Road Trip Games: I Kill Your Cows!

It’s good to play social games on long car rides—it helps teach observation, support language and quick processing, and minimize the amount of “screen time” children spend on digital devices during travel. There are lots of good road trip games out there; I learned this one from an old friend. It’s called “I Kill Your Cows!”

“I see 15 of my cows!” (image from Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)

I Kill Your Cows!

I Kill Your Cows, or IKYC, is an observation, strategy, and visual estimation game. You’re trying to become a successful farmer by collecting various forms of livestock; the player with the most livestock wins. Here’s how it goes.

Getting livestock

When driving along in rural territory, you’ll often pass farms with animals. To claim them, you estimate their number and say, e.g., “I see [12] of my cows!”. Whoever speaks first claims the animals, adding them to their personal livestock tallies.

Other players can contest the claim by actually counting the animals and reporting the actual number, e.g., “Actually, those are [15] of my cows!”. If the first player overestimated, they get no new animals and the player contesting the claim gets to keep all the animals instead. Similarly, if there are more animals than the initial estimate, the second player gets to keep them—unless someone contests the new estimate…

You can play with any available living creatures (cows, sheep, goats, horses, dogs, cats, frogs, llamas, whatever) or you can restrict the game to certain species. This depends on house (car?) rules.

Some people play with a rule where you lose all your [species in question] if you contest an estimate and the estimate was accurate.

First comes love, then comes marriage…

If you pass a church/synagogue/municipal office or other location associated with marriage ceremonies, a player may say “I marry my [cows]!”. Each church may only be used once: one church, one player, one species married.

When you marry your [cows], they reproduce, doubling their number. So if Player B has 15 cows, sees a church, and marries the cows, Player B ends with 30 cows.

Interspecies marriage is forbidden in this game. [Cows/horses/etc.] do not retain religious affilation once the marriage is complete; if the 15 [cows] were married at a Catholic church (becoming 30 [cows]), they could get married again (becoming 60 [cows]) at the Jewish synagogue down the street.

Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me…

Time stops for no [cow]. You can slow your competitors’ relentless rise to farming prosperity by killing off their livestock. This is done when you’re the first one to spot a graveyard/cemetery/mausoleum/columbarium/etc. By announcing “I kill your [cows] and put them in the graveyard”, you reset another person’s supply of that animal to zero. One graveyard, one player, one species killed.

House rules differ: some play that when I announce “I kill your [cows]”, I kill the [cows] belonging to all other players; other people play that you must announce your target with “I kill Hollis’s cows”.

You may not kill [cows] that are already dead; recent marriage provides no protection; you may not use church/graveyard proximity to argue that you are raising your [cows] from the dead and returning them to the fold as zombie cattle. No rules lawyering!

Away in a manger

To protect against loss, you can stash your animals safely inside any barns that you pass by saying “I put my [cows] into that barn!”. One barn, one player, one species protected.

Once inside the barn, animals cannot be killed by graveyards, but also cannot get married in any churches. So it’s a calculated risk that protects against loss while stifling growth.

You can remove your [cows] when you pass a second barn by saying “I take my [cows] out of the barn!”. All barns are connected via wormholes that allow instantaneous access to animals placed into previous barns. No rules lawyering! You cannot take animals out of barns until you see a second barn.


The game ends when you reach your destination or the players get tired of the game. If you’re playing with multiple species, you need to figure out how you’re going to score the different animals: is a cow worth as much as a horse? Is a sheep worth as much as a llama?

The value of the game

Things taught by I Kill Your Cows:

  • Quick visual estimation of numbers
  • Whether someone’s estimate is sufficiently bad to be worth contesting
  • Careful observation of surroundings: cemeteries are often hard to see, and a careful observer can destroy competitors’ herds by spotting them first
  • Risk management: am I more likely to see a church or a graveyard next? Is it worth the graveyard risk to be able to (potentially) marry my animals and double their numbers?
  • Animal identification
  • Trash-talking: when you kill other people’s herds, some people find it important to utter taunting and/or jeering phrases

I hope you enjoy it! What are some of your favorite road trip games?

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