I have been playing games besides Federation Commander these past few weeks. (Yeah, the boys do give me a say every now and then, really they do.)
I really felt they needed to be exposed to this classic of tabletop gaming. In reality, explaining it was not easy, having to distinguish between cruisers and destroyers was positively maddening, and worst of all we had to pack it up before my son could take his second turn as Japan. On the other hand, I really like how the boys play. They don’t take nothing except infantry the way so many of my high school friends did. They don’t play conservatively, but buy cool units and make daring attacks. On turn one, Germany bought two aircraft carriers. On turn two, they used them to attack Great Britain! If my AA guns hadn’t shot down a couple of planes, I may well have lost it!
This session reminded me (yet again) that I should get rid of this crappy mass market edition and get the superior 2004 version. But that can wait until the boys are old enough to be able to play until 3AM. It’s just that sort of game!
My son had wanted to play Revolution! instead of Axis & Allies, so I made a point to fit this one in. I was surprised when my daughter insisted on joining in. She summarily crushed us, too.
(See, my son typically went for the middle row of influence spaces… my daughter went mostly for the top row… and I was left picking up leftovers and occasionally spoiling other peoples’ picks. If someone can take the top row largely unopposed, they pretty much have the game no matter what else happens.)
One thing I like about this game is that while the game has a scoring track, it’s not always obvious who is actually in the lead. (People tend to not account for the control of the board locations when they read the board.) A side effect of this is that people won’t gang the actually leader just to keep him down… and the secret and simultaneous decision making makes it impossible to do that if they want to! This works to keep novices from feeling picked on or from being conscious of just how far behind they are, which means they will actually play this even if they don’t have the “gamer gene.”
Exploding Kittens is stupid. I mean yeah, it’s stupid in a funny way, sure. But it’s also stupid from a game design standpoint.
See, it’s a player elimination game. You know, the type of game that is the reason why Risk and Monopoly are universally hated and why so many normal people assume that boardgaming must be a really stupid hobby. Popular games like Uno produce one person that is a “winner” in the course of a play. Player elimination games like Exploding Kittens produce a string of losers until there is only one person left.
When we played this one, my son of course made an attempt to put his sister out of the game. (Man, I never saw that coming!) She left the table in tears. We called her back for a repeat without my son at the table and she caught my wife trying to throw the game to her! That actually made her more upset. (“You act like I’m stupid!”) She was so angry about it, it actually caused her to call into question previous victories that she had earned fair and square. That’s right, that awesome game of Revolution! that we just got done playing the week before… she decided that I must have let her win, too!
So this game. It is not a family game. It’s a game designed for hipsters that don’t actually like games. As such, it should only be played socially with people that have had at least three beers. It’s supposed to be a fast paced game that you play quickly and laugh about. The reality is that play comes to a halt every time someone puts the exploding kitten card back into the deck and that feelings are reliably hurt when someone gets singled out for an attack. I’m telling you… I can’t stand it!
And that would have been the end of that game at my house except some kids came over to my house a few days after this happened. And I heard them from across the house screaming and yelling and shouting. I was very concerned at what might have happened and rush to see if someone was hurt. But there they were… four kids, playing Exploding Kittens, talking smack, and hollering with every development of the game.
My daughter informed me a few days later that now that she’s beaten her friends, it’s now her favorite game. And in the weeks since they she’s played it almost constantly. Sometimes fights break out. But on the whole, this game has unseated Uno for the moment. Not bad for an intentionally silly hipster game.