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Exploding Kittens makes offline games for terminally online families

Making games is hard, but the Exploding Kittens company is nailing simple rules with super fun concepts that give great reasons for spending time together around the table.

Seamus Byrne
Seamus Byrne
3 min read
Exploding Kittens makes offline games for terminally online families

We've been playing Exploding Kittens in our household since it launched back in 2015. If you don't know the story, it launched as a Kickstarter and became one of the most funded campaigns ever – earning over $8M USD.

The concept was simple. Play cards until you 'explode' but you also have cards that help you not explode. Last one not exploded wins.

The magic of Exploding Kittens was always the art and the card text, making the whole experience a fun time with genuine laughs that is family friendly without being bland. It is family friendly in a way that embraces that everyone can laugh at a fart joke.

There's a lot of credit for the style being so successful thanks to Matthew Inman, the brains behind one of the greatest online comics, The Oatmeal. For 15 years it has been beloved by terminally online people of all ages, and Inman brings that same sense of dark, weird humour and intellectual curiosity to Exploding Kittens.

The other big credit is Elan Lee, a former Xbox Game Designer who also created some of the most successful Alternate Reality Games (ARG) to life when the concept first emerged. We're talking right back in 2001 for a deep conceptual experience around the launch of the film Artificial Intelligence. And the 'I Love Bees' ARG for the launch of Halo 2.

Between them, they are two exceptionally talented designers who instilled fun game ideas built on great concepts and uncomplicated play that really are suited to family fun – or the same game played drunkenly with adult friends will also deliver a good time.

The first card game was so successful Inman and Lee were able to launch a whole games company under the same name, and now Exploding Kittens releases more games each year. The local distribution team sent me copies of their most physical releases plus a spin-off of the original, Zombie Kittens, to check out in the midst of this 'Toy Catalogue Season' to take a look.

The simple review is that they're all proof that the Exploding Kittens team knows how to thread that 'family' needle just right to make things fun, silly, and approachable to anyone who turns up at your table.

Throw Throw Burrito and Let's Hit Each Other With Fake Swords are both in a very different category to Exploding Kittens but demonstrate how the aesthetic and approach to game design work so well. The cute-with-bite style is endearing, and the physicality of games that let you throw stuff at each other or hit each other are hard to beat.

All the games are built around stacking and collecting cards and you are forced to jump up and do the throwing (super soft toy burritos) and hitting (soft but durable cute mini swords) to entertain yourselves and everyone else who is playing. Rules are designed with family vibes in mind, like giving advantages to the shorter sword fighter to keep things fair.

Our teenagers were pretty quick to get excited about bringing friends over to whack with swords or lob burritos at. How many games say it's OK to literally throw toys or hit each other? Especially doing it in a way that doesn't feel like it's going to cost anyone an eye?

Zombie Kittens is a recent addition to a growing list of Exploding Kittens variants. In this one the new idea is that some players will not simply stop themselves exploding but actually bring themselves back from the dead — and bring other players back alongside themselves.

Plus every Exploding Kittens variant is also made so you can combine them up with the others and play on a bigger scale – more players, more ways to explode, more ways to avoid being exploded.

All these games are listed as ages 7+ and I'd agree with that framing. They're all also rapid-fire experiences that won't take hours to setup, teach, and play. These are the kinds of games where you play a few quick rounds over half an hour and might find you just keep playing for the fun of it for longer.

There's a very online kind of personality these days, living with a head full of memes and digital touchstones that they bring into the rest of their offline lives. You can taste that deeply online sensibility in all the Exploding Kittens games, and if you have people in your household who are that kind of person these are perfect games for some quick silly fun.

There's sale prices on during this toy catalogue window until July 10. Over at JB Hi-Fi you can get Zombie Kittens for $8 off its usual $40 price. Throw Throw Burrito has the same price and discount, while Let's Hit Each Other With Fake Swords is usually $45 but gets a $9 discount right now.

Terminally online folks in search of a bit of offline fun would do well to have these in the cupboard.


Seamus Byrne Twitter

Founder and Head of Content at Byteside.

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