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The internet loves cats. Games with explosions, too. And everyone loves a good card game. So what happens when you combine the three? Crowdfunding mania.

Exploding Kittens, by game designers Elan Lee and Shane Small, with illustration by Matthew Inman, has blown up on Kickstarter. Since the campaign launched on 19 January, Exploding Kittens has attracted more than 120, 000 backers, who have contributed more than $5m to a game they have never seen, breaking the record for the campaign with the most backers on the fundraising platform (beating projects to finance Reading Rainbow libraries and a Veronica Mars movie). Exploding Kittens passed its initial goal of $10, 000 in the first eight minutes of the campaign. It was 1, 000 per cent funded in the first hour. "We're in totally crazy territory here, " says Small.

Despite the fact that Lee and Small are long-time game designers and Inman has a cult following for his comics site, The Oatmeal, the trio seem taken aback by its success. The three of them have never even been in a room together and are only now contemplating their first in-person meeting.

Lee and Small live in Los Angeles and have known each other for more than a decade. Their first project was an interactive clothing line called Edoc Laundry, launched in 2005, which embedded clues to a murder mystery in each article of clothing. (CSI: New York based an episode on the premise.) They then had stints at Microsoft, developing interactive movies and shows for the Xbox game console. After that division was shut down, Small approached Lee about an idea he had for a game, originally called Bombsquad.

The game required enough skill and strategy to get people excited, but they agreed it lacked something. While on holiday with a mutual friend in Hawaii, Lee was coerced to test out the game with fellow holidaymakers, including Inman. It didn't take long for the illustrator, who has made a name for himself with his sardonic takes on everything from the word moist to the correct usage of the semicolon, to offer exploding kittens as an alternative to bombs.

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