Cockroach Poker - Review
By Ben Porter
It will surprise literally none of you to hear that I was a bit of an odd child growing up.
Where other kids had puppies, budgies, hamsters, I kept green tree frogs and fed them moths I caught in my front porch. Sometimes, I would collect toads from the local pond and keep them in an old Belfast sink we had lying in the back garden. They died.
When I was 12 years old, I declared to my parents that I wanted to be a herpetologist, which is someone who studies creepy crawlies. I had no grasp of financial matters, okay?
None of that knowledge helped me when playing Cockroach Poker, but it perhaps explains why I like it so much. Partially.
Cockroach Poker – or, to give it its mental-sounding German name, “Kakerlaken Poker” – is a card game by Jacques Zeimet featuring artwork by Rolf Vogt, published by Drei Magier. And it doesn’t play much like poker at all. But in a good way.
The minute I laid eyes on the box for Cockroach Poker I knew I wanted to play it. Just look at the cheeky chappy on the box! Mind you, he does look like he’d steal the sugar out your tea…
The monochromatic colour scheme consisting of warm oranges, browns and yellows is associated just enough with creepy crawlies to evoke a feeling of mischief without being gross. In fact, it makes me feel sort of warm and happy just looking at it. There’s a lot of nostalgia for me with this game that I’ll extrapolate upon later.
The box itself is a clever little piece of engineering. It’s a little bigger than a standard poker-sized card box because the inside is sloped on either side to allow players to slip the stack of cards in and out of the box with ease. No mess, no fuss.
There’s a tendency with a publisher to cheap out a little when it comes to packing card games, but it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into how Cockroach Poker is presented. That the inside of the box is also a warm orange colour just amplifies the premium feel to the game.
Okay. So, as I mentioned earlier, I had a bit of a soft spot for creepy creatures when I was a kid, so theme is probably a bit of a gimme in the case of this review, but let’s break it down a little more.
Firstly, Rolf Vogt’s artwork is first class. The black, bold brush stroke-style lines he uses to bring his creatures to life give the game just enough grit without veering completely away from being clean cut. Vogt tends to use a very child-friendly, cartoonish art style across most all of his work, but here it serves to keep the creatures from being gross or outright terrifying. Thus, the game attains a very nice balancing act of appealing to a broad range of ages. As if that weren’t enough, all 64 cards (8 for each of the 8 suits in the game) boast unique artwork. It’s like a creepy crawly Instagram.
For me, Cockroach Poker conjures up memories of the wee critters I used to track down as a lad. I used to collect toys and figures that all came flooding back to me as I rifled through the cards, looking at the toads, rats and bats. In particular, I remembered a range of bath toys for kids called “Orrible”. For Christmas one year, my mum got me a bucket that was army green in colour and had a picture of a rotund, warty toad on the side, sitting in a swamp (a lot like the toad in Cockroach Poker), and inside there was bath gel that looked like frogspawn and a bar of soap with a poor frog stuck inside it like amber resin. Massive tangent, I know, but it speaks to the power of games to bring our childhood flooding back to us.
What’s particularly masterful about the theme, is that the way the game is played basically encourages the players to behave like vermin, making for a perfect marriage of aesthetics and mechanics.
Cockroach Poker utilises an objective that I’ve never seen in a game. The players only have to get one player to lose for everybody else to, effectively, win. This is achieved by ensuring they have a set of 4 cards of the same suit face-up in front of them, or having them run out of cards altogether.
This clever mechanic encourages players to conspire against one of their peers. And though the game is fundamentally a bluffing game, it does also mean that you can hold your own in Cockroach Poker without being good at bluffing yourself. You just have to hope that the other players don’t choose to gang up on you.
Generally, Cockroach Poker gets better with more players. Ideally, you probably want to be playing with 5 or 6 to get the most out of the game. Lower numbers mean that cards aren’t being passed around as much, which means that it also becomes more difficult to conspire – which is the really fun part of the game. Lower player counts make for more of a ‘Mexican Stand-off’ style of play which some may enjoy, but isn’t really how you get the most out of the game.
Owing to its simple, stripped-down mechanics, it’s also a game that can feel very different depending on who you’re playing with it, which can – in turn – mean that enjoyment levels can very considerably. It’s almost always guaranteed to elicit more than a few laughs, however, and can easily be taught to players of a wide range of ages and skill levels.
If you consider yourself a gamer with an interest in card games or party games, you should own Cockroach Poker. With an RRP of £10, there’s little reason not to. It’s light on your wallet, shelf space and can be set up, played and put away again with 30 minutes easy. To top it off, it’s just an all-round high-quality product.
The game can sometimes surprise you at how much thought needs to go into it, particularly when a few players are close to that dreaded 4th card in the suit. You need to pay close attention to the cards on the table, what’s in your hand and what other players are saying; eagle-eyed players will find that they often do not all add up.
Cockroach Poker was a recent discovery of mine, but has fast become a firm favourite, having seen a number of outings to the table at various homes and events. All gamers should have a decent amount of small games in their collection, and Cockroach Poker deserves to be in all of those collections.