Unexploded Cow – Blowing up cows for fun & profit

Unexploded Cow - Blowing up cows for fun & profit.
Unexploded Cow - original black and white version

Unexploded Cow – original black and white version

Unexploded Cow was the first Cheapass game I ever played. (It always gives me a little thrill to say that. Then in the face of a shocked response, I grin and explain that Cheapass Games is the name of game’s publisher.

Unexploded Cow is a unique and hilarious light-hearted card game designed by James Ernest, owner and founder of Cheapass Games, and Paul Peterson. In Unexploded Cow, you’ve learned of two problems:

  1. Unexploded ordinance in France left over from wars gone by.
  2. Cows with Mad Cow disease in England.

Being a savvy entrepreneur, you’ve come up with a solution to both problems: buy cows in England for cheap then ship them to France and let them run around the pastures and set off the unexploded bombs. The thankful populace will reward you with money! You’ll be rich! At least that’s what you’re striving for in Unexploded Cow.

Game Play

Unexploded Cow Deluxe Edition - sample cards

Unexploded Cow Deluxe Edition sample cards

On your turn, you can play as many cards as you like. Most cards are cows that your purchase and put in your fields, some of the not so great cows – that cost money when they blow up – you’ll want to place in your opponents fields and make them pay for them. Some cards provide actions like drawing cards, making the cows move around, trading cows with fellow players, etc.  Some cows have special abilities like being able to hand off a bomb to another cow or act as a spy for you (your opponent pays when you place your spy in his field and you get paid when your spy blows up).

Which brings us to the second part of your turn: when you’re all done playing cards, roll the bomb die, then count cows clockwise starting at your rightmost cow. When you get to the number you rolled, that cow blows up and its owner gets paid the cow’s value (higher than what it cost) as long as there’s enough money in the pot. If you blow up one or more of your own cows on your bomb roll, you also earn the friendship of the current French City (City deck), take the City card and do whatever it says.

When the last City card is won, the game goes into Sudden Death with players rolling and blowing up cows until they’re all gone – sort of a weird fireworks show. Then ya’ll count your money and the player with the most wins!

Getting Into the Theme

I really like to get into the theme of a game. So when we play Unexploded Cow, we announce what cow we’re buying when we play the card, steal cows from each other or blow cows up. For example:

  • “I’m buying Augustus the proud cow and Winslow the fat cow.”
  • “Daisy’s going to do some spying for me in your field, Tim. Would you mind paying her cost to the bank, please.”
  • “General Uriah passes the bomb to Mad Bomber Hillary and the whole field goes boom!”

It makes the game a blast for us.

The Original Unexploded Cow

The original Unexploded Cow was printed in plain-Jane black and white: from the simple cardboard-envelope type box to its black & white cards illustrated cards by Mike O’Connor. You had to provide your own six-sided die and money. Sometimes we used Monopoly money, sometimes poker chips – whatever was handy. Who would’ve thought blowing up cows could be such a blast! But it was – and still is.

Unexploded Cow - back of box, original black and white version

Unexploded Cow – back of box, original black and white version. Click to enlarge and read.

I was quite drawn to the unique Cheapass Games concept – written on the back of the box:

Cheapass Games come packaged with the bare essentials: boards, cards, and rule books. If you need anything else we’ll tell you. And it’s probably something you can scrounge from a game you already own…

and started collecting early Cheapass Games. The Cheapass concept is both conservation-minded and economical. Another nice feature of old Cheapass Games is that they’re small and take up very little space on a game shelf, so even though my taste in games has changed, I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of the ones I don’t play anymore. Unexploded Cow won’t go anywhere in any case!

Unexploded Cow Deluxe Edition

The current version of Unexploded Cow is the “Deluxe Edition” with new full-color art illustrated by Cheyenne Wright. I jumped on the Kickstarter for it and ordered a bunch for my store where you can buy it now. Unexploded Cow Deluxe Edition has a lot going for it production-wise:

  • Full-color artwork: cards, box, rulebook – everywhere! Nothing plain vanilla about this puppy.
  • Thick cardboard tokens for money.
  • Updated rules: the City cards now provide a bonus action like drawing cards or taking money.
  • They’ve even provided a six-sided die for your bomb rolls.
Unexploded Cow Deluxe Edition money tokens

Unexploded Cow Deluxe Edition money tokens

Despite its prettiness – I do love pretty games – I don’t love the Deluxe Edition as much as I do the original. Chalk it up to nostalgia or maybe I just like the original artwork and cow names better. You can get a print & play version of Unexploded Cow utilizing the original artwork by Mike O’Connor for free on Cheapass Games’ website.

Every game of Unexploded Cow I’ve ever played, regardless of the version, has been filled with laughter. Unexploded Cow supports 2-6 players ages 12 and up and plays in about 25 minutes.


Copyright © 2016 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
Photo rights retained by their respective copyright holders.

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