Let me warn you in advance: Bugs in the Kitchen is one of the most ridiculous games you'll ever play. Consider the concept: there's an electronic bug moving around around in a maze. Literally! We're talking here about a HEXBUG nano, which is a battery powered critter that can be described as a micro-robotic creature that "uses the physics of vibration to propel forward and explore its environment." And while this is going on, two to four players are frantically rolling a die, which allows them to change the configuration of the maze, desperately trying to get the bug to wander into the maze exit that is theirs.
Sound crazy? It's complete madness! But don't let the suggested age of 6+ on the box fool you, because adults will have as much fun with this game as kids! Believe me, I've pulled this out many a time with grown-ups who loved it! And yes they will raise their eye-brows at first when they hear the premise of the game. But their heart quickly warms when they see it in action. And once they actually get to play it themselves, they'll be laughing out loud, and encouraging others to play!
My game collection always has room for an ice-breaker type of game that plays quickly, is easy to grasp, and is enormous fun. And Bugs in the Kitchen totally meets those criteria. It was first published in Germany as "Kakerlakak" a few years ago, and more recently made it to the English-speaking title under its English title "Bugs in the Kitchen".
Here's a 20 second TV ad (link) that will give you an idea of how the game works and how much fun it can be:
So let me show you what you get, explain how it works, and tell you why I think this is a game you need to know about!
The game box is the same size and longitudinal shape as many other Ravensburger board games. The artwork features a Mario style chef with a carefully groomed moustache, about to pounce on a cheeky looking insect with a spoon and a fork.
Get 'em if you can! proclaims the game slogan. You immediately get the idea that the game is somewhat like catching Pokemon - except with cutlery, and a real-life crawling HEXBUG nano, which is a rather unorthodox game component that gets special mention on the box cover.
The back of the box introduces the theme as follows: "There's a bug in the kitchen! Quick! Who'll catch it first? This bug's on the loose and moving fast! Guide the bug into your trap - One wrong turn and he'll get past!"
It also shows an image of the game board, and summarizes how the game works in three easy steps: 1. Roll the die! 2. Create the path! 3. Trap the bug! There, you pretty much know how to play already!
The game comes with a number of components that you need to assemble as the game board inside the box. I'll comment on the assembly in just a moment, so assuming we've already put that together, here's what you'll find: ● game board (includes 24 utensils, 4 traps, and 2 trap doors) ● HEXBUG nano ● die ● 18 bug tokens ● instructions
The game board needs to be assembled, and uses the custom box insert that comes with the game, which is made of sturdy plastic. This has four compartments into which you put the cardboard traps. A thick cardboard board will fit on top of the plastic insert. It has 24 holes into which you insert plastic pegs, and you then fit the 24 utensils (knives, forks, spoons) on these pegs, as pictured in the instructions.
The end result is a maze-like board, with four exits, that the game calls "traps". You can use the two cardboard "trap doors" to close off two of these traps for a two player game. The plastic cutlery that marks the paths of the maze can be rotated, and players will roll the die to determine which utensils they can move, while trying to get the HEXBUG nano to crawl into their trap.
The nice thing about this is that everything fits nicely in the box, so once you've assembled it, you'll never need to put it together again. You just take off the box lid, and you're ready to play.
Oh, I just love this HEXBUG nano - it has to be one of the world's best ever game components! It comes with a tiny battery. All you do is pull it out of its plastic cylinder cocoon in which it arrives from the factory, flip the switch underneath it, and it crawls around like crazy.
The HEXBUG nano is truly a thing of beauty and is amusing to play with on its own! You can learn more about the HEXBUG nano at the official website here, which describes it as follows:
"The HEXBUG nano is a tiny, collectible, micro robotic creature that uses the physics of vibration to propel forward and explore its environment. Powered by a tiny motor, and 12 fixed, angular legs, the industrious critter traverses the ground beneath it and quickly navigates through the most complex mazes. Possessing an uncanny sense of balance, it can even flip to its feet and zoom forward when turned on its back! When coming into contact with an object in its path, the energetic insect will switch directions and scurry away on a new path due to its persistent random behavior."
It behaves like a real crawling bug, even flipping itself over. They do come in a variety of colours, but the one that comes with the game is a limited edition HEXBUG that is only available with the game - it has a black body with orange innards. It has an on-off switch underneath, and once it's switched on, it zooms around all over the place!
There's a six sided wooden die, which shows either a knife, fork or spoon, indicating the type of utensil a player can move on their turn. The question mark symbol that is on three sides represents a wild.
The 18 bug tokens function as score points, and each time you win a round you get to collect a bug token, the aim being to collect the most possible.
The game-play is very simple, so there's really not much to the rulebook. It consists of only four pages, with the actual game-play rules only taking up a single side.
Each player chooses a corner of the board with a trap, with the aim of getting the HEXBUG into their trap to win. With less than four players, you won't need all the traps, so you barricade unused ones with the doors. In a two player games you use traps opposite from each other.
The plastic cutlery on the board is set up into one of four different starting positions.
The HEXBUG goes in the middle of the board and is switched on, and we're in business!
Flow of Play
Once the HEXBUG is going, players take turns (in clockwise direction) rolling the die, and immediately turning one utensil on the board that matches what has been rolled on the die, with a question mark giving a free choice.
Players keep doing this until the bug falls into one of the four traps, which happens when it heads off the board via one of the maze exits on the sides of the board.
Note that the utensils must not be left at an angle, but must turned so they are either horizontal or vertical, and players should not delay in making their move after rolling the die, but proceed quickly.
How to score: Each time the bug ends up in a trap, the player whose trap it is gets a bug scoring token. The utensils are moved back to one of the four starting positions, and a new round begins, with the player who won the last bug token beginning.
How to win: The game ends when someone wins the game by being the first to collect five bug tokens.
While the game rules come with an official variant, there are also other variants that players have come up with:
● Variable set-ups: The rules do give four different options for how you can set up the game. Depending on which one you choose, the game will play out differently from the outset.
● Reverse variant: For a fun variation, instead of trying to get the bug into your trap, you must try to keep the bug out of your trap. You get a bug token whenever the bug ends up in your trap, and the first to get five bug tokens is the loser. This variant is the one mentioned in the official rulebook (although not with this name).
● Multiple bugs variant: Another fun idea that some gamers have tried is to get some extra nanobugs and add them to the game for even more chaos and fun!
● Dice-less variant: Since the die has three wild sides, some have suggested a dice-less variant, in which you eliminate the die altogether. This can make the game flow more smoothly, and some limitations can ensure that it still works well (e.g. you can't move a wall of the same kind as the previous player).
● Cooperative variant: Some players have also come up with ideas for a cooperative set-up, as another challenge.
Example of Play
You can see a few demos of the game in action in these videos from Ravensburger. This first promo video is in the German language, but even then it's easy to understand what's going on.
Novelty: The zany HEXBUG nano really makes this game what it is, and it's a hilarious novelty item that immediately grabs attention. A bug that zooms around a maze on its own steam? How can you not like this?! Best of all, the HEXBUG nano is not just an electronic gimmick, but actually adds something essential to the game-play.
Chaotic: You'll quickly discover that the bug has a mind of its own, and it can be hard to predict exactly where it is going. Usually it will head in the obvious direction along the edges of the maze, but somewhat unexpectedly it will bump against a wall and head in the opposite direction. While this might seem frustrating, it quickly becomes endearing and is a big part of the fun. You have enough control to have a real say over the outcome, but there's also enough randomness to keep the game interesting and full of surprises. Just when you think you've lost, you might be able to turn the game around!
Frenzied: This game has a lot of fast and frenzied action, which means that it is very engaging and attention-getting. Each round goes by very quickly, and typically only lasts a couple of minutes or so. So the entire game itself plays quickly, but if you're the one playing, you'll find that you'll be completely immersed in the game experience, rolling the die and frantically moving the plastic utensils!
Fun: When you first hear about this game, it seems rather childish. But almost everyone I've played it with - many teenagers and adults included - has found it tremendous fun! Yes, it's silly fun, but you can't deny that it's a blast to play! Many people even consider it as something that's good enough to replace Loupin Louie for them.
Accessible: One of this game's real strengths is how accessible it is. It's incredibly easy to learn, and you only need to watch someone else playing it for 30 seconds and you already know everything there is to know in order to play. This makes it a game that is suitable for everyone.
All ages: Despite being billed as a children's game, this title works just as well as an ice-breaker or party game for adults. Almost nobody dislikes it, and it can be just as entertaining to watch as it can be to play!
Family-friendly: What I love about Bugs in the Kitchen is how it is great for the whole family - young and old. Kids can have fun playing with grandparents, or with their friends. There's nothing complicated or objectionable, and it has the potential to please almost everyone.
Ice-breaker: As I mentioned at the start of this review, I love ice-breaker games, and to me their social value makes them worth their weight in gold. Almost everyone needs a fast and fun game to help set everyone at ease at the family function, anniversary celebration, or work Christmas party, and Bugs in the Kitchen is perfect for making everyone get relaxed and immediately have fun.
Award-winning: Just to give this game some extra credibility, it should also be noted that it was nominated for numerous awards when it first came out in Germany in 2013/14. This includes being named as the winner of the Deutscher Spiele Preis, and as a Recommended game in the Kinderspiel des Jahres Award, both in the children's game category. In addition to those two wins, it has also been nominated for another half a dozen different awards.
Available: Unlike many other specialty games, Bugs in the Kitchen is something that you can find in many big box stores like Walmart and Target. It's terrific to see games in the general market that are truly fun, unlike many of the old and somewhat tired classics like Clue, Connect Four, and Chinese Checkers, which sometimes make the Christmas list simply because of limited choices available.
What do others think?
Unsurprisingly, Bugs in the Kitchen does have some critics, but mostly these are people who are looking for something more thoughtful and deep. Let's face it, not everyone is going to be excited about the idea of trying to frantically turn barriers to make a battery-powered cockroach with semi-random changes in direction reach your corner of the maze first. The luck driven element of the bug's motion will frustrate some gamers, while others will consider this game more of a one-trick pony that quickly gets old. Others consider it more of a cute toy rather than a game.
I'll be the first to admit that this game is somewhat gimmicky, and it's not something that I'd expect to hold the attention of adults for an entire evening. But that's not the kind of game that it's trying to be either. It's first of all a simple and unique game for kids. And for adults the novelty will eventually wear off, but that doesn't stop it from being ideal to have on the table for a family gathering or a casual party. If you're only getting together with the same game group all the time, this may not be a worthwhile purchase, but for people who often entertain different groups of family or friends, as I do, this is perfect.
Here's some of the applause and praise that gamers have said about Bugs in the Kitchen:
"Take one cockroach gimmick, add more gimmicks, attract the humans." - alpal "Exactly what it was intended to be...a ton of fun! Enjoying it with kids and adults alike." - bpovis "Really cool children's game." - Juperdat "A game to be enjoyed by children and the young at heart." - angatheart "Super fun, super exciting. I was looking for another electronic game that would bring the same level of fun as Loupin Louie and this one is a hit as well." - althor74 "Quick and easy, more fun playing raucously." - onorc "Tthis game is a lot of fun, and has frantic, puzzle-y decisions packed into a short period of time." - md5fungi "Awesome use of hex bug! This game is hilarious, even in a losing effort (maybe more so)." - dogberry "Silly fun kid's game with great components and actual decision making. Obvious comparison to Loopin' Louie. Great filler for those who like real time, high energy games." - Elocution Safari "Great fast paced child's game that is fun for adults aswell." - Neale2006 "Surprisingly good for a big box store game." - univac528 "Super idea - fun to play and quick to learn. The children and grown ups all get stuck in and cheer the bug on as much as possible." - BethRowe78 "Very light and fast game. Yes it's made for kids but any adult young at heart will have a blast." - Toedash "A great frolic with a variety of setups plus two different scoring methods add up to high replay ability and good wow factor at game days. Fun for all ages." - skifreak737 "Random and hysterical! We kept screaming at that darn bug, but he just wouldn't go where we wanted him to! Lots of silly fun here." - joeincolorado "This is a game that has gone down as well with my three year old daughter as it has with my gaming group - there aren't many games that you can say that about." - dghughes "What's not to love about this one? These little bugs running around a board are so cool, even for adults." - SSGMightyMouse "This game is ridiculoulsy good fun in the same vein as a Loopin' Louie ... as much fun for adults as it is for children." - Neil Thomson "This should replace Looping Louie as the go-to silly game." - Faldum "My husband complained that we were yelling too loud while playing this game, so it must be good, right?" - MJGinger "Hilarious. Both for kids and adults will enjoy it." - Dice Driven Gamer "Game of the year." - sisteray
So is Bugs in the Kitchen for you? Almost everyone can benefit from a game that is just silly fun, even it's not something that you'll play over and over. Especially if you often get together with different people, or if you have a large crowd and are looking for something to entertain different folks throughout an afternoon or evening, this game is a ticket to success. If you like games like Loupin Louie, and enjoy the silly fun that frantic action can create, this is totally a game for you!
We've had a lot of fun with Bugs in the Kitchen already, and I look forward to pulling it out often over the holidays!
Where to get it? Bugs in the Kitchen is available from most game retailers that distribute and sell Ravensburger products, and from many department stores world-wide. For more information, see the product page at Modern Brands here.
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I played this a year or two ago. It was given to my nephew as a Christmas present. I couldn't really figure out what the game was, there wasn't much there. A big deal was made out of the vibrating piece, which I guessed was part of someone else's project. Indeed, the game wasn't so much of a game as an attempt to make a showpiece out of the bug part. It's OK for what it is, I played it a couple of times and that was enough. A decent game to play with a six year old.
Solid review. Got this for my son last Christmas I believe and we've been having fun with it ever since. I hadn't thought about not using the die and just moving the utensils. I kind of like that idea and I think I'll suggest it next time we get this one out. Thanks!