Beady eyes meet across a smoky room, locked intently. Both players determined to keep their composure. Wait… A tell. A brown mandible twitches. Has he blown his hand? The stinkbug leans back, maintaining eye contact. “Okay, I’ll call” she says, assuredly. A wry smile crosses the cockroach’s face. His hairy feelers flip the card, his smile erupting into burst of raucous laughter, as he slams it to the table. “AW YEAH, RAT KING! EAT THAT!”
The stinkbug slinks low in her seat. “You’re a real jerk, Pete.”
Kakerlaken Poker Royal is the European successor to the popular bluffing game, Kakerlaken or Cockroach Poker. It’s designed by Jacques Zeimet and published by Drei Magier Spiele. It can expose the cracked relationships of between 2 and 6 people, in just under half an hour.
Lay out the big blind, adjust your mirrored shades and outright lie to your friends to get into the mood for our review.
A Beginner’s Guide to Entomology
Now the name Kakerlaken Poker might be a little misleading. Sure, it’s full of creepy sewer creatures, but it’s not really poker. What it is, is a sort of reverse set collection bluffing game. Here’s how to play.
These are the rules for a 3-6 player game, they’re slightly different for two people. I’ll get to that later.
Shuffle the deck of bugs and stuff, and place seven cards to the side, face down, to form a penalty pile with the top card face up. Deal all remaining cards out evenly. If you’ve got any spare, one goes to the start player, and the others are added to the penalty pile.
Choose your first player. Player one (let’s call her Shania) chooses one card from her hand, and passes it to another, face down. Shania has to decide whether to tell the truth or lie about what’s on the card.
In the deck, you’ve got seven different types of animals, plus a ‘Royal’ version of each, depictied wearing a crown. You can lie or tell the truth about EITHER the type of creature, or whether or not it is as royal as that one Lorde song you quite like. So choose your card, pass it on (Face down! Always remember to keep it face down!), and make a claim (“It’s a rat”).
Now player two (let’s call him Yakov) has a decision to make. Yakov can either call the bluff or pass the card.
If Yakov isn’t feeling too confident, he can choose to pass the card on. To do this, he takes a peek at the card, passes it to another player and either maintains Shania’s claim (see what I did?) that he’s passing on a Rat, or start his own claim. The play moves on to the third player (his name is Voldemort or something like that).
To call someone out, you need to decide whether you think they’re lying or telling the truth. Look them reeeaaalllly hard in the eye until you’re almost uncomfortable. If you are a bit psychic, that would probably help now. Make the call (“I think you’re lying”, “I think you’re telling the truth”), flip the card and check the result. If Yakov guessed correctly, the card is placed in front of Shania. If Yakov was incorrect with his slanderous accusations, he has to keep the card in front of himself. If you end up with a Royal card in front of you, you must also take an additional card from the penalty deck, which also goes into your face up tableau.
The player who keeps the card begins the next round of play. Play continues until one player has four cards of the same species in front of them, or they run out of cards and are unable to play one when required. That player is the loser and everyone else is awesome! Great work, team! Except you, Voldemort. You suck.
There are two special cards which count as a joker and a blank, adding additional tactical game play. The two player version of the game allows for no passing, has more cards in the penalty deck and ends when one player has 5 or more, or can’t play a card.
Bluffy The Rat King Player
By now, you’re probably sick of me talking about how much I like small box games. I also like games that let me live out my fantasy of being a terrible person. And what better way to do that than by using years of carefully curated friendships against my opponents? It’s almost pure bluffing, with a few game mechanics thrown in. It’s like Resistance without the hidden roles. It’s like Skull but without the massive beer mats. Are you lying right now? Am I lying right now? Did you say B-at or R-at? Oh, B-at. LIAR! CALLING IT!
Yes, it’s extremely adversarial. There’s no getting around that. It’s not going to be great for people who don’t respond well to social gaming or bluffing. It’s not going to be ideal for people who take deception personally. There are some players that this game will simply never work for. It’s okay for me, because I am awful and thankfully so are all of my friends.
I don’t get the theme. It could be anything as far as I’m concerned. It has got great artwork, and it’s quite fun to over-enunciate Rs and Bs to avoid confusion. Maybe you live in an apartment building and you’re trying to trick your rat-loving neighbours into accepting your secret cockroach infestation? Who knows? But similarly, who cares? These sort of games don’t need to be thematic. It’s bold enough to be visually engaging, and the theme is both light and thin enough that it doesn’t feel convoluted. The only terminology to remember are the names of the creepy crawlies.
You can choose to play the game with or without the Royal and Special cards, reverting it back to its forebearer, Cockroach Poker. I prefer playing the stripped-down rules with new players or non-gamers, as it limits the amount of outcomes they need to consider. I’m not really a fan of the special cards, anyway, and often choose to leave them in the box.
There’s not much in the way of components, since it’s a small, low-priced game. It’s got an appropriately sized box, the insert is fine and there’s some fancy gold printing on the packaging. The box has a linen finish. The cards do not. They’re nicely printed, everything is cut right but they cards aren’t wonderful quality. Because of their smooth finish, thinness and black border, my cards are showing a little wear. If they start to show any distinguishing marks, they’ll be immediately sleeved.
The rule book is multi-lingual, which is great because my German goes as far as ‘spiele’ and ‘leiderhosen’. It’s short and clear, and easy to follow.
All things considered, this is beyond doubt one of my favourite filler games. It plays so quickly, coming in at around 15 minutes a game once you’re in the swing of things. It joins a staple of short bluffing games in our regular circulation, along with Spyfall, Bang! The Dice Game, and Saboteur. It plays just as well with in-laws as it does with our regular gaming group. It’s just fun to trick people into believing you and then rubbing it in their faces.
I’m terrible, this game is great, buy it immediately. That is, if you can get it shipped to your country.