A physical game night, whether it be over games of Monopoly, Go Fish, or Exploding Kittens, provides a connection with others that is more valuable than ever during quarantine. But the mechanics and systems that make games like those work collapse when players are separated while on lockdown in their homes. A game with a communal draw pile is impossible to run over video chat.
“There are programs that replicate that, but then you’re back in video game world,” said Exploding Kittens CEO Elan Lee. “They take away part of that connection.”
Lee and Temple Gates Games founder (and board game enthusiast) Theresa Duringer discussed this during panel about games to play in quarantine at GamesBeat Summit 2020. The talk focused on how Lee created a new type of “air gapped” card game that players can play, via video chat, with a deck of Exploding Kitten cards they already own.
Some of the best-selling board games on Amazon have been Battleship and Guess Who, two games that Lee calls “air gapped,” pulling from the technical term that describes a PC not connected to the internet. Air gapped computers are isolated from public networks, needing an intermediary to bring information between the two. Battleship and Guess Who can be played over video chat with each player using their own copy of the game, similar to an air gapped computer. There are no mechanics that require them to be in the same room.
“Those two boards aren’t connected to each other except via the human mechanism, the human is the data transfer mechanism between those two machines,” Lee said. “That is what facilitates the game.”
Lee said that both Battleship and three-card monte, a card game where people bet on being able to find one specific card among three facedown cards, led him to rewrite the rules of exploding kittens so that multiple people could play over video chat using their current deck of cards. He called it Quarantined Kittens and released it for free online.
“Trying to guess where the [card] is, if we reverse it and say that it’s the bad thing, you’re starting to look a lot like Exploding Kittens,” Lee said. The new ruleset has players create a six-card grid in front of them, with all cards visible on camera. At the start of each turn, the opposing player tells you which card to draw. The fundamental gameplay of Exploding Kittens, where both players are trying to avoid drawing an exploding kitten card, remains with new mechanics that support people playing over video chat.
Lee said that he hopes more game designers use this idea to create games people can play online. “We’re stuck in our houses,” Lee said. “We need to accommodate this air gap in order to play games together.”