Card Game Review: ‘Mantis’ by Exploding Kittens

Mantis, from the creators of Exploding Kittens, itself part of entertainment powerhouse The Oatmeal, has a fun new take on chance and risk. The game was inspired by the Mantis Shrimp, which is technically neither a Mantis nor a Shrimp. He’s featured in a mini-comic that comes with the game, “Why the Mantis Shrimp is My Favorite Animal,” which shows off the colorful creature’s impressive abilities. The animal has. six differently colored responsive cones in its eyes (humans have three) and raptor appendages that strike with such intensity that they can crack crustacean shells and superheat seawater. Such a fearsome beast is a combination inspiring beauty and destruction, making it a perfect mascot for the “fight or flight” game of Mantis.

Stakes, Mantis is similar to other matching card games that date way back in time. Which makes Mantis Standing out, in addition to the brightly colored and hilarious images like the Pirate Mantis Shrimp, Weeping Mantis Shrimp, Burning Mantis Shrimp and Birthday Cake Mantis Shrimp, is its clever use of marked media on each card. Usually decks of cards are kept as even as possible to prevent players from knowing which card is coming next. Mantis gives a clue by showing three symbols and colors, one of which matches the front. Players have a one in three chance of knowing what’s on the front. This clue will help players decide their course of action between the two options.

Mantis keeps the game streamlined with only two moves available: Steal or Score. When stealing, players take a face down card from the draw pile in hopes of matching the symbol on the front with a symbol on an opponent’s stack. If they do, they grab the opponent’s cards and add them to their own “reservoir” laid out in front of them. When scoring, the player draws in hopes of matching one of the symbols from their tank. All cards matching the one drawn are moved into the player’s score pile, working towards the 10 or 15 needed to win, depending on how many players are playing.

A game of Mantis is a delicate balance of aggressiveness and modesty, much like the sea creature that hides in crevices and leaps to strike. Stealing is a good way to rack up potential score, but these cards can be stolen on any opponent’s turn. Players can instead try to build slowly and score small amounts at a time. Whatever the strategy, the greatest skill lies in quick calculations to determine which symbol is most likely to appear.

Mantis is a card game for two to six players aged seven and up. The rules are easy to learn, explained in less than a minute and mastered from the first rounds. With games lasting only 10-15 minutes, it has high replay value as players will come back again and again to try and predict which symbol will appear. As with all emotional roller coasters, a passionate high can just lead to a heartbreaking low when someone rushes to fly.

A video of the Mantis site shows the game in action: