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September 14, 2017

Feeling lonely? Microsoft ‘Zo’ bot wants to play ‘Exploding Kittens’ with you

by John_A

Why it matters to you

If you haven’t purchased Exploding Kittens on your mobile device, here’s a good way to play the card game for free against an opponent powered by Microsoft’s AI.

Microsoft said on Wednesday, September 13 that it teamed up with the developer of Exploding Kittens to bring its social chatbot called Zo into the popular card game. The company originally introduced its AI-powered chatbot on the Kik messenger service in late 2016 followed by GroupMe and Facebook Messenger. It’s capable of having “intelligent” conversations with carbon-based units like us, and now it wants to play one-on-one matches with us in the explosive kitten-based game.

If you’ve never heard of Exploding Kittens, it consists of a single deck of 56 cards, each with its own unique “ability” including skipping a turn, forcing the next player to take two turns, re-shuffling the deck, and so on. The object is to not draw an exploding kitten card, and hope that you have a “defuse” card in your hand if an exploding kitten is drawn from the deck.

“Exploding Kittens is a wildly popular tabletop and multiplayer game designed by Elan Lee, Shane Small and Matthew Inman,” Microsoft says. “It is a highly strategic, kitty-powered, Russian roulette-style game that became the most-backed Kickstarter project of all time with more than 200,000 donors raising more than $8.7 million in funding.”

According to Lee, the studio sought to create a single-player version, but didn’t want a Solitaire-type experience. And while Lee says that the team trained Zo to play the game and interact with players, there’s currently no real communication between bot and carbon unit … at least, not on the PC version. The only kitten-laced interaction provided by Zo is a message saying to “click on the link if [you’re] ready to lose.” You may even get a generic expression within the game itself.

The physical version of Exploding Kittens starts at $20, but you can also purchase the mobile version for Apple iOS and Android devices at a measly $2. The physical Exploding Kittens Party Pack for $30 supports up to ten players, and includes the mobile games.

“Zo turns the straightforward notion of competing against an AI on its head. For Zo, it’s not just about winning but how you play the game together,” Microsoft says. “Inside the game, players get to know Zo’s personality and skill. Outside the game, she extends the experience through connection and conversation.”

If nothing else, Microsoft’s chatbot is entertaining. In messaging apps, it’s capable of carrying a conversation, although at times “she” doesn’t understand the context of your reply. Still, the technology behind cloud-based artificial intelligence is amazing given that there’s no human at the other end of the conversation.

But in the solo PC version of Exploding Kittens, you may feel like you’re just playing against the game instead of battling with a conversant third-party artificial intelligence. Even so, it’s loads of fun regardless of Zo’s seemingly lack of in-game responses.

To play Exploding Kittens with Zo on the PC, head to the links below, and send the chatbot a message saying “play EK.” You’ll get a link to play one-on-one against the game in Easy, Medium, and Expert modes.

  • Facebook Messenger
  • Kik
  • GroupMe (contact: Zo)

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