As much as I love The Oatmeal, I wasn't immediately excited when the Exploding Kittens Kickstarter was announced. It all just felt very odd at the time. Why was a webcomic creator making a card game?
But as the project went on to become the most backed project on Kickstarter ever, it became difficult to just ignore the game and so I invested in getting a set for me and Tobie. I mean seriously, that's a crazy amount of support for a card game.
Exploding Kittens is a quick card game that was created by Elan Lee, Shane Small, and Matthew Inman. The game supports 2-5 players with the base deck but can be expanded to 2-9 players with the addition of a second deck.
The game is extremely simple to learn as the creators describe it a game that you can learn in 5 minutes. The basic premise centers around the fact that a player turn consists of playing as many cards as desired, then drawing a card from the deck. If the card is an Exploding Kitten, that players is eliminated unless he can play a Defuse card. The deck is seeded with enough Exploding Kitten cards to eliminate all but one of the players. And all players start with a Defuse card in their hand. Playing the Defuse card lets you avoid death and then you have to put the Kitten back in the main deck - it's up to you to determine where.
The game has a lot more cards beyond this, but this is the only game mechanic that matters. The quirk of drawing a card at the end of your turn instead of at the beginning just drives home the point that you don't have much control over things - you just deal with what comes up in the end. For all other cards (e.g. Attack, See the Future, Skip, Nope!) you just need to follow the instructions on the cards themselves. For cards with no rules text, playing a pair of same card will let you draw a random card from another player's hand. That's about it.
As simple as the game is, the lack of complexity does lend itself well to the party game mindset. I find that a lot of banter ends up happening between players as you wait for your turn. And that's a good and a bad thing, depending on how serious the banter becomes and how players handle trash talk.
The game will inevitably end and naturally as the number of cards in the deck decreases, the inevitability of player elimination gets higher and higher. It generates a fun atmosphere of tension without taking away from the sense of play. And despite the chance element that drives the game, it doesn't feel like you're not in control of things.
The base game is good for family fun of all ages and does not contain any questionable images despite what one might typically find on The Oatmeal. But on the flip side, there is an NSFW expansion deck that feels a lot more like Inman's usual work. The Kickstarter pledge level that I had signed up for included this second deck of cards. And as much as the art on the cards can be rather crazy and funny, in the end they have no real system effect. They're just visual fluff to go with your cards and help break the monotony of playing the same card types over and over again.
Exploding Kittens isn't the most challenging game out there or the most engaging, but it's a welcome addition to any party-style event. The short learning curve is a big bonus in this area and just supports easy adoption of the game by new players. Thus the game gets a decent 3.5 nefarious exploding kittens out of a possible 5.