Lie and get away with it in Cockroach Poker

Original Cockroach Poker cover shows a smiling cockroach holding a hand of cards.

This is going to be a good review.

Do you believe me?

Today I read an article about Facebook’s 51 different gender options. I quickly browsed the list and was devastated to find that there wasn’t a gender for loving small box board games. Terrible news! Because I love board games with a decent player count, light on the rules and small enough to fit into my bag so I can take it to work.

Cockroach Poker, or Kakerlaken Poker, is a 2-6 player bluffing game designed by Jacques Zeimet. It’s packed in a tiny box that could suffocate an ant – if ants breathed like the rest of us. Did you know that ants breathe through holes in their bodies? Damn six-legged bastards ruined my metaphor.

How to Play

The back of the box describes Cockroach Poker as a reverse set collection board game that has nothing to do with poker. It reads like a nerd wrote it – I mean, what the heck is set collection? As a nerd, I appreciated this. However, I also appreciate English, and in English it means:

There are eight different suites of cards, each sporting a picture of some critter (cockroach, toad, flea, rats, scorpions, bats, spiders, and stink bugs), and if you ever collect four of the same type of critter, you lose and the game ends.

It’s a funny language.

Anyway, each turn a player gives you a card, for instance a cockroach, and then tells you what that card is, for instance a toad, and then gives you two choices: guess whether if the giver is telling the truth (Is it really a cockroach?) or pick up the card , look at it and then give another player the same two choices. If you guess that they’re telling the truth and they’re not, it means that your friend is an asshole and you collect the card. If you accuse them of lying and they’re not, then it turns out you’re the asshole, and again you receive the card. In any other case the card is given to the other player. Whoever received the card plays a new card from their hand to begin the next round. There are a few more rules but that’s essentially it.

A hand of cards mid game, stinkbug card shown clearly.
Example play from Jacky Pohl on BGG

The Good

Cockroach Poker is great at creating moments of tension – and that tension subtly builds throughout the game as everyone else gains more cards. While other board games slowly build this tension consistently over the course of play until finally exploding in a climax usually reserved for porn. Kakerlaken Poker has tense moments consistently peppered throughout, with the peaks of these tense moments getting higher and higher the longer the game goes.

These moments are when you try and read your friend’s suddenly emotionless face, or are attempting to keep it together after you’ve just sold a second hand lie. It doesn’t last long, a minute or two at most, and afterwards you either receive the sweet embrace of freedom, or the bear hug of anxiety as you prepare to do it again.

This time you get to choose your victim, and more importantly you’ve got a secret weapon. The doubt that’s brought with the question: he’s not stupid enough to do the same thing twice, is he?

The other fantastic mechanic in this board game is that once you’ve successfully passed  a card on, you can no longer take part in the round. Instead you play spectator to your friends going through the same agonising process, only now you know what’s on the card and who is lying and who is truthing. So when they squirm – and believe me they will squirm – you can’t help but laugh.

This board game’s strength is turning a rather mean game into a fun and and joyous experience. It does this through laughter, quick play time, comical artwork, and a limited rule set.

The Bad

Kakerlaken Poker does one, and one thing only, and that is putting you in a situation where the only way out is bluffing. If you or one of your friends don’t enjoy bluffing, then this is not a game for you.

The game ending with only one loser makes the best strategy ganging up on the player closest to losing. Worse than that, the ultimate best strategy is to get everyone but the current loser to look at the card, putting that final player in a position where they have to call the bluff. However, doing this also puts that player in a corner which they can then fight out of with a few correct guesses.

Cockroach Poker can also create strong rivalries. Where people trade cards back and forth, and if you’re not part that then you could find a loser before you even have a single turn. I didn’t mind this, because I found it equally hilarious to watch my friends go at it.

cockroach poker cards and box showing crickets, toads, and scorpions.
The contents from Marc Figueras on BGG

The Verdict

I love this board game. It brings me great joy when I successfully pass on a card and even greater joy watching my friends trying to outwit each other. It manages the tension of Coup and The Resistance in bursts, but keeps it light enough that you can play it with your wife and still sleep in the same bed that night. Outside of that, Kakerlaken is just a fun word to say. It’s a great way to start off this blog with one of my favourites, it also sets the benchmark for what makes a Critical Hit.

Cockroach Poker Royal cover shows a cockroach in a regal outfit and crown holding a hand of cards

Cockroach Poker Royal

Not sure on the terminology but there is a second edition – or stand alone expansion –  called Cockroach Poker Royal. It has one less suite than the original, but every suite of critter cards now gets an extra Royal Card – identified by the critter wearing a crown. Collecting a Royal card means that you also collect a second card. This addition is great as it allows for turns where there is increased risk and increased reward, it adds a little bit more tension throughout the game instead of just at the end. There are two other special cards: one that counts as you always telling the truth and another that always counts as you lying. Our group found both cards a bit too confusing every time they appeared. After a vote, it was decided to have them re-homed. Therefore, if you need to contact them you’ll find them living at 625 Bottom of the Box Avenue.

The verdict: I actually prefer this to the original, despite removing those two cards that did nothing for us. Given the choice between the two, you should pick up this one.

Thanks for reading my review, I’m currently ranking all my board games in one easy to read list. You can see Cockroach Poker’s initial ranking below.

Initial Rank: 4

Oh man I love, love, love Cockroach Poker. What other game allows you lie so bold face to your friends and get away with it? Let me know in the comments below.

David Norris

Lover of dogs, books, comics, movies, anime, television, video games and most importantly board games. My site is all about the latter, and my journey through the glorious hobby.

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