Blowing up litter – A review of Exploding Kittens

Derision is easy. Americans are racist, sport is boring and if you’re reading this you’re a complete moron. See? Easy.

It’s easy to be derisive about things that don’t conform to our sense of what is “good”. It’s even possible to form a reasonably cogent argument to support our assertions. Then our internet echo chambers hurl our conceptions of what is “right” and “decent” and “moral” back at us with such force that we find ourselves dazed by the correctitude of our own opinions.

This is dazzlingly apparent in board gaming. Our natural human desire to separate, demarcate and label is at a dizzying acme. Players have gone at the hobby with piano wire and garrotted out a little slice for themselves and protect their own, personal ghettos with sniggers, raised eyebrows and withering glances. They stand on their porches and try and piss into as many of the neighbour’s gardens as possible.

Sometimes, though, like British tourists on a two week bonkathon in Marbella, we band together and our petty differences are subsumed in the communal desire to kick a Spaniard.

The Spaniard in this case is the ball-shirinkingly successful Exploding Kittens. The card game from the makers of web comic, The Oatmeal, that raised so much money on Kickstarter that the Bank of England is publishing an “Immolate Boris” game in an attempt to refill the British coffers after a group of septuagenarian racists decided to perform the sovereign nation version of riding a barrel off Niagara Falls. ($8,782,571 for those that are numerically fixated).

This is where a large part of the problem lies. There seems to be as much distaste at the amount of money the game has raised, as problems with the game itself. That money, the source of all purity and goodness in the world, has somehow been desecrated and befouled by its connection to this puerile frippery.

Now, I am not an evangelist. Quite frankly I couldn’t care less if more people are attracted to the hobby. I have the people I play with and only the acquisition of a partner would lure them away from the table, so I’m fairly convinced that we’ll be playing well on into the bitter resignation of our incontinence. For those that do concern themselves with such matters though, surely a game that has been supported by 291,000 people before its retail release, will provide more grist to the gaming mill. I’m sure most will receive it, play it once and file it away with all of those other things that they thought might distract them from drinking themselves to death, but, for some, it will be the catalyst for entering the hobby and becoming insufferable. That in itself, for those that care, must give it some value.

Also, after playing the game last week, it is clear to me that it is a game. It’s not a clever game or a deep game but neither is it a game that greedily sucks away your will to live by offering you some barely literate, undergraduate faux-Victorian horror tripe, sandwiched on half a card between a picture of betentacled monster and bold type telling you to roll some more bloody dice.

Exploding Kittens is a game. A game that knows exactly what it is and asserts that with grin-inducing enthusiasm.

On your turn you play a card and then draw a card. If you draw an exploding kitten and don’t have a defuse card, you explode and are out of the game. Last player standing wins. That’s it. Unless you have cards that break the rules. There are cards that let you play without having to draw. There are cards that compel your opponents to take double turns and cards that halt the effects that your opponents play on you. None of this is original but as a package the game works.

This game is not an intellectual exercise. It is a breezy distraction. Something to clear a cluttered mind. Also this game overflows with something that so many games lack: charm.

The art and the writing in this game are just so bloody charming. I’ve never read The Oatmeal but if these cards are representative of the comic as a whole then I might have to start. Actions on the cards are accompanied by exhortations to smoke crack with baby owls or deploy thousand year back hair.

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What does it mean? I have no idea. I don’t care to know either. This game makes me grin. I like grinning. I like serotonin. This game produces serotonin, so I like this game.

It’s clear to me that thie game is for fans of The Oatmeal and it fulfils that brief perfectly. I played it twice and by then I’d cracked the game play but I could spend hours scouring the cards and extracting every scatological nuance. That is worth the ten Euros alone.

Did I puzzle over the profound game play? No. Did its innovative mechanics keep me awake for days afterwards? Of course not, but I walked away from the game having played a pleasant five minute distraction and I’d been introduced to an artist of distinctiveness and charm.

It’s easy to be derisive. Especially when your derision is not based on empirical experience but a conception of who you are and what you should like. Well I’m not saying you should like this game but you should try it, you might be surprised and if not, at least you can have the satisfaction of calling me an idiot.

-Ben

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