Publisher: Exploding Kittens
I have railed against two games vehemently and vilely over the years: Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens. I flat out refuse to play these two games, and will even go as far as bad mouthing these games to ensure no one else plays it. I can never understand the popularity of these two games with the mass market. Never. Imagine my shock when my daughter received this Exploding Kitten spin-off game as a Christmas gift from an unsuspecting family member. My first reaction was to recoil in horror. A combination of dexterity and Exploding Kitten-themed game? Please, just put me out of misery. Then I decided to humor my 8-year old and ended up having to eat crow. The game is decent as far as dexterity game goes….perhaps even going as far as saying it is a good dexterity game.
It is not that I dislike dexterity games, but the crowd for the game just isn’t there. Moreover, I think among all types of games I have played, the skill gap between players for a dexterity game is always highest. I do not know why. In addition, I also frequently don’t have the space to accommodate a table hog and to make things worse, my table has two slits in a center for expansions. This means that any flat surface will have a very slight bump in the middle that is not noticeable…. until you play a game that requires flicking discs. Right. Then all hell breaks loose. Plus games that builds up vertically and then come crashing down are usually not very well received by my daughter and partner. Again, for reasons unknown. I guess the whole crashing down thing and the noise isn’t pleasant even though you know it’s coming. So, Villa Paletti, Menara, Jenga, Hamsterolle, Bamboleo, Animal Upon Animal have either left our collection or languish in some dark corner of our home, never to be spoken of again.
Right, enough preamble here. Back to A Game of Cat and Mouth. OK, this one is actually fun. It is a two player shooter where each player has a catapult on their end of the board, shooting rubber balls across a wall with a hole simultaneously. As you can imagine, the hole is shaped like a cat’s mouth. The objective here is to shoot all of your balls, which you start with four, across your opponents side of the board to win the round and score one point. Score five points and win the game. To make things interesting, three white balls are placed precariously in the mouth of the cat and is easily dislodged when the yellow balls fly across the mouth and knock them over. If the white balls are dislodged, then they just become part of the pool of balls in play and a new victory condition comes into play: you need to put all three white balls on your opponents side to win regardless of how the yellow ones are distributed. Easier said than done since the whites are hard to target.
Now, apart from the yellow and white balls, there is a single black ball that is lodge in a crevice where the nose of the cat should be. Hitting and dislodging the ball is hard as the crevice is small and the ball is wedged snugly in it. However, a lucky and forceful hit by your catapult can dislodge the booger (or so we call it) and win you an instant victory. That’s right folks – even if you are way behind, hitting the booger will allow you to win the round. A nasty little come from behind victory condition necessary for these type of dexterity games. Everybody loves a comeback.
Now at least on paper, the game sounds laughably simplistic and horrifyingly never-ending given the win conditions. But that is not the case. A few things make the game more enjoyable than it should be . First, the catapult itself is very well designed and constructed. It is shaped like a cat’s paw with a cup right at the paw to put a small rubber ball. Let’s call it a rubber ball for now. The clever part of the catapult is that the base is a magnet and when placed at the launching area, it allows you to tilt the catapult backwards at different angles before letting it loose to deliver the payload toward the wall. The snapping action of the catapult, as a result of the magnetic forces in action, creates this delightfully solid thud each time it hits the base. The catapult doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick that falls apart after a few plays and contributes significantly to the enjoyment of the game. Suffice to say, the repeated action of launching the catapult, independent on whether or not the ball goes through the mouth , is surprisingly addictive. It’s hard to put it into words, but your paddle hitting Louie’s plane at the right moment causing it to spin around wildly and knocking off an opponent’s disc probably has the same feeling (if you don’t know what that means, go grab a copy of Loopin Louie). And when the ball actually makes it through the hole, your brain’s reward centers flashes rapidly and briefly to give you a pleasurable hit. I want more!
Another reason why I say the game is solidly made is the texture of the rubber balls used in the game is essential for the enjoyment of the game. The designers decided to use or maybe coat the balls in this high friction substance such that the balls do not bounce or roll a great distance when it lands or hits the sideboard of the arena. This is critical because if these balls were to jump out of your arena often, thus pausing the game repeatedly, that would be very annoying. Instead, you may get the occasional errant shot that will bounce off your opponent’s arena. Normally, the game is paused, but we instituted a rule where the game just keeps on going and we chalk it up to skill that you can hit the ball to exit the arena. Honestly, you can’t do this consistently. It is but a lucky shot.
One thing that remains puzzling to me is how the game is short despite the win conditions. I fully expected the game to drag, but it does not. In fact, oddly enough, even with the number of balls in play if all the white balls are knocked off their perch, the game is not all that long. You would think once you get the hang of the catapult, the game is a lock But every time I think I got the hang of the catapult, it surprises me. For one thing, when you are in the flow, you can get 4-5 successful shots across the wall. You feel thrilled and elated, but your opponent is also shooting at you. However, the momentum can desert you at any moment and the game can quickl swing the opposite direction. I have had multiple times when I am down to one last yellow ball and still lose the game because my opponent gets into the zone and mounts a furious comeback. I think the nervousness or anticipation of a win alters the angle of the catapult ever so slightly to disrupt the trajectory of the ball. Then, you can’t seem to get it back. Similarly, I have seen a game won where the black ball is dislodged five times in a row. Impossible, but it happened. I honestly don’t think one can aim at the black ball. It just happens by chance. The game is fun, tense and doesn’t overstay its welcome – all ingredients for a successful dexterity design.
That the game works is a testament that the design team did a great job. Honestly, the game will feel completely different had the components not been play-tested and the publishers skimmed on production. A low production value with tacky components or flimsy barriers would have doomed this game right from the start. Instead, the designers took the time to craft a solid arena with removable barriers and then made outstanding components to create a delightful two player shootout that takes about 15-20 minutes to play. I highly recommend giving this a shot.
Now…what do I wash the crow down with?
Initial impression: Good
8 years 2 months: Obviously, this game works with an 8-year old. In fact, she might have an advantage. Clearly, she has beaten me more than once. Usually, I have some advantage for dexterity games, but not this one. We are evenly matched here, I think. Don’t thumb your nose at this game like I did. I think this might actually be a keeper.
I agree with you about CAH, EK and dexterity games. But that does not mean that everybody involved with those games are stupid/evil. One of the designers of Secret Hitler was also involved with CAH. I love Secret Hitler. I recently listened to a great podcast series about the rise of Nazism, and I made me appreciate and understand the game even more.
Haha. Of course not. It was just tongue in cheek kinda comment. I am happy for others to play but will give suggestions for alternatives.