Cheapass Games is one of my favorite game companies and not just because I find it fun to say the company’s name in mixed company. In the mid 90s, when I first saw the games being put out by James Ernest, they struck me as a revelation: great games could be funny, brilliant, and cheap! These plain white boxes and envelopes (yes, ENVELOPES) contained exactly what you needed to play the game as long as you could scrounge up some tokens or game pieces and maybe a few dice. I was a newly married grad student so cheap was great, but I was so excited by the games that I would usually create my own box set so I could bring my friends into the loving fold of such as games as Gimme the Brain, Falling, Kill Doctor Lucky, and the Great Brain Robbery (among others).
In the last 20 years, some things have changed. The games look more slick and are a bit more expensive (but still cheap by modern publishing standards). I won’t go into the company’s history ‘cause I gots me a game to review, but you can check out what James is working on now and read about where he’s been at his website here:.
What hasn’t changed is the company’s focus on FUN. It has taken a long time but I am proud give the Major Fun Award to the first of many Cheapass Games (stay tuned, more reviews are on the way).
You start the game with 5000 Francs (this is pre-Euro) and three cow cards. There is a deck of mad cows and a deck of villages. One village is turned face up and on your turn you draw 2 cards, play as many cards as you want, and then roll a 6-sided die for the Bomb Roll. Playing a card usually costs money which you toss into a common pool in the middle of the table. In this way you buy cows for your herd or make special events happen, but your herd is your greatest asset. These are arranged in a line from right to left (whatever order you want). On the Bomb Roll, you roll the die and count off the result, starting with your first cow and moving to the left. If the bomb lands on your cow you get money (each cow is worth a different amount) and the village card BUT the bomb could move past you and explode on your neighbor’s cow. In that case the money goes to your neighbor (but not the village—you can only earn that on your own turn).
There are special cows and special events but they are clearly spelled out with the card text and in the rules. The rules take less than 5 minutes to read and once you do you will never need them again. There is some luck to the game but also enough strategy that your choices are important, and more importantly, fun! Not only do you get to blow up crazy livestock but you can also steal good cows from your opponents and give them the truly stupid cows that cost money when they blow up.
In the end, you line up your cows, roll the die, and make explosion noises when somebody’s cow bids the world adieu in a flash of wet gibblets and prion-infected brain matter. Who knew that explosives and infectious protein fragments could such a great combination?
The art and card text are clever and silly. The game is fast paced and easy to learn. Everything you need for Major Fun is in this slim box. Just don’t trust Dudley. That cow was stupid before the disease prions started chipping holes in his brain. You’ll know him. He’s the one eating a hamburger…
2 – 6 players. Ages 12+
Unexploded Cow was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 2013 by Cheapass Games.