In one of my very first Unplugged columns (and again a couple of years ago), I mentioned Cheapass Games, the quirky brainchild of James Ernest that published several bare-bones board and card games back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The company went into a self-described hibernation for several years, but came back in late 2012 with a Kickstarter for a deluxe version of one of its most popular original games, Unexploded Cow. While a free print-and-play version of this and other titles are still available on the company’s website, the deluxe edition includes features like cardboard money and quality cardstock, not to mention an actual box.
Like any Cheapass game, the concept behind Unexploded Cow is both simple and hilarious. There are mad cows in England (remember that this game was first published in 1997); there are unexploded WWII bombs in France. You and up to five of your friends have discovered a common solution to both problems.
Gameplay is equally simple, and only slightly less hilarious. Everyone begins with three cards in hand and 4500 francs (again: 1997) after anteing 500 into the pot. On your turn, you draw two cards and play as many cards as you wish/can afford from your hand, paying into the pot for each. Cards come in two types: events and cows. Events are one-shot effects that happen immediately. Cows can be played either in your own herd or in another player’s herd, in which case they are the one who pays for the card to enter play (and owns the cow). There are several reasons you would want to do this, but for the most part you will be playing cows into your own herd.
After you are done playing cards, you make a bomb roll with a single six-sided die. Starting with your right-most cow and proceeding left, you count that many cows around the table until you hit that number (or run out of cows), which indicates a cow that has found a bomb and explodes, earning its owner a number of francs from the pot as indicated on the card. If you roll a six, instead pass the die to the left and that player re-rolls (and starts counting in their own herd). If a cow you own blows up on your turn, you also gain the current City card and whatever reward is listed there.
That’s it. Draw, play, roll, pass, repeat. If the pot ever runs out of cash players re-ante 500 francs each, but I’ve yet to see that happen. When the last City card is claimed the game enters Sudden Death. At that point no more cards are played and players simply keep rolling the die until the last cow is dead or the pot is empty, whichever comes first. Whoever has the most money at that point wins. Since this is a zero-sum pool (all of the available cash is present at the start of the game), simply finishing with more cash than you started with is doing well.
There obviously is not a ton of strategy to be found here, and in fact it is a general rule of thumb to just play every card every time (although some Events defy this). Some cows have special abilities like being able to pass or steal a bomb to or from another cow in the same herd, or having the option to diffuse a bomb for a lesser reward instead of exploding. The interactions between these cows plus the effects of Events will provide what little strategy exists.
Fortunately, nobody plays a game like Unexploded Cow for deep strategy. They play it because blowing up amusingly-illustrated cows wearing British World War II gear and getting paid for it is insanely amusing. A quick-playing filler for up to six players is a useful commodity, and having fun is all Unexploded Cow asks of you.
(Well… that and an MSRP of $25.)
And now I have a few things to ask you. When I backed the Unexploded Cow Kickstarter, I did so at a level that earned me two copies of the game with the intention of giving my second copy away to a Snackbar Games reader. It won’t be quite as simple as our other giveaways, though. To enter you will have to answer these five cow-related gaming questions (in approximately increasing order of difficulty):
- What popular modern board game features cattle as one of the three animal types you can raise on your farm?
- Who is the female Pokémon gym leader notorious for having an incredibly-tough Miltank?
- The romantic ending of which 16-bit platformer is somewhat ruined by a cow that the hero had catapulted out of his way much earlier in the game?
- Name the N64 fighting game (and/or its sequel) that allowed you to unlock a fighting cow by surviving Rodeo mode against said cow.
- How is it appropriate if your opponent tells you that “you fight like a dairy farmer”?
Send your answers to unplugged[at]snackbar-games.com with the subject: “Unexploded Cow Giveaway.” DO NOT POST THEM IN THE COMMENTS. Answering at least one question will be good for one entry; getting all five right will earn you a second chance. I’ll accept entries until 11:59pm Eastern on April 12th, so you have about one week to find ten minutes to spend on Google. U.S. residents only, please, as I’m paying shipping out of my own pocket here.