Kaker Laken Poker

 

3 Chits, 3 Giggles

Being a board game designer can be tough. I’m not saying this as somebody who has made a lot of games, but I have often thought how difficult it would be if the following situation were to arise. Say, for example, you had created a really good game idea, with solid gameplay, just the right amount of difficulty etc, generally just ticking all the right boxes. The problem is, you want to sell this new idea to a lot of customers, but it’s the sort of game you don’t really need to buy because you can already play it with stuff that you find around the average house. Take Perudo. If you have amassed a few dice over the years or have enough games in your collection, you can probably play this without spending a penny more. Games like The Resistance can be mimicked with a deck of cards, and even the game ‘Skull’ was originally invented and played on beer mats!

Kakerlaken Poker is one of those games. If you find yourself two identical decks of cards, you could assemble a perfectly suitable custom deck that could emulate this game almost perfectly, and there really is nothing to stop you from doing this. However, what does it say about this game that even despite it’s very replaceable setup, that it’s still fun to play and worth recommending?

First of all it says the gameplay itself is solid. Here’s roughly how it works:

  • Each player begins with a hand of cards, consisting of any or all of the following eight types: Cockroach, Stink Bug, Spider, Rat, Scorpion, Toad, Fly and Bat

  • The first player picks a card in their hand and passes it to any other player face down. As they do so, they must announce it as one of the creatures e.g “This card is a toad.” However, and most importantly, this can either be the truth or a devious lie

  • The player who receives a card has two options; first, if there is anybody else left in the game who hasn’t seen the card yet, the player can choose to look at it themselves, but they must then pass it to one of the remaining players, either repeating the claim or naming it as a different one e.g “That’s not a toad, it’s actually a rat!”

  • The second option is to state whether the previous player is telling the truth or lying about the card. If you are correct, you can place the card face up in front of that player. If you are wrong, you must place it face up in front of yourself.

  • The first player who receives four cards of the same type face up in front of them loses. Simple!

Of course, this game’s setup does mean one crucial thing; instead of one winner and multiple losers, you end each game with multiple winners and a lone loser. While some may baulk at the idea of not having a clear victor, I find the fear in avoiding becoming last placed the real joy of the game. I feel like more board games should aim to include this mechanic.

While this is one of those games that is much easier to grasp once you’ve played it, it’s ultimately a game about bluffing and reading people. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be terrible at lying and constantly get called out correctly. However, despite an inability to lie, there is enough gameplay here to see yourself to a win, because you are able to aid yourself in your quest by not only deducing what hasn’t been played yet by how many of each creature is on the board and in your hand, but by playing the right cards at the right time.

For example, I played with my friends the other day and I noticed one of them would almost always choose to look at the card you gave him instead of trying to guess if that person was lying or not, as long as he was the first player to receive it during that round. At that point in the game I was teetering on the edge of losing with three stink bugs face up in front of me and one in my hand. I knew I had to get rid of it before it came back to haunt me, and I did so by nonchalantly giving it to him claiming it was a rat before he quickly picked it up to look at, before throwing me an evil laugh to let me know how close to losing I had been, mixed with a little disappointment in making the call so quickly.

This is why this game works. It doesn’t seem to matter how bad or good you are in general, you will still overthink things and make wrong decisions, or your strategy can be noticed which gives everyone else the opportunity to think around it. You’ll rarely get knocked out quickly and there are ways to combat each failing in your play style. It’s not flawless mind you; it is possible to blindly stumble your way through it without any skilled decisions and win, the two player variant isn’t as entertaining as with more players and I would prefer to see the cards a little more resilient to ‘wear and tear’ but as a cheap and simple game it’s easy to recommend.

One of the other crucial reasons that this game is worth getting, and it’s one of my hang ups in board gaming when it’s done badly, is that the bold and scrappy artwork is so darn full of charm that you actually want to buy it, to have these beautiful little portraits, 64 unique ones in total, to put in your collection. You can easily see each creature having its own personality, that’s how delightful they are. While gameplay still rules, it’s great to see presentation playing just as big a part.

Overall this is a strong game with a mix of strategic elements and a few giggles to boot. Great for parties, great for dates (you can get away with staring at your partner’s eyes for a long time with this game) and a distinct style that despite it’s replaceable components, makes it an easy sell.

Review By Russell Chapman