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How to play Exploding Kittens: rules, setup and how to win explained

Get yourself feline familiar with the party hit.

Exploding Kittens is one of the most popular party games of recent years, thanks to its silly premise and cartoon artwork by The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman. Part of the card game’s explosive success is down to how easy it is to learn how to play Exploding Kittens, taking only a couple of minutes to learn the rules, set everything up and get playing.

How to play Exploding Kittens

Exploding Kittens is a very small, fast and simple game, made up of a single deck of cards that features a number of comical kitties - from Tacocat to the Hairy Potato Cat and Rainbow-Ralphing Cat. Players must draw cat cards from the deck, hoping to avoid the dreaded Exploding Kitten - or at least have a handy Defuse card in hand when they stumble across the fiery feline.

Here we’ll be explaining how to play the original Exploding Kittens, but these rules will still apply if you pick up one of the game’s expansions or spin-offs, which introduce new cards and variants but largely use the same basic rules.

The official How to Play Exploding Kittens tutorial

Player count, game length and overview

Exploding Kittens is a party board game for two to five players. Players are competing to be the last player left in by avoiding or defusing Exploding Kittens cards. Exploding Kittens takes approximately 15 minutes to play.


Setup

First of all, take all of the Exploding Kittens cards out of the card. There are four Exploding Kittens cards in the original set.

Next, take the Defuse cards out of the deck. There are six Defuse cards. Give one to each player. If you have any left over, shuffle them back into the deck. (With two or three players, only put two Defuse cards back into the deck.)

Shuffle the deck and deal seven cards to each player.

Once each player has seven cards in their hand, add Exploding Kittens into the deck. The number you add is one fewer than the number of players. For example, there will be four Exploding Kittens with the maximum five players, or just one if you’re playing with two people. Any remaining kittens aren’t used.

Shuffle the deck and put it in the middle of the table, facedown. Pick a player to go first. You’re ready to play Exploding Kittens!

Exploding Kittens game layout image
Prepare the deck of Exploding Kittens cards and you're ready to play.

How to play Exploding Kittens with two or three players

If you’re playing Exploding Kittens with just two or three players, follow the setup instructions above but remember to only shuffle two of the leftover Defuse cards back into the deck. The rest aren’t used.

When playing Exploding Kittens with two players, include one Exploding Kitten card in the deck after each player has been dealt seven cards. With three players, add two Exploding Kitten cards into the deck.


Exploding Kittens rules

Exploding Kittens is very easy to play. On your turn, you do one of two things - play cards or pass - then draw a card from the deck.

If a player chooses to play cards, they can play as many cards as they like from their hand one at a time, performing their actions as they go. To play a card, the player places it face-up on top of the shared discard pile in the middle of the table. (If there isn’t a pile, make a new one.) They must follow the instructions written on the card before playing another card. (See what each card does below.)

If you own an older edition of Exploding Kittens and a card doesn’t have instructions on it, it is a cat card. Cat cards must be discarded in pairs (they must have the same name), and allow the player to steal a card at random from another player. Newer versions of the game have instructions on cat cards, so you just follow them like normal.

Each turn, players can choose to play as many cards as they like - or pass - before drawing one card from the deck.

There are two special combos that players can use when playing cards. (If you’re playing for the first time, you can ignore these combos until you’re comfortable with the basic rules.) When cards are played as a combo, their normal action text is ignored. If a player discards any two cards with the same name as a special combo, they can steal a random card from another player - just like with a cat card.

If a player discards three matching cards as a special combo, they can ask one player for a specific card by name. If that player has the card, they must give one copy to the If they don’t have the card, they don’t have to give anything and the player’s combo is spent.

Instead of playing cards, a player can choose to pass. If a player passes, they don’t play any cards from their hand. They must still draw a card from the deck at the end of their turn.


How to win Exploding Kittens

To win Exploding Kittens, you must be the last player left in the game.

Players are eliminated when they draw an Exploding Kitten from the deck at the end of their turn and can’t defuse it using a Defuse card. The last player left un-exploded, wins!

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What do the Exploding Kittens cards do?

Cat Cards: Cat cards are any cards that don’t have instructions on them (in older editions of Exploding Kittens), or have text specifying that they must be played in matching pairs (in later editions). Cat cards can be played as a matching pair to steal a random card from another player. There are four of each cat card in the deck.

Defuse: Defuse is the most helpful card in Exploding Kittens. It stops an Exploding Kitten drawn on your turn from exploding; if you play a Defuse card, you discard the Defuse card and the Exploding Kitten card is put back into the deck. You choose where to insert the card, and the deck isn’t shuffled - meaning you can trip up the next player by placing it right on top of the deck! There are six Defuse cards in total, and each player starts the game with one; the rest (only two if you’re playing with two or three players) are shuffled randomly into the deck.

Exploding Kitten: Exploding Kitten cards are the main threat in Exploding Kittens. If you draw one at the end of your turn, you must play a Defuse card - otherwise, you are instantly eliminated and must discard all of your cards. The number of Exploding Kittens cards in the deck is one fewer than the number of players - four for five players, three for four and so on - to ensure that one player is left in.

Nope: You can play a Nope card at any time to cancel another player’s action, except a Defuse or Exploding Kitten card. When a player plays an action card, you can discard a Nope card before they perform its action to cancel the effect. You can Nope a Nope, meaning that it cancels the Nope card and allows the cancelled action to happen again. (You can also Nope a Nope on a Nope, and so on.) There are five Nope cards in the deck.

Most cards tell you what they do in their instructions.

Attack: Attack cards allow you to instantly end your turn and skip the draw phase at the end of your turn and force the next player to take two turns in a row - so they must play cards or pass, then draw a card, twice. If that player plays an Attack card, any leftover turns rollover to the next player - so they might end up taking four, six or even eight turns in a row. There are four Attack cards in the deck.

Skip: Skip cards allow the current player to instantly end their current turn, skipping the need to draw a card. If a Skip card is used following an Attack card, it only skips the current turn - the player must still take the remaining turn, or play a second Skip card. There are four Skip cards in the deck.

Favour: Favour cards steal one card from another player’s hand. The player who is being stolen from gets to choose which card they give you. There are four Favour cards in the deck.

See the Future: See the Future cards let the player draw the top three cards from the deck, look at them privately and replace them in the same order. Do not change their order. There are five See the Future cards in the deck.

Shuffle: When you play a shuffle card, instantly shuffle the deck. This can help to avoid Exploding Kitten cards placed on top of the deck using a Defuse card. There are four Shuffle cards in the deck.

About the Author
Matt Jarvis avatar

Matt Jarvis

Editor-in-chief

After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.

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