Exploding Kittens CEO: We need “vacuum” game design

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An evening of physical play, whether it’s games of Monopoly, go fishingWhere Explosive kittens, provides a connection with others that is more valuable than ever during quarantine. But the mechanics and systems that make games like these work break down when players are separated while cooped up in their homes. A game with a common pickaxe is impossible to run on video chat.

“There are programs that replicate that, but then you go back into the gaming world,” said Elan Lee, CEO of Exploding Kittens. “They take away some of that connection.”

Lee and Temple Gates Games founder (and board game enthusiast) Theresa Duringer discussed this during a panel on Games to Play in Quarantine at GamesBeat Summit 2020. The discussion focused on how Lee has created a new type of “empty” card game for players to play. , via video chat, with a deck of Exploding Kitten cards they already own.

Some of the best-selling board games on Amazon have been Battleship and Guess who, two games that Lee calls “air gapped”, taken from the technical term that describes a PC not connected to the Internet. Isolated computers are isolated from public networks, requiring an intermediary to bring information between the two. Battleship and Guess who can be played via video chat with each player using their own copy of the game, similar to an airgap computer. There is no mechanic that requires them to be in the same room.


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“These two boards are not connected to each other except through the human mechanism, the human is the data transfer mechanism between these two machines,” Lee said. “That’s what makes the game easier.”

Lee said that Battleship and three-card rises, a card game where people bet on finding a specific card among three face-down cards, led him to rewrite the rules for exploding kittens so that multiple people can play via video chat using their current deck of cards. He called it Quarantined Kittens and released it for free online.

“Trying to guess where [card] that is, if we reverse it and say it’s the wrong thing, you start to look a lot like Exploding Kittens,” Lee said. The new ruleset asks players to create a six-card grid in front of them, with all cards visible to the camera. At the start of each turn, the opposing player tells you which card to draw. The core gameplay of Exploding Kittens, where both players try to avoid drawing an exploding kitten card, remains with new mechanics that support people playing via video chat.

Lee said he hopes more game designers will use this idea to create games that people can play online. “We’re stuck in our homes,” Lee said. “We have to consider this air space in order to play games together.”

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