Every once in awhile I encounter a game that is so simple in its rules that I doubt it will work as well as promised. This can be especially true in short filler games. There is no shortage of simple games that don’t offer anything interesting. Upon finishing the first game you nod, say “ok” and don’t ever play it again. So, I was a bit skeptical with Cockroach Poker. Fortunately the game far exceeded my expectations and easily became one of my go-to quick games.
Creepy crawlers in card form
Cockroach Poker is a pure bluffing game. There is no other mechanic. Inside the box is a set of 64 cards, eight sets of eight different undesirable critters; cockroaches, rats, spiders, bats, frogs, flies, stinkbugs, and scorpions. (I really wanted this list to rhyme, but I couldn’t make it happen.) The game ends when one player has a set of four cards of one type in front of them. That player loses, everyone else gets to laugh and be the winner.
At the beginning of the game, the entire deck is dealt out to the players. On your turn you pick a card from your hand and pass it to another player stating “This is a ____.” and naming one of the eight critters. You can tell the truth or you can bluff, and it’s up to the player you’ve passed the card to decide which it is. When the other player takes the card they can choose to agree or disagree with your statement. If they are wrong they keep the card face up in front of them. If they are correct, the player that passed the card takes it and places it in front of them. Whoever ends up placing the card in front of them gets to play the next card. That basic rule is simple but in itself wouldn’t make for a very engaging game. Fortunately, Cockroach Poker adds another twist that really makes this game special.
Friends make bluffing better
When a player is passed a card they don’t have to just decide if the player is bluffing or not; they can also choose to participate in the bluffing. They have the option of picking up the card and looking at it, passing it to a third player, and making their own statement of what is on the card. That third player can choose to agree, disagree, or pick it up themselves and pass it to another player, and so on until only one person hasn’t seen the card. That final player is forced to either agree or call the bluff. Very often, you end up in situations like this (let’s assume a four player game):
Player One hands a card off. “This is a spider.”
Player two picks it up and looks at it and hands it to player three. “This IS a spider. :)”
Player three also picks the card up and hands it to player four. “This is a frog.”
Player four has three spiders sitting in front of him already. Now he has to make a tough decision. Two players claimed this was a spider, one didn’t. Who was lying? Were they all collaborating to get this spider to land here?
These are the moments that make Cockroach Poker great. Each card played has the potential to create a temporary team, where all but one player is in on the joke, and everyone is watching and waiting to find out who ends up with the punchline. At the start of the game, stakes are low. It doesn’t really matter if you end up with a few assorted cards in front of you. As the game progresses the tension increases. Suddenly, someone claims to pass you a rat, you already have three of them in front of you, and the person handing you the card smiled in a weird way after they made the claim. Your survival in the game depends on your ability to read that person. Or maybe just dumb luck. Either way the table will likely cheer or heckle you.
I don’t really see many negatives for the game itself. It is relatively cheap and the box is small. For first time players, it can be difficult to remember each of the eight card types. If you have to stop and think about what you are going to say, it’s hard to lie about it. Fortunately the back of every card shows the eight types of critters. A quick glance should be enough to remind a player what the card types are. I do feel that even though the game box lists 2-6 players, two or three is not a great player count. Four or more would be my recommendation. With more players, cards have more opportunity to be passed around the table and build on a bluff.
Overall, Cockroach Poker was a very welcome surprise. It’s fast fun that puts everyone in a great mood. It’s a great filler game, it’s a clever bluffing game, and it’s a hilarious social game. I highly recommend picking it up.