A Glimpse Into The Vault: Exploding (and Imploding) Kittens

Whew, a lot of dust in here! Both in the column’s space and in the physical board and card game collection. How to clear it all out? Well, a few explosions will do to get most of it, and maybe a follow-up implosion to make sure it’s all gone. With new games coming out every day, A Glimpse Into the Vault takes a look at older card and board-based offerings so they don’t get lost in the rush. For once there’s no drinking involved, and there’s only a little gloom, because I’m hauling out Exploding (and Imploding) Kittens from The Oatmeal!

There’s a good chance Exploding Kittens needs no introduction, but the point is to give one for those who missed it, so: Exploding Kittens is essentially a simple, lightly strategic game of Russian Roulette, where the ‘bullets’ in the deck are the eponymous detonating felines. There are a limited number of Defuse cards that allow one to avoid exploding (i.e. losing the game), but the Exploding Kittens always end up back in the deck, so the deck essentially acts as a timer. The strategy comes from using the non-exploding/defusing cards to steal from your opponents’ cards, shuffle the deck around, skip turns, force opponents to take extra turns, and so on. The base game supports 2-5 players, and is pretty quick and easy to learn.

The game does somewhat depend upon the group, though. It’s much improved by reading out the text of the various cards and showing off The Oatmeal’s art, whether you’re playing the Age 7+ version or the NSFW version, and the more dramatic/wry the reading the better. If the group of players is just going through the motions, well, it’s honestly not going to be very fun. It’s a goofy little game, and that part needs to be embraced.

Also, like many elimination games (Werewolf comes to mind) it runs the risk of being cripplingly boring for people who are knocked out really early, whether through a string of bad luck drawing Exploding Kittens or losing their starter Defuse card via play and not regaining one before it’s too late. The larger the group, the more of a problem this could be; a poorly shuffled or just plain unlucky deck could, under the right circumstances, knock a player out in the first round, and then they’re left to wait (again, worsened if there are four other players).

There’s not really a way around that aside from the people still in the game making an effort to not drag things out; use those Attack cards and start burning through that deck so your friend doesn’t have to wait on the sidelines for too long.

My wife Michelle and I recently played quite a bit of Exploding Kittens, as an extended stay in the hospital as our son tried to figure out the ‘being born’ thing prompted me to raid the game shelves. Once we all got home it remained on the table, and that further prompted us to break out an expansion for the first time: Imploding Kittens.

The expansion lets you add a sixth player if you want, and the mechanic of the single Imploding Kitten card is thus: the first time it is drawn nothing happens, and like an Exploding Kitten it is placed back into the deck. Unlike an Exploding Kitten it is placed face up, and the next time it has to be drawn it eliminates a player. It can’t be Defused; the only way to survive its reappearance is to not have to draw it at all via shuffling, passing your turn, etc.

The rest of the expansion is rounded out by new cards that let you Attack a specific person instead of the next person in the turn order, reverse the turn order, look at (and then rearrange) the next three cards in the deck, and draw from the bottom of the deck instead. They’re all pretty interesting additions, and are pretty well-designed in that while many are definitely made with the Imploding Kitten in mind they fit perfectly into the main game (and could be included there without the Imploding Kitten even being added in).

There’s also a Cone of Shame for the first player who forgets the turn order . . .

Of course, it’s two player games that made me decide to take another Glimpse, so there’s something more to be said there. Some of those new cards are essentially just more copies of cards from the main game if you only have two players: changing the turn order is going to function as a Skip card, and a card that lets you Attack a specific person isn’t a change if there’s only one other person anyways. Those cards won’t really shine without more than two players, and the more the merrier.

That being said, the other cards were welcome additions to our two person games, and the Imploding Kitten itself made the game a lot more fun; with only a single Exploding Kitten in the deck for a two person game, the addition of a second losing condition that operated on different rules made things a lot more dynamic, and we actually ended up with only the Exploding and the Imploding Kitten left in the deck!

If you haven’t tried Exploding Kittens and you’ve got a group that appreciates a wacky game and can ham it up a little, give it a try! If you’ve liked Exploding Kittens but it could use a little more oomph at this point, I think Imploding Kittens will do the trick for you. You can find them, the 2-10 player Party Pack expansion, a ton of EK  merch, and more at the game’s site.

Point of order: it’s no longer obvious since the Mad Adventurers Society closed, but the idea of ‘bring an old game out of storage to highlight it for people who never got to it’ that became A Glimpse Into The Vault was created by David Pickering. You can still find the old articles he created for AGITV here, and nowadays he’s telling Tales from the Hydian Way.

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