How to play Exploding Kittens – rules and tips for beginners

Here's a complete guide to the Exploding Kittens rules, so you can get on with playing the world's best combustible cat-themed card game.

Exploding Kittens box

The Exploding Kittens rules are deceptively simple. But, just like a deck of cards hiding a combustible cat, there are hidden details just waiting to trip you up. Can you Nope a Nope card? What’s a combo? If you need help learning how to play Exploding Kittens, you’re in the right place.

Below you’ll find a comprehensive Exploding Kittens tutorial, ready to introduce you to one of the best board games for beginners. We’ve set out to make this easy card game even easier with a complete guide to setup, turns, and every playable card.

Here are the Exploding Kittens rules, explained:

Three people playing a game of Exploding Kittens

How many players is Exploding Kittens?

A standard game of Exploding Kittens can be played by two to five people. Party card games are often best with big groups of people, though – if you want a game with up to ten players, grab a copy of Exploding Kittens: Party Pack instead.

How long is a game of Exploding Kittens?

Exploding Kittens is a fast-paced card game, with the average game time estimated to last 15 minutes. This is a game with a hefty dose of random, however, so the exact length of the game very much depends on how many players there are – and how the cards have been shuffled. 

How do you win Exploding Kittens?

Exploding Kittens is like a card-based, cat-themed version of Russian Roulette. Pull an Exploding Kitten card without any way to defuse the situation, and you’re out. The last player standing wins the game. 

Exploding Kittens setup

Start by taking all Exploding Kittens cards from the deck. Depending on how many people are playing, you may also need to remove a few extra cards. Two to three player games use cards with a single paw print in the top right corner, while four to seven players use cards without a paw print. For even larger groups, use all cards in the deck.

Also remove any Defuse cards, dealing one to each player and returning any leftover cards to the deck. Now, shuffle the deck and deal everyone a hand of seven cards each.

At this point, those spicy Exploding Kittens are put back in the deck. Add Exploding Kittens cards equal to the number of players, minus one. Any extras can go back in the box with the other cards you’re not using.

Shuffle the deck one more time to give those Exploding Kittens a place to hide. Then, decide who will go first. 

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How to play a turn

You can play as many cards as you like on your turn – including none. Simply place your chosen card face-up in the discard pile beside the deck, and resolve its effects.

Once you’ve tired of dropping kittens in the discard, end your turn by drawing the top card of the deck and adding it to your hand.

Well, you’ll normally add it to your hand. But if you’ve drawn an Exploding Kitten – kaboom. Discarding a Defuse card neutralizes the explosion, but otherwise it’s game over.

With your fate decided, play continues clockwise to the next person. There’s no maximum number of cards you can have in your hand, so don’t go discarding any before passing your turn.

Tacocat cards from Exploding Kittens

All Exploding Kittens cards explained

Here’s a reminder of what each of the Exploding Kittens cards can do:

Exploding Kitten

When drawn, reveal this card immediately. Unless you have a Defuse card, you’ve lost the game and must discard all your cards – including this one.

Defuse

If you draw an Exploding Kitten, discard this card immediately. Then, secretly add the Exploding Kitten to the deck. You can’t re-order or look at the cards, but you can place the Exploding Kitten anywhere you like (including right on top, ready for the next player to draw).

If you play a Defuse card, your turn is over and you can’t play any subsequent cards.

Cat

These cards have no special abilities, and in older versions of the game, there aren’t any instructions printed on them at all. Discard two at the same time to unlock their ability. When a pair is played, you can take a random card from any player’s hand.

Attack

End your turn without drawing a card, and force the next player to take two turns in a row. This means the next player must play or pass, draw a card, and then repeat this a second time. If that player also plays an Attack card, the effects roll onto the next person – who will take four turns in a row if they haven’t got an Attack card of their own.

Skip

End your turn immediately without drawing a card. If you play this in response to an Attack, the card only ends one of your two turns. You’d need to play a second Skip if you wanted to survive the assault without drawing any cards.

See the Future

Secretly look at the top three cards of the deck, and put them back in the same order.

Shuffle

Shuffle the deck until someone tells you when to stop. Do this without looking at any of the cards in the deck.

Nope

Stop any card from resolving – except an Exploding Kitten or a Defuse card. Yes, this means you can Nope another Nope card, and someone can Nope that Nope card, and so on, and so on. Nope cards can also be played outside of your turn.

Favor

Force another player to give you a card from their hand (they get to choose which). 

Exploding Kittens: Party Pack cards explained

These cats can’t be found in the base game, but they are in the Party Pack edition.

Alter the Future

Look at the top three cards of the deck in secret. This time, you can put them back in any order you want.

Draw from the Bottom

End your turn, and draw from the bottom of the deck rather than the top.

Feral Cat

Can be used to represent any of the Cat cards.

Double Slap / Triple Slap

These function a lot like Attack cards, and they replace them in some editions of Party Pack. End your turn without drawing a card and force any player to take two (or three) turns in a row. Even if you draw and defuse an Exploding Kitten, you finish all the forced turns. And yes, the effects stack if the target plays their own Slap card.

Reverse

Also only found in some editions of Party Pack, this card reverses the turn order and lets you end your turn without drawing. If you’ve been forced to take several turns in a row (by an Attack or Slap, for example), you’ve only ended one of the prescribed turns. 

Two people playing Exploding Kittens

Optional Exploding Kittens rules

After you’ve played a few games, you might want to try adding special combos to keep your gaming group on their toes. There are three possible combos you can play:

Two of a Kind

If you play two copies of any card (not just Cat cards), you can take a card at random from another player’s hand.

Three of a Kind

Play three cards of the same name, and you can choose another player to steal a card from. This time, name a specific card (Defuse, for example). If that player has one, it’s now yours. You get nothing if they don’t have the card you were looking for.

Five different cards

If you play any five different cards at once, you can take a card of your choice from the discard pile.

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