Thursday, October 27, 2022

Exploding Kittens


     Here's a conundrum: I love playing games, but hate learning how to play new ones. Why is that? Set in my ways maybe. Affection for the games I already know. It's almost unfaithful, to turn my back on the stack of old, beloved friends downstairs and commit myself to something new. 
     In early October, my oldest boy and his girlfriend — who met at NYU's game club — came to town. I hoped maybe we would play Settlers of Catan, my current go-to game of choice. You gather resources, build settlements, work your way up to cities, which is a lot more fun than it sounds.      
     To limber up, my son and I played a few rounds of Cathedral; we have a gorgeous wooden set permanently stationed on our coffee table (a set that my Ohio friends, Jim and Laura, gave us for our wedding. I don't know which is more extraordinary. That a wedding gift should remain on our coffee table for 32 years. Or that friend would know us well enough to give us a game as a wedding present).
      Cathedral is simplicity itself — you surround space with a variety of wooden wall pieces. Then it's yours. The person who claims the most space wins. A game doesn't take five minutes. Quickness is a real value in games. Nobody has time to sprawl on the floor for four hours playing Risk anymore.
    I suggested Settlers, but going for the board, the kids stumbled upon Citadels, a game that a young cousin had given us as a thank-you present when she stayed over the summer. I hadn't opened the box. Because it's a new game. That I don't know how to play.
     "This is fun," my son's girlfriend announced, tearing off the cellophane. Citadels involves eight characters and a variety of realms and gold coins. As she explained the rules, my eyes glazed over, and I looked imploringly at my wife, who stared beseechingly back. None of this was making sense. Had we so entered the vale of years that now we couldn't learn a new game? Baffled the words washed over it. I felt terrible. The directions flowed around me like strangers brushing by in a crowd. This must be how stupid people feel all the time.
     Luckily, we decided to just play it, always the best way to learn a game. Slowly understanding dawned, and by the end of the first try, the strategy of what we were doing — using the variety of qualities the characters had to thwart your opponents, round by round, while gathering seven realms — began to seem comprehensible, then doable, then fun.
     But did mastering Citadels mean that we would then be playing Citadels? It did not. No sooner had we played a game or two, then the young couple came back from Walgreens with another new game, Exploding Kittens.
    I have to pause to marvel at that. I would never, ever buy a new game — it's hard enough to play the old ones. We've got stacks downstairs, plus more in big plastic tubs in the basement. Later, when I quizzed them about what had drawn them to Exploding Kittens— buzz from friends? Online reviews? — they said they hadn't heard of it. It just seemed fun.
     I credit the great name. Who isn't intrigued by that? A little digging showed that Exploding Kittens is actually quite famous as the most popular start-up, ever, on Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing website, when it debuted. When the game was first presented in 2015, by co-creator Elan Lee, Shane Small, and Matthew Inman, creator of the comic website The Oatmeal, it blew past its $10,000 fundraising goal in its first eight minutes, and $100,000 in an hour. In 30 days raised over $8.7 million from more than 200,000 followers.  And the success rolls on. Netflix is planning an animated Exploding Kittens cartoon show next year.
     The creators explained the game this way:
     "Exploding Kittens is a highly strategic kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette. Players take turns drawing cards until someone draws an exploding kitten and loses the game. The deck is made up of cards that let you avoid exploding by peeking at cards before you draw, forcing your opponent to draw multiple cards, or shuffling the deck."
     Exploding Kittens is one of those new breed of games that overcomes new game reluctance with humor — exploding kittens — and simplicity. The deck has 56 cards. The exploding kitten cards are moved, as are the defuse cards that spare you from exploding. The cards are shuffled and dealt out, eight to a player. Each player gets also gets a defuse card, and then the kittens and the rest of the defuse cards are returned to the deck and it gets reshuffled.
     I'm confusing you already. The other cards give certain useful powers (I liked the "Nope" card, which stops the action dictates by whatever cards someone else plays). Not only did I get it immediately, but it was instantly addictive. We played at least half a dozen games.
     On Wednesday I drove the couple to the airport.
     "So..." I said, disingenuously. "Did you remember to take Exploding Kittens with you?"
     "No," my son's girlfriend said. "We left that behind as a gift, for hosting us."
     I glowed. Now all we have to do is find somebody to play with. It's more fun with a crowd. Now that I think of it, a few neighbors are coming over for dinner Sunday. I wonder how they'll react when I tell them we're having Exploding Kittens for dessert. 



  1. We're suckers for good "board" games. We should be getting our Kittens in a few days. It's one of the things we enjoy doing when we visit our son.
    We had been playing a relatively new game called Wingspan which is fun and informative. Worth looking into.

  2. Nobody has time to sprawl on the floor for four hours playing Risk anymore. But I certainly remember when folks did. We played on kitchen and dining room tables during high school, in the mid-60s. Sometimes my buddy's snarky beatnik-wannabe older sister would participate when she came home from art school. That livened things up...a lot. Plenty of alliances and backstabbing in those long Risk contests.

    Fast-forward to the mid-70s. My cousin and I lived in the same Florida college town for a while, and we would participate in all-night, all-male Risk marathons, often until the sun came up. After too many beers, or when the games became stalemates or blowouts, the worldwide conflict would occasionally end in a "worldwide earthquake" that sent dice and game pieces flying.

    Before the Great Divide estranged us in the Bush years, my cuzz and I still played Risk at Easter or Thanksgiving, with our wives, and with his son. He was still very young, and he sometimes cried when he lost. I'll always remember those occasions fondly. And then one day...they went away. Thank you, Rush Limbaugh. Thank you, Glenn Beck.


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