Time: ~20 minutes
Times Played: 10+
I am always on the lookout for games that are portable, can be played quickly, and require minimum explanation. Having a small footprint and being cheap are also considerations but not necessarily top tier ones. Cockroach Poker is a game that I kept seeing get mentioned over and over as a game that checks all of those requirements. With a beach trip scheduled, I splurged and purchased this and No Thanks! as small games to bring along with us and join our usual culprits of Loonacy, For Sale, and Smack Talk Showdown.
Cockroach Poker comes with sixty-four (64) cards that are divided into eight separate but equal piles of critters. Every grouping of critters has individualized art for each card, which really helps bring the cards alive.
The vibrant cards also feature artwork and symbols that denote what each critter is so on the off-chance that a player can’t distinguish the color, the art and iconography allow a player to deduce what is in play.
Full warning:If you do not like bugs, then this game will not be for you as they are featured prominently (hence the name Cockroach Poker). For reference, you’ll encounter cockroaches, stinkbugs, flies, scorpions, spiders, rats, bats, and frogs.
The basis of the game is that the first player with five like critters displayed in front of them loses the game.* A card is passed from one player to another with the original player stating what critter is on that card. The receiving player has three options:
Agree: The receiving player announces that the card slid to them is what they said it was. If the original player said “This is a Bat” and the receiving player agreed that it was a Bat, then the original player places the Bat card in front of them face-up. If it was not a Bat, then the receiving player places the card face-up in front of them;
Disagree: The receiving player announces that the card slid to them is not what they said it was. If the original player said “This is a Bat” and the receiving player disagreed that it was a Bat, then the receiving player places the Bat card in front of them face-up. If it was not a Bat, then the original player places the card face-up in front of them; or
Pass: The receiving player looks at the card and then repeat the process with another player. The original card can never return to a player who has seen it.
The player that received the face-up card now starts the chain again. Rinse and repeat until a player either has a set of five like critters* in front of them or a player runs out of cards.
*I want to note that my copy has players losing when collecting five like critters but I’ve seen other versions end the game at four like critters. We typically play that four matches will end the game for two reasons: the game goes by a tad quicker and the tension rises when two players both have three of a kind sitting in front of them. That can’t happen when playing to five of a kind as there aren’t enough cards to go around. I prefer the four of a kind end game personally but wanted to make it known in case you, as the reader, had heard differently.
This is a bluffing game, through and through. The fun comes from trying to outwit your opponents. As with most card games for larger groups, it has a social deduction mechanic behind its decision making. It’s a relatively fast-paced filler game and while the box lists the game as being made for two- to six-players, the more the merrier. We’ve played with seven and eight and haven’t had any issues. While there are more players, the cards are stretched thinner so games typically end in the same amount of time due to someone either running out of cards or being ganged up on once they make a mistake.
While the game is certainly playable at two and three, players will have to manage large hands (thirty-two cards for instance in the two-player game) and it can be a tad overwhelming. Since you’re only bluffing with another person or two, it can get a little boring. I think five and six are the best but this game can definitely accommodate more players as long as the game keeps moving. If players take time and analyse each and every thought that comes across their mind when a card is passed to them, this game might take days. But there shouldn’t be too much analyzing. Cards displayed in front of players are visible and public knowledge and everyone knows how many of what cards are available.
Games featuring social deduction, like this or Coup or Secret Hitler or Twilight Imperium 4, are incredibly interesting to me as they have you acting out of character with your friends. In Cockroach Poker, if I outright lie to my fiance
é, it’s fun and an aspect of gamesmanship. If I lie to her in the course of everyday life…oh no.
Seeing your friends and their ability (or inability…Jackie) to bluff is fascinating and introduces you to a brand new world among those close to you. I can’t think of another game where four words causes so much animosity.
“This is a Frog.”
“But is it? Or is it not? Are they trying to bluff so I gain my first card of the game? Or are they trying to get me to Pass and send this card to Mike, who can see through the original bluffers charades but not mine as well? Or maybe they’re trying to get rid of a Frog discreetly so they’re not stuck holding what would be the third Frog in front of them?”
This is an excellent game for promoting social interaction. It’s similar to Spyfall where you can call on any player you want (as long as they haven’t seen the card this round) so players can ensure no one is left out or being pushed to the side. It’s also so easy to explain and understand that it’s accessible to anyone, whether they play board games a lot or haven’t touched anything since Uno.
Unlike Spyfall and some other social games, Cockroach Poker does offer an out if you’re unsure of what the card in front of you is, and that’s the Pass action. But the Pass action doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing. You still have to make a statement to the next person you pass the card to but at least you don’t have to try and deduce the bluff that was sent to you.
The mechanics of Cockroach Poker help tackle one of the biggest issues of bluffing games…telling the truth. I really liked Sheriff of Nottingham until I realized that it was honestly more beneficial to just tell the truth each and every round. That’s real boring. Games are meant to be played to have fun and to win and when winning isn’t fun, that’s a problem. Cockroach Poker doesn’t allow that as you have to say something, whether it’s the truth or a fib, and the next player has the chance to either fact check you or call you out. There’s no skirting around the responsibility when sending the card to another player. Your honesty is not rewarded.
The most important part of this game, to me at least, is that there is no player elimination. Eventually a player will run out of cards or become stuck with a set of creatures and they’ll lose and that will end the game. They don’t need to slink off to watch TV or play with a dog on the sofa for twenty minutes while the game continues.
My biggest fear with this review is that the game is so much more exciting than it seems when portrayed in written form. It’s a social, party-esque game so there is some group dependency on whether or not you all will have fun but this is a game that I’ve introduced to strangers and work colleagues as a nice ice breaker. It’s so simple to teach and pick-up. The box is a little bigger than I’d like (but still tiny) but like other games that we take with us, I’ve moved the contents to a deck box for easier transportation and storage.
The game is also incredibly affordable. I’ve seen it on Amazon hovering around nine and twelve dollars and more board game centered websites for thirteen bucks. I think those are perfect prices for a fun filler game like this. If you have a group that’s looking for a fun filler game for between games or to kill time, I highly recommend Cockroach Poker.