Bears, Kittens And Poker – Card Games For Grown-Ups

Card games are undergoing a renaissance. While the deliberately deprived Cards Against Humanity gets most of the media attention, the possibilities presented by crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo has allowed bizarre and wonderful creations to creep onto the nation’s bookshelves – in some cases, like the ones below, the top shelf.

Here are just a few card games that are best kept in more senior hands. There’s nothing particularly “adult” about some of them (“juvenile” might be a more appropriate word) but in the case of the second game, you might not want to explain to a young child what a hand grenade does to a cat.

The Oregon Trail

While as child-friendly as they come, the fact that The Oregon Trail video game first came out in 1971 means that the only people likely to feel nostalgia for this digital introduction to disease and suffering are in their fifties and sixties. Given the card game treatment in August last year, The Oregon Trail tasks the player with avoiding death as a leader of Pioneers crossing the real-life Willamette Valley; it has the likely outcome right on the box – “you have died of dysentery”.

The objective of The Oregon Trail is simply to get a single player to the end of the game by building a line of “Trail” cards between Independence in Missouri to the Willamette Valley. Along the way, players can run afoul of dead oxen, broken arms and wheels, and cholera (“Calamity” cards) among other nasty things. Nearly fifty years after it was created, The Oregon Trail is still a great way to teach kids about the futility of their existence.

Exploding Kittens

Featuring creatures like the Bear-o-Dactyl and the clairvoyant Pig-a-Corn, Exploding Kittens does exactly what it promises to – making cats blow up. [pullquote]A type of Russian roulette game, Exploding Kittens owns two Kickstarter records[/pullquote] (most funded game ever and the highest number of backers) and comes from a trio of minor online celebrities – Oatmeal cartoonist Matthew Inman and two games developers, Elan Lee and Shane Small.

Players in Exploding Kittens draw cards until they pull a deadly kitten from the deck; then, they’re out of the game. Special cards add a bit of spice to the action (“Awaken the Bear-o-Dactyl” forces an opponent to take two turns in your stead while a “Defuse” card prevents a kitten card from detonating) but it’s arguably Exploding Kitten’s simplicity and all the flying fur that helped it attract 219,382 backers and $8.7m (£7m) – it can be played in just 15 minutes.


Poker gets a special mention because, in the comfort of your own home, it’s possible to use a few psychological tricks to influence the game. For example, filling the room with a citrus smell can make people more generous according to 888poker’s eMagazine while music can be a distraction for inexperienced players. Also, if you’d like your opponents to play a riskier game, try dimming the lights; it makes people less moral.

The original party game, poker can be the focus of a regular get together or something played for pretzels between beers (researchers at the University of Illinois claim that up to two beers can actually improve memory capacity). With variants like red dog and HORSE, poker is a lot more accessible than the visor-wearing pros would have the world believe.

Bears vs. Babies

Another game from Elan Lee, Bears vs. Babies is about eating mutant children before they can eat you. Players construct bears and other animals from five cards (head, body, legs, and two arms) to create a hero ready to take on an army of ugly babies. The appeal of the game is arguably the bizarre creatures the player can concoct – a bear piloted by a robo-squirrel, a well-dressed shark who can’t dance, and a cyborg sloth, among others.

To begin with, players use a “Provoke” card to awaken the horrible babies and then it’s a simple game of comparison: if your squid-shark is stronger than the laser ptero-baby, the player wins and the baby is eaten. A few extra mechanics make Bears vs. Babies more strategic: player vs. player combat and items that can increase a creature’s strength or chop opponents’ limbs off.

There’s also an adult or “NSFW” version of the above, which doesn’t bear thinking about.

Popular Card Games For Grown-Ups

Bears vs Babies Card Games In A Nutshell

Exploding Kittens Card Game Header