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How To Win Exploding Kittens – A Strategy Guide

Exploding Kittens is a weird and wonderful game. It is interesting in so many ways. Firstly, it managed to set Kickstarter history when it was first released by The Oatmeal. There were over 219,000 people who initially backed the project, raising a shed load of money. Secondly, it is a relatively simple game, describing itself as “a highly strategic version of Russian Roulette”.

Well, dear readers, as you can imagine that piqued our interest here at Start Your Meeples – a place where we spend our Friday evenings analysing games for fun. Any game that not only describes itself as “strategic” but “highly strategic” deserves to be looked at a little bit closer. After all, how strategic can a game of Russian Roulette be?

Well today, my dear inquisitive board game fans, we are going to look closer. How strategic is the game? And, ultimately, can we determine rules for how to win Exploding Kittens? Let’s find out.

For this, I am going to be referring to the NSFW version of the game. The Exploding Kittens NSFW Deck has exactly the same types of cards as the standard version but…you know…with ruder artwork. For the sake of this article we will be using it as our set namely because that is the copy we have on our shelves.

How to Win Exploding Kittens - Nope


So, join me, as we jump into one of the most successful board game Kickstarter projects of all time as we answer the question: “How can you win Exploding Kittens and beat the odds?”

How To Win Exploding Kittens

Okay, so before we start we need to establish the basics. Exploding Kittens is a game with a lot of cards. In the deck, and this is the same for both sets of the game – both the Exploding Kittens base game and the NSFW Deck – there are 56 cards. These are split into various different types of card for the playing of. Within that deck there are:

  • 6 Defuse Card – Used for defending yourself against an Exploding Kitten and when played you shuffle the Exploding Kitten back into the deck.
  • 5 Nope Cards – Used to cancel actions played by other players, but they do not defuse the Exploding Kitten cards.
  • 4 Skip Cards – Allowing you to Skip a turn.
  • 4 Shuffle Cards – Allowing you to Reshuffle the deck and then draw a card.
  • 4 Exploding Kittens – Which are the game’s namesake and used to eliminate players unless Defused.
  • 4 Attack Cards – These end your turn and force the next player to go twice.
  • 4 Favours – Forces another player to give you a card of their choice.
  • 5 See the Future – Which allow you to peek at the top three cards, and put them back without showing anyone else.
  • 20 Generic cards in 5 sets of 4 – These can be traded in pairs to steal a card off an opponent, or in advanced rules there are larger options for set collecting. We won’t look at those additional rules…yet…but we may in the future. For now we’ll just look at pairs.

That should add up to 56 cards…I hope…although I ran out of fingers and toes to count on.

So, what this does is create a set of cards that we can analyse and strategise with in order to develop strategies that should give players more than just Roulette chances when playing the game.

You see…when you play the Game of Kittens, you either win or you explode.

Understanding the Types of Cards

Are you ready to over-analyse this deck? Yeah, I thought so!

Okay, so whenever we look at a deck of cards in any game (as we can see when looking at a Villainous strategy for example) we can break it down into the core concepts of what the cards do. Doing so can, quite often, lead to ideas on how best to use those cards.

What this means is we need to break the cards down by action, and the cards in Exploding Kittens can be broken down into 6 basic categories. These are –

  1. Knock out a player – Exploding Kittens
  2. Skip your turn – Attack and Skip
  3. Take cards from an opponent – Favour
  4. Manipulate deck – See the Future and Shuffle
  5. Undo card effect – Nope and Defuse
  6. Other – The collectable cats

Exploding Kittens Card Breakdown

The collectable cats are a bit tricky as on their own they are kind of useless. In pairs they can be used to take cards from opponents, but you will, on average, only get a pair one time in five.

So, already we start to see a few interesting facts arise. For instance, leaving aside the “other” category (as explained above) there are very few cards that outright mess with your opponent. This becomes clearer when we take a look at a couple of pie charts.

Firstly, here is the base sentiment – comparing the number of cards that are an advantage to you and a disadvantage to your opponent, taking the cards at face value.

Exploding Kittens Cards by Sentiment

Again, the “other” category is a bit hazy and is only a disadvantage if pairs are collected. We’ll overlook this for now. This seems kind of clear, until we delve deeper into the results. Is this really the case?

Well no…not when we look at the cards from a more base sentiment style perspective – how many cards are offensive and how many are defensive?

Now this one requires a bit more of an explanation in our quest to understand how to win Exploding Kittens. When working out if a card is offensive or defensive all the actions and potential of that card need to be taken into account. Namely, an Attack card has a defensive capability and an offensive one – counting as both. Favor are offensive, and as are the “other” category. What is even more tricksy is that Nope cards can be used when actions are played on you, or they can just be used to be more of a pain to the opposition.

Exploding Kittens Cards by Sentiment 2

That now takes the Other category into account and includes them as offensive. As you can see, the majority of cards have got offensive capabilities. Whether they get played that way is a whole different point, but they CAN be played in a way to irritate the other players at your table.

What does all that mean for winning Exploding Kittens though? Well, I am glad you asked.

How To Win At Exploding Kittens - Defuse


What Does All This Mean For Winning Exploding Kittens?

So, what does all this mean for winning Exploding Kittens? Well, actually quite a lot, and I think this is where we can attribute meta to the whole “winning” debate. There are three basic strategies (offensive, defensive, and mixed, interestingly enough).

First, let’s talk Defence.

The Defensive Exploding Kittens Strategy

The Defensive Exploding Kittens strategy has a few core concepts that allow for it to be a viable way to play the game – however, it relies on one ideal – survival.

Surviving is something we often come across when talking about games like This War of Mine or Pandemic; however, it is not usually a concept that goes hand in hand with Party Games like Exploding Kittens. That being said, survival is exactly what Exploding Kittens is all about if you want to play it defensively.

So, how does one play Exploding Kittens defensively? Well, in order to play it defensively you need to…well…not play as much as you possibly can.

The cards Skip, Nope, Attack, and Shuffle are your friend in a defensive game as you want to just outlive your opponents.

The question is: how?

Well, to start with you need to play the game conservatively at first to build a bit of a stockpile of defensive cards. By this I mean, you need to play without a heavy agenda so that, when the game really kicks off and players start spending Defuses, you can be ready with a host of defensive cards should you need them. Sometimes this will mean just passing on a turn in the very early game.

Where the benefit of Skip is obvious, the benefit of the other cards may not be. In the defensive strategy, for example, Attack cards are another form of skip. The fact they force the opponent next to you to go twice is irrelevant to the fact that they mean you don’t need to play.

Nope cards are incredibly handy, especially when protecting your hand. You will only be able to pass off a flurry of defensive activity during the game before you have to restock your hand from the pile; and so you want to store Nopes to protect that hand as much as you possibly can during the early game. Finally, Shuffles are the last ditch attempt to live when the odds are against you. If you don’t have any more Attacks or Skips then Shuffles can be played when that one smug player plays Defuse and puts an Exploding Kitten card on top of the deck for you to pick up.

You should also aim to do everything you can to protect your Defuse cards. Keep them secret, keep them safe, and use them when you most need them. You can actually go a few rounds at the beginning not playing cards, and this is the safest time to collect cards. We’ll explore this more in detail later.

As alluded to previously – the defensive strategy isn’t so much a strategy, but more a play. It does rely on those cards to appear; however, being able to hold your ground for a few turns without becoming a victim may be all you need to do to remove a few opponents from the game.


Toilet Werewolf

The Offensive Strategy

Let’s face it – games like Exploding Kittens (which I almost called Exploding Cats a few seconds ago) fall under the mechanics of take-that for a reason. They aren’t really about being defensive but are rather about being able to mercilessly take your friends apart on the gaming table.

Exploding Kittens is, at its heart, an offensive game (take that how you will) and so the offensive strategy is the more prevalent one in the game. This means the mantra isn’t survival, but it is rather – force your opponents to turn over their hand as frequently as possible.

What this means is that, in an offensive strategy, there are a whole host of cards that can help. These include the obvious Attack and Favour cards for forcing your opponent to part with cards, but it also includes the 5 sets of 4 cards. Although not useful in their intrinsic state, collecting groups of them helps.

It is also with the offensive Exploding Kittens strategy where we can take notes from other gambling games. In Exploding Kittens it is possible to bluff in using the See The Future card, by simply acting that something is more dangerous than it is, or even less dangerous. It is possible to put the other players on edge.

One neat trick that I hadn’t thought of, but which is explored in this article titled 7 Rules to Excel at Exploding Kittens, is to keep an attack card or even couple of attack cards for the very end of the game. This can force your opponent to have to draw several times in a row. Remember two attack cards mean your opponent goes 4x in a row, and that can be devastating when there aren’t many cards left.

The Mixed Strategy

Of course, the truth of the matter is that games like Exploding Kittens need a responsive strategy that can adapt to the changing situation around the table. Both the defensive and offensive strategies are okay options, but the real trick is to mix them to create a more holistic approach.

What this means is remaining responsive to how the other players are playing. It means being prepared to go with being defensive and offensive at the same time.

Okay, so this may sounds like it is pointing out the obvious and sound like it is just playing the game; however, there is more strategy that can be applied, and that is in knowing when to play certain cards.

For instance, the start of the game is a good time to play aggressively as you want cards. You can play Favour and the pair game to gain those additional cards from opponents, whilst also trying to hoard Defuses.

There are only 6 Defuses in the game, and there are 4 Exploding Kitten cards. The Exploding Kitten cards, once exploded, get removed, but the Defuses allow for them to be placed back in the deck. This means, in a five player game, the Exploding Kittens can be found a total of around 9 times. Needless to say, as the deck thins out, it becomes more and more likely you will pick up an Exploding Kitten.

What this means that it is possible (as an alternative) at the start of the game to play a strategy where you pass a few turns and just draw (where you play no cards, but still draw, not skip) and that will be relatively safe. You will also have the Defuse you are dealt with at the start of the game as a back up against an Exploding Kitten.

What this does is pad your hand out for the middle game, where you can become more defensive and use the defensive strategy as explored above.

Finally, when down to the final few players it is time to turn the tables once again. Flip the switch and become more offensive again. Play Attack cards and Skip cards to really push them to keep playing. This increases their chances of drawing an Exploding Kitten, whilst should keep you safe.

That’s the theory at least.

Is Exploding Kittens Strategic Russian Roulette?

Where I’m not sure I would describe Exploding Kittens as strategic Russian Roulette, it is certainly a deeper game than it appears. There are options and strategies, with concepts that can help with winning the game. It’s certainly an interesting topic to think about.

And on that note, I wonder what your take on the concept is. Do you agree with the base concepts explored above? What are your favourite things to do whilst playing Exploding Kittens? How do you like to win? Let me know in the comments below.

Other Exploding Kittens Articles:
How Dirty is Exploding Kittens (NSFW Deck)?





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