When beginning the game, players start with at an identical number of cards, including one Defuse card for each. All Exploding Kittens and remaining cards are then shuffled into a face-down deck. Players then take turns drawing cards from the deck until somebody draws an Exploding Kitten. Should this happen, they "explode" and lose the game (unless they can use a Defuse card). This continues until only one player remains, and is declared the winner.
There are numerous different cards that lessen players' chances of exploding. On a player's turn, they can play as many of the cards they have in their hand as they want (or none at all!), and they then draw a card from the draw pile to end their turn. There are a variety of cards in the core deck, as well as multiple expansion packs and additional full decks.
Exploding Kittens provides examples of (under construction):
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Cards with an identical basic function have a matching icon with its own distinct color.
- Counterspell: Nope cards can cancel the effects of any card besides a Defuse card or any Kitten.
- Expansion Pack: Three exist for the game: Imploding Kittens, Streaking Kittens, and Barking Kittens.
- Extra Turn: Can be exploited as a harmful (if well-timed) Attack. An attacked player can stack their remaining turns onto those of another player with this. (A player can also use a Personal Attack card on themself to play this trope straight.) Also inverted with the ability to Skip a turn, ending it without drawing a card.
- Extrinsic Go-First Rule: Humorously, players can determine who goes first with whatever they want.
- House Rules: The RFD deck not only comes with ten different recipes for the game, but allows players to write ones of their own.
- Kingmaker Scenario: Even if a player's chances of victory are diminished, they could still be capable of turning the tides of play for the others.
- Single-Use Shield: The Defuse card can prevent an Exploding Kitten from exploding, but is discarded once it does so. A defused Exploding Kitten is then placed anywhere in the deck in secret.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: It is possible for players to use their cards and/or proper defused Kitten placement to immensely screw over another player of their choice. How strategically viable this is varies.
- Action Bomb: Why Exploding Kittens present a danger to players.
- Autocannibalism: The Zombie Cat in the NSFW and RFD decks eats its own eyeball.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Heavily implied with a certain Exploding Kitten card that is exclusive to the Streaking Kittens pack and replaced in the RFD deck.
- Mad Bomber: Exploding Kittens seem obsessed with blowing up anyone unfortunate enough to draw Exploding Kitten cards.
- Seldom-Seen Species: One See the Future card depicts a mantis shrimp.