doubt that it is a great game, and that if bought will be played often. However, when talking value for money and comparing it with other card games available I have to question if the pricetag is justified.
Its gaming experience makes it very much a party game, but you’re likely to need either the expansion or another base game to allow you to play with a big enough group. When you compare it to other games in its genre (Bucket of Doom, One Night Ultimate: Werewolf and it’s kin), Exploding kittens is in the higher price bracket, for a smaller number of players, and buying an additional base game or the expansion just add to the cost.
When you also consider the quality of the physical card, and the fact the cards may not withstand normal game play for a long time, I’m not sure if it’s a sound investment of your money. That being said, buying Exploding Kittens isn’t going to break the bank either, and if you’re lucky you might be able to get it cheaper second hand.
All that being said, whilst writing this review I stumbled across the new ‘Exploding Kittens Party Pack’. This new version of the game addresses a number of concerns that I have raised above; new cards designed to prevent chipping and enough cards to play with 10 players. However, it does also come with some new cards and mechanics from the Exploding Kittens App – this means it will play slightly differently, which may detract from your enjoyment if you prefer the original gameplay.
- An exhilarating, fast-paced game of survival that’s full of tension and excitement.
- Great artwork and quality illustrations, full of The Oatmeals’ brand of quirky humour.
- Quick learning curve due to its familiar blend of gameplay mechanics.
- Short playtime making it great for a quick game fix.
- Card quality not as robust as other games in my collection.
- Pricey in comparison with other party-style card games.
Final Verdict: PLAY IT