Critical Play: Exploding Kittens

For my competitive analysis, I chose to play Exploding Kittens, a game from which my team drew inspiration.

I forced kindly asked some of the friends around my dorm to play this, and I was envious of all of the “Noooooo”s and “Haha!”s that the game induced — I hope that our social game can stir up similarly intense reactions. Here’s what I found:



This game is cats and chaos: there are kittens that can explode and eliminate you, and your job is to try to be the last human standing. Below is a photo of the box, reading “A card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats.” The absurdity is weaved into the fun and uniqueness of the game.



This is a paper card game with a deck filled with different types of cards: Exploding Kitten cards blow you up, Defuse cards save you from getting blown up, various action cards can increase your chances at saving yourself (See the Future) or sabotaging others, and Cat cards can be combined to be used as action cards.

You choose a player to start then go around in a circle, using the “Pass-or-Play then Draw” approach on each turn. The face-down deck from which you draw is key in keeping the unknown of what comes next, and the face-up discard pile shows every player which card, if any, was played. The game takes roughly 15-minutes to play and is often played again and again so people can take their chances and see if they can come out the winner next time.


What kind of fun do they promise the player?

Exploding Kittens promises the players the fun of chance and not knowing what’s next. You never know if the next card you draw will be the one that blows you up, and the dread you feel when drawing from the deck with no Defuse cards in hand really keeps you on your toes. At its core, Exploding Kittens is a fellowship game — the reactions to the plays are what make people smile or groan; it’s about being in one another’s company. And embracing weirdness without judgement, which we can think of as abnegation.


How is this fun and theme reinforced through graphic design decisions?

Each card has some colorful cartoonish drawing that emphasizes the get-away-from-the-world abnegation that the game promises. The saturation and brightness of each card also corresponds to its function: Exploding Kitten cards are very dark gray with an alarming orangey-red text, Defuse cards are a relieving bright green.


How does the game differentiate itself from other games in its genre?

Going back to this again: its weirdness. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the functionality, but the beautifully designed cards that are just entertaining to look at and the embracing of absurdity in the theme make the game stand out.


How they handle abuse?

The game is built to prevent abuse through its randomness: the randomly shuffled deck from which players draw and the randomly dealt starting hands. Because you’re constantly drawing a card from the shuffled deck and everyone starts out with a single Defuse, it’s difficult to abuse the game.


How would I make it better?

I’m interested how we could build a sense of camaraderie between players. Yes, the objective is to be the last human standing, but what if 1 player has managed to nab all of the Defuse cards from the other players? I would want to play cards that not only directly hurt the projected winner, but directly help the projected losers.

Another factor is the patience it takes to combine and play Cat cards, since a Cat card is powerless alone. Perhaps I got super unlucky with my hands, but I was only able to play a Cat combo once in the multiple rounds we played. It’d be interesting to try out mutually beneficial trade actions.


Being weird, in a cool way

This game is pretty great because it’s built around the inner, for-YouTube-only, chaotic personality that most people living in this age have buried beneath the surface. I love that the game uses its weirdness as its defining trait. You could just hear “Exploding Kittens” and be intrigued without knowing anything about the game. It’s all about randomness, absurdity, and mild frustration alongside other people, and it was pretty great to play 🙂

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