By Michael “Maverick” Chambelain
Unexploded Cow has been around since 2001. It has just received a lovely reprint in March this year (2013) and on the advice of a friend who told me it was great fun, I gave it a try. The theme for this game is one of the more joyously off the wall I have encountered. It is, in short an answer to what you do when the cows in England are mad (BSE) and there are too many unexploded bombs in France.
On opening the box there are three boards of nice card stock money chits in a variety of denominations. They have pictures of different mad cows on them, very much like real currency have famous people. There are also two decks of cards in the game packaged together: One is the draw pile for the game, the other is the city deck. The art in the draw deck is an absolute joy, with certain cards that are just plain funny. “Your country needs MOO” on the recruiting card is a personal favourite, and everything on them is very clearly laid out with all of the needed information. The city deck sadly doesn’t follow this through, with some cards where I can say the back of the card is more visually interesting and attractive than the front. In their defence I can say that they are just as well laid out and functional. Also the box contains what feels like a bottom of the line six sided die, we just grabbed a nicer one to play with but it is there.
And so to game play. This game is a very simple tit-for-tat card playing game, with some cards that will add cows to a herd and event cards that allow you to do a variety of sometimes crazy things. The cows each have two values on them; a deploy cost and a reward value when they are blown up. When you play a cow you can play it into any herd. The owner of that herd will have to pay the cow’s deploy cost, these arc between 100 and 300. When a cow explodes the owner of that cow will get to collect the reward for it. Why would you play a cow into someone else’s herd? Well that is because six of the cows in the deck, denoted with red backgrounds have a negative reward value, meaning that when they die you end up paying in rather than receiving a reward. Also some of the cows have an ability, these range from exploding the cows next to them to infiltrating other herds while remaining owned by you. The event cards do a variety of things from allowing you to take a card out of the discard pile to making extra bomb rolls. So on your turn you will get to draw two cards, starting hands of four, and then you can play as many cards from your hand as you wish. After you are done playing cards you make a bomb roll. To make a bomb roll you simple roll the six sided die and starting at your rightmost cow count left passing to the next herd on your left if you run out of cows in your own herd, until you reach the same number your rolled on the die. This cow then explodes. If your die roll hits another players herd their cow explodes and they can claim the reward. If you roll a six you pass the die to your left and that player then makes the bomb roll. If one of your cows exploded on your turn you get to claim the city card and resolve the text on it, this ranges from taking more money to taking cards. The city cards also have a city point value. Once the last city card has been taken the game moves to a final round where the players simply take it in turns to try to blow up cows with bomb rolls with no further cards being played, the first turn of this going to the player with the most city points. When the money runs out or the last cow explodes, taking all the remaining money from the pot, the game is won by whoever has the most money.
I want to start by saying others I have played with have loved this game. They have had fun and wanted to play again. I have tried to find anything other than the art and theme to enjoy, in this I have failed miserably. For me the game falls apart on a very few things, but they are so huge that at least to my mind, there is no escaping it. There are a pair of cards called “Mission Creep”, these cards make you skip your bomb roll to pass all herds to the left. There are two copies of it and yet we had it played four times in one game. There are cards that let you take any card out of the discard pile to play again. This “Mission Creep” was the best choice (twice) with half the deck in the discard pile and its pretty much a no brainer of a choice at that. Once you have access to this card you just stop playing cows for a couple of turn (at least into your own herd) and wait for others to play them so as you can steal them and then dump your hand as well. This would be perhaps more understandable if there was perhaps any card that passed right in the game. Equally there isn’t any kind of card that just denied the action, but both are sadly lacking. Now I agree it’s fair to say that if you over extend you should expect to be punished, but on the penultimate city card it’s fair to say you shouldn’t be expecting to get another turn and given the way the final stage of the game plays out it makes sense to dump your hand onto the table. Now if the cards get passed left and the player to your right has nothing, your just stitched and there is nothing you could ever have done to improve this. The frustration this has caused me and others is just not worth it. Would the game play better with this card removed? Probably, but I have yet to try it and I would struggle to find the desire to get this back to the table, that said it couldn’t hurt. There is one other balance issue that really vexes me and that is the city cards. There is no balance in them what so ever. There is never a time you’re not going to try to get a city card as that is points and money for you, but sometimes you will get one city point and take 100 off every other player and others you will get five city points and the same 100 off every player as well as being able to take any card from the discard pile. Surely it makes more sense for the balance of a game for the amazing effect to come with fewer city points?
The theme is hilarious and there are certain pieces of art that I really like, I just wish they were in a better game. If you want an activity with friends and you don’t mind the total chaos and lack of skill, sure this could be for you and as other I have played it with would gladly attest you can have fun with it. For me this game is just ghastly. Would I play it again? I’ve already spent too much time trying to find the good in it I’m moving on.