Grandmaster Fun: Ghost Blitz and Cockroach Poker

A doubleheader review and analysis of two classic party games: Cockroach Poker and Ghost Blitz

I often find myself swept up in the winds of the heady analysis of game mechanics, ludonarrative, and rules grit. The emergent properties and sprawling decision spaces of well-executed and thoughtful designs are a huge part of what keeps me engaged with something that for me, is more than a hobby: games are technologies that enable new modes of thought.

Also, games are technologies that let you laugh at your friends’ inability to lie and try and grab crap faster than other people.

Buckle up kiddos, it’s time for some analysis and review of two seemingly goofy party games.

Who is Jacques Zeimet?

Jacques Zeimet is a designer from Luxembourg, which is all I know about him outside of his designs. He’s designed 40+ games to date, most of which seem to be party games or dexterity games. He is the designer of both games I’ll talk about here, Ghost Blitz and Cockroach Poker (which were both recommended by the SdJ committee). For my analysis, I will simply crown him the Grandmaster of Fun. I bet you’re intrigued now, right? Who wouldn’t want to play a game from the Grandmaster of Fun himself?

Hopefully, Reiner Knizia doesn’t find out I’m cheating on him.

Games About Grabbing Stuff and Being Wrong

The first game, Ghost Blitz, is likely a design you might be familiar with. Not because you’ve played it, but because it’s a sort of elemental game. You likely have tried a game where you have to yell something faster than other people (Anomia), or a game where you must slap something faster than other people (Egyptian Ratscrew, Slapjack, Cobra Paw), or even a game that is kind of similar like Jungle Speed. The game itself is simple. There is a deck of cards and 5 adorable objects:

Cockroach poker
Totally not-staged pic of me playing Cockroach Poker against a real opponent

Each round of the game, you flip a card. The card has pictures of the cute objects. To win the round, you must:

  1. Determine if one of the objects on the card is colored correctly. There’s a blue book as one of the objects and if a card has, say, the blue book pictured, you grab the blue book and win the round.
  2. If both objects on the card are miscolored, you then try to grab the single object that is not represented on the card in either its form or its color. If you’ve got a card with a blue ghost and a green chair, you have to grab the grey mouse to win.

If you grab the right object, you win the card. If you grab the wrong one, you must give a previously won card (if you have one) to the winner.

And that’s the game!

Cockroach Poker, on the other hand, is a game that draws inspiration from such childhood frustrations as the game of BS, or marginally I suppose, the myriad games of poker

In Cockroach Poker, there is a deck of 8 suits with different critters on them with 8 cards of each suit. At the beginning of the game, you deal out all the cards to all the players. The object of the game is to not be the first person to lose. Everyone else wins, one person loses.

Ghost blitz
Another TOTALLY REAL PICTURE of a deadly opponent

Play proceeds in a circle, taking turns. On their turn, a player picks a card from their hand, places it face down, and slides it to another player saying, “This is an insert name of the suit here.” For instance, “This is a spider.” The player to whom the card has been slid must then say, “it IS a spider,” “it ISN’T a spider,” or choose to look at the card and slide it to another player, saying, “This is an insert name of the suit here.” When doing so, the player can claim the suit is a different one or leave it as the same one the person who passed it to them did.

Eventually, someone must say it is or it isn’t the suit that the previous person who passed it to them said it was. The card is flipped and if the person who received the card deduced correctly, the passer takes the card face-up. If the person receiving the card is wrong, they take the card face-up.

The first person who has 4 face-up cards of the same suit is the loser.

Bedevilment and Its Repercussions

If you’ve read this far, you’re the same kind of weird that I am, come a little farther with me. If you’ve just been skimming or jumping to the conclusion, I’ll tell you right now: Ghost Blitz and Cockroach Poker are great games that can be acquired for CHEAP, and if you don’t have them in your collection and you like party games, they’re two great picks.

Now, back to overanalysis.

I believe that games are sophisticated technologies. Both of these games’ primary innovation is that they are bedeviling. If I told you that these two games were fun, I would be telling a mistruth.

Ghost Blitz rewards fast-twitch muscle fibers and alacrity, two properties which are not evenly distributed between people. When I’ve played with elderly folks or people who have difficulty scanning or processing information quickly, there’s a veil of frustration that comes across the table.

Cockroach Poker rewards deduction and paying close attention to the tells and facial expressions of others. The game incentivizes piling on a weak player and might make people who find eye contact or intimacy difficult a little uncomfortable. That’ll depend on the players.

Some might view these harassing or bedeviling properties as not worth their time, or not to their taste, but I believe that what these games do is powerful: they teach us how to lose and how to celebrate the skills and features of other people.

Both games take about 10 minutes. When my sibling destroys me at Ghost Blitz, I feel a little roughed up, but also I admire the speed of their thoughts. As I find myself concluding with many games in my collection, I am awed by the worthiness of these very human creations. I hope you can be too.

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About the author

Thomas Wells

Writer. Portland, OR.

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