Cockroach Poker + Cheating Moth: Spotlight Series
Who would want these gross games? Only low-down, dirty liars and filthy cheaters, that’s who. Cockroach Poker and Cheating Moths are two new, disgusting card games at Level One. The only way to win these games is to lie to your friends’ faces and cheat before their eyes. What a disgusting pair!
The biggest reasons games are fun is because players respect the rules. A game is a structure, a system of order, a beautiful ticking clockwork microcosm of rules and strategies. Even the slightest violation of that structure will cause the whole thing to come crashing down. It’s impossible to have a game when you don’t respect the rules.
Or is it? Well, maybe Level One Game Shop has found a couple of exceptions to this idea. What if a game uses lying as a mechanic, like Cockroach Poker? Or what if a game had cheating baked into the rules, like Cheating Moths? Wait, no, that’s silly. Rules, unlike the old platitude, are NOT made to be broken. How can you have a game where cheating is part of the rules?
So here’s a card game that looks really simple, on the face of it. You could teach Cheating Moth in two minutes. The gameplay is simple: when it’s your turn, play a card to the discard pile. The card’s value has to be one more, or one less, than the top card on the discard pile. Try to empty your hand, and that’s it. For a twist, there’s four special cards - Spiders, Mosquitos, Cockroaches, and Ants (how gross, bleagh). These disgusting bugs have an additional effect, and that’s it. Sounds like an elegant little game. Why disrupt this with cheating?
Well, there are the Moth cards. They’re worth a lot of negative points at the end of a round, so having one is bad. And there’s no way to get rid of them. You can’t play them normally, and you can’t ditch them with Spider or Mosquito cards. So when you’re dealt a Moth card, you’re just screwed, right?
Well, maybe not. What if you could cheat?
Each round, a player gets to be the Guard Bug. They have to be on the lookout for cheaters, because the temptation is strong. This responsibility grants the Guard Bug the privilege of being able to play Moth cards. But they can’t let other players do the same! Because that’s cheating!
And, well, really, this is a lot of fun. When you are the Guard Bug, the game revolves around you. Other players are always watching your attention, waiting for a flicker in your vigilance. And you NEVER let your guard down. When you’re not the Guard Bug, you want to cheat, because there’s only one player trying to catch you. When you finally get one over on the Guard Bug, everyone’s watching and laughing, like some conspiratorial cabal.
But do you see how gross this disgusting card game is? You win by fooling your friends. And Cheating Moths leans hard into how icky it is with all these dirty bugs all over the cards. How can this get worse?
Lying isn’t really new to tabletop games. Werewolf is a genre-defining classic, inspiring a wide variety of games like Resistance, Secret Hitler, Dead of Winter, and the out-of-print but legendary Battlestar Galactica.
Often, though, the best deceit in hidden-role Werewolf-style games is very subtle. Players don’t often lie outright, the deception is in sly bluffs and feints. Rarely do players have to look a friend in the eye and confidently speak a filthy lie. Then there’s Cockroach Poker.
In Cockroach Poker (more bugs, ick) one player takes a card from their hand and presents it face-down to another player. Then the giving player tells them what bug is on the card. Of course, they can tell the truth. Which is, frankly, a little boring. Or they can lie. They can look the other player directly in the eye, be they friend or stranger, and utter the lowest, most contemptible speech that a human being can.
So when someone gives you a card in Cockroach Poker, what do you do? They probably just lied. Or did they? How can you tell? Maybe it doesn’t matter - in Cockroach Poker, you can just pass the card onto someone new. But the privilege of passing the risk on comes at a price - now you have to lie. You get to look at the card, but keep your reaction secret, because it’s up to you to bluff the card into someone else’s hand. Will you tell the same lie? Or a different one? Or head-fake your victim with honesty?
Calling someone’s bluff defuses this hot potato of deception. If you called the bluff incorrectly, or someone correctly called your bluff, you keep the card face-up. It’s now a mark, a brand, a tattoo advertising your failure. Collect four face-up cards of the same bug (what’s with all the bugs? gross) and you lose.
Cockroach Poker takes lying as a game mechanic to a higher level. It’s not enough to merely lie by omission, sneaking in deceptions unnoticed. You don’t bluff like in regular poker, where you merely alter your game moves. In Cockroach Poker, each lie is bald-faced, and winning depends on your ability to sell it.
Two Despicable, Disgusting Card Games
Ok. Fine. Maybe there are times when you want to break the rules. Maybe there are situations where lying to your friends is ok. Keeping these behaviors in the realm of tabletop games… well, it’s actually kind of fun. Tabletop games are very much relevant in the era of internet gaming because of the social aspect. Players share the game with each other, not just physically but socially and emotionally too. And not every game has to be about sharing, co-operating, and teamwork. For playgroups that want a game experience that’s a little more intense, Cockroach Poker and Cheating Moths are two excellent, sordid, hilarious, dirty, challenging, disgusting card games.