Mantis, from the creators of Exploding Kittens, itself part of the entertainment powerhouse The Oatmeal, has a fun new take on chance and risk. The game was inspired by the mantis shrimp, which is technically neither a mantis nor a shrimp. It’s described in a mini-comic that comes with the game, “Why the Mantis Shrimp is my favorite animal,” which displays the colorful critter’s impressive capabilities. The animal has. six different color-receptive cones in its eyes (humans have three) and raptorial appendages that punch with such intensity they can crack crustacean shells and super-heat seawater. Such a formidable beast is an inspirational combination of beauty and destruction, making it a perfect mascot for the “fight or flight” game of Mantis.
In gameplay, Mantis is similar to other suit-matching card games going far back in time. What makes Mantis stand out, in addition to the brightly colored and hilarious images like the pirate mantis shrimp, weeping mantis shrimp, on-fire mantis shrimp, and birthday cake mantis shrimp, is its clever use of marked backings on each card. Usually card decks are kept as uniform as possible to keep players from knowing what card is coming up next. Mantis gives a hint by showing three symbols and colors, one of which matches the front. Players have a one-in-three chance of knowing what is on the front. This hint will help players decide their course of action between the two options.
Mantis keeps the play streamlined with just two available moves: steal or score. When stealing, players take a face-down card from the draw deck hoping to match the symbol on the front with a symbol on an opponent’s pile. If they do, they seize the opponent’s cards and add them to their own “tank” laid out in front of them. When scoring, the player draws in hopes of matching one of the symbols in their tank. Any matching cards along with the one drawn are moved into the player’s score pile, working toward the 10 or 15 needed to win, depending on how many players are playing.
A game of Mantis is a delicate balance of aggression and modesty, much like the sea creature that hides in crevices and leaps out to strike. Stealing is a good way to build up a potential scoring, but those cards could be stolen away at any opponent’s turn. Players might instead try to quietly build up and score small amounts at a time. Whatever the strategy, the greatest skill comes in quick math determining what symbol is most likely to come up.
Mantis is a card game for two to six players aged seven and up. Rules are easy to learn, explained in under a minute and mastered by the first few rounds. With games lasting only 10 to 15 minutes, it has high replay value as players will return again and again wanting to test their luck at predicting what symbol comes up. As with all emotional rollercoasters, a passionate high might just lead to a gut-wrenching low when someone swoops in to steal.
A video from the Mantis site shows the game in action: