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Subject: Roll to Review: Cockroaches and toads and rats. Oh my! rss

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David Norris
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This is going to be a good review. Do you believe me?

Today I was reading an article about Facebook's 51 different gender options. I quickly browsed the list and was devastated to find that there wasn't a gender for loving small box board games. This was terrible news because I do love small box games. Especially ones with a decent player count, light on the rules and I can put into my bag and take to work. Cockroach Poker, or Kakerlaken Poker, hits these targets with aplomb. A 2-6 player simple bluffing game that's packed in a box that could suffocate an ant - if ants breathed like the rest of us. Did you know that ants breathe through holes in their bodies because they don't have lungs? Damn six legged bastards always ruining my metaphors.

The description on the back of the box describes this game as a reverse set collection game that has nothing to do with poker. It reads like a nerd wrote it. As a nerd, I wholeheartedly appreciated this. However, I also appreciate English, and in English this means that there are eight different types of cards each sporting a picture of some critter (cockroach, toad, flea, rats, scorpions, bats, spiders, and stink bugs), and if you ever collect four of the same type of critter, you lose and the game ends.

Each turn a player gives you a card, for instance a cockroach, and then tells you what that card is, for instance a toad, and gives you two choices: you can guess whether that person is telling the truth (Is it really a cockroach?) or you can pick the card up, look at it and then give another player the same two choices. If you guess that they're telling the truth and they're not, it means that your friends are assholes and you collect the card. If you guess they're telling a lie and they're not, and how dare you accuse such honest and good-natured people, then you also get the card. But in any other case the card is given to the other player. And whomever receives the card then must play a new card from their hand to begin the next round. There are a few more rules but that's essentially it.

Now you know how to play, let me tell you why I like this game. This game is great at creating moments of tension - and that tension subtly builds throughout the game as you, and everyone else gains more cards. While other games build this tension consistently over the course of play until it explodes in a climax only seen in porn. Kakerlaken Poker peppers these tense moments constantly throughout.

These moments I speak of are where you try and read your friend's suddenly emotionless face. Or you're attempting to keep it together after you’ve just sold second hand lie to best mate. It doesn't last long, a minute or two at most, and afterwards you either receive the sweet embrace of freedom, or the bear hug of anticipation as you prepare to do it again. This time you’re armed with the doubt that shadows the question: he’s not stupid enough to do the same thing twice, is he?

The other fantastic mechanic is that once you've successfully passed on a card you no longer take part in the round. Instead you play spectator as your friends going through the same agonizing process, only now you know what's on the card and which players are lying and which are truthing. So when they squirm - and believe me they will squirm - you can’t help but laugh. It's relaxing and joyous, and takes all the bite out of the game.

If you don't like bluffing then you won't like this game. Another negative I hold against it is that because there is only one loser the game lends itself to ganging up. However, games are quickly over and it's light enough that no hard feelings should be felt. Or no feelings at all if you're a robot. The game can also create strong rivalries. If you're not part of the back and forth then you could find that the game is all over without you so much as having a single turn. This might be ok? Because it's hilarious watching your friends go at it as they try and outwit, outact, and outsmart each other.

Cockroach Poker Royal
There is a second edition with one less suite but a few extra cards called Cockroach Poker Royal. Every suite of critter cards gets an extra Royal Card. Collecting a Royal means that you also collect a second card. This addition is great because with it comes increased risk and reward, that adds a little bit more tension throughout the game. There are two other special cards: one that counts as you always telling the truth (unless it's a Royal) and another that always counts as you lying. Our group found both cards to be a bit too confusing every time they appeared. After a vote, it was decided to have them rehomed. If you need to contact them you’ll find them living at 625 Bottom of the Box avenue.

Overall, I love this game. It brings me great joy when you successfully pass on a card and even greater joy watching my friends attempt to outwit one another. It manages the tension of 'Coup' and 'The Resistance' in bursts, but keeps it light enough that you can play it with your wife and still sleep in the same bed that night. Outside of that, Kakerlaken is just a fun word to say. I recommend it and if you have the choice of the two go Royal.

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