Love it or hate it, the Exploding Kittens card game became an instant phenomenon when, five years ago, it smashed through its Kickstarter crowdfunding target of $10,000 to raise almost $9 million from close to a quarter of a million backers. It has since sold more than 9 million copies. Now the publishers are back with another cat-themed title.
As the title of the game makes clear, Tacocat is a palindrome (the word is the same backwards and forwards). Tho' the publishers describe Tacocat Spelled Backwards as 'a palindome-themed duel', the palindrome theme is worn rather lightly and doesn't impact much on game play. This is actually a two-player duelling card game where the Tacocat is merely the pawn that you move towards you on the track when you win a round. Rather neatly, the track itself is formed by opening up the box.
Players each have a hand of cards, with hand-size varying from 4-9 according to where the Tacocat happens to be positioned on the track. The 38 cards in the deck are numbered (1-12) and to win a round, you have to end up with the lowest card after all the other cards in your hand have been played. The cards are illustrated with humorous cartoons by Matthew Inman that correspond to the palindromic phrase on the card but it's only the number on the card that matters when playing the game.
The principle of the game is that players 'attack' with their high cards but if the opponent cannot successfully defend by beating or matching the attack card they must sacrifice their lowest value card. The player that wins a trick gets to lead the next card. This all makes for rather automatic card play but designer Elan Lee has introduced a couple of tweaks that give players a little more agency. Arrows on the track give the initiative to a player to decide how many cards they want to exchange (discard and redraw) when they see their hand; the other player gets to exchange up to the same number of cards but the player favoured by the arrow is in the driving seat and might, for example, take the push-your-luck decision to eschew any exchange of cards so as to deny your opponent any replacements. In addition, attacks can be modified by allowing two or more of the same cards or a sequence of three or more cards to be played together; the other player has to successfully defend against all of the cards played. Nevertheless, you'll find there are often hands where you can be pretty sure at the outset that you can't possibly win however well you play them. But, of course, that's true of many a card game.
Tacocat Spelled Backwards is bound to be a game of back and forth to and fro, so you might fear there's a risk that games could go on indefinitely. The designer has that covered tho'. Every time the Tacocat moves on the track, you cover up with a tile the space the Tacocat has moved from. That means the board gets smaller every round and games can never take more than a maximum of eight rounds. You can expect the average game to take less than 15 minutes.
In Tacocat Spelled Backwards, publisher Exploding Kittens have put together a light easy-to-play two-player family game in an attractive package. It's unlikely to match the sales success of the Exploding Kittens game but it's likely to prove a popular cattery-mate.