“Speaking of sex and pizza!” The room erupted in laughter. Someone in the group had proclaimed our arrival. Since my girlfriend was carrying the Papa John’s, I’m supposing I was the horizontal refreshment. Or maybe I’m not accurately recalling who was carrying the pizza. In any case, the party was well under way. 20 or so friends and acquaintances, an enemy or two, and potential new friends, acquaintances, and enemies were sitting in a circle. Someone was standing in front of a microphone stand, rendering a well-known song unrecognizable. Black and white playing cards were dispersed about the room, most held in hands. It was an instantly recognizable scene: the group was engaged in some kind of party game involving cards and Karaoke. In this case it was the party game for horrible people, Cards Against Humanity.
A Party Game for Horrible People
That’s the game’s official slogan, actually: “A party game for horrible people.” I’m a horrible person, so I’d been looking forward to playing Cards Against Humanity, or CAH, ever since I’d first learned about it earlier this year. I’d requested and received a starter box from the makers of the game so I could review the game for LockerGnome. For months I considered hosting my own Cards Against Humanity game night but mental health issues, laziness, and a lack of friends kept providing me with excuses for not doing so. I simply wasn’t feeling up to the task of planning and hosting a game night that I myself might not even be in the mood to attend.
The occasion to play then presented itself when I was invited to a party other people would be hosting. The event was billed as “Cards Against Karaoke! Or Karaoke Against Humanity!” The idea, if not obvious enough, was to combine Cards Against Humanity with Karaoke. I decided to go, mainly because it provided an opportunity to review the game, but also because I wanted to get out of my apartment for at least one night this year. I also wanted to reconnect with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while, all horrible people like me. So I popped a few Xanax, grabbed my girlfriend, and headed over to the party house.
CAH is not a game for those who are easily offended. Having been raised by a mother with a dark sense of humor and heavily influenced by a steady dose of Mad Magazine during my formative years, I have a propensity for the darker amusements in life. I prefer films such as Blazing Saddles to what passes for comedy these days. I still get tickled by reruns of the 1970s sitcom All in the Family. Both of these entertainments are chock full of scenes and dialogue many today consider politically incorrect and inappropriate for public consumption. I see them as hilarious works of satirical art. Like I said before, I’m a horrible person.
Cards Against Humanity is the perfect outlet for those of us who are tired of having to be politically correct all the time. The game provides an occasion to let loose and allow yourself to laugh at even the darkest punchlines. Even standup comedians might flinch at some of the statements delivered during a round of this game. What a relief for those of us who still believe in having a good time! And slogan aside, you don’t actually have to be a horrible person to enjoy playing this game. You do need to have a sense of humor, though (and one that escapes the confines of everyday propriety).
A Cross Between Mad Libs and Apples to Apples, with Better Results
Cards Against Humanity is kind of a cross between the games Mad Libs and Apples to Apples. There are key differences between CAH and these games, however. Mad Libs requires players to provide parts of speech to fill in a story template that they are blind to. This results in a tale or an essay that can be delightfully absurd or annoyingly nonsensical. The card game Apples to Apples has players creating comparisons between certain things. Interesting comparisons usually result. With Cards Against Humanity, on the other hand, there are always delightfully absurd or interesting results.
The reason Cards Against Humanity outperforms Mad Libs is because it provides players with a measure of control over the outcome. Unlike Mad Libs, CAH players aren’t blind to the phrasal template. Instead, players are presented with a question they must answer or an incomplete statement they are required to fill the blank (or blanks) with. This greatly improves the likelihood that the results will make sense more often than they do with Mad Libs. And since players can purposely affect certain reactions (or at least attempt to), this also improves the likelihood for interaction, conversation, or out and out nasty behavior.
Apples to Apples also promotes conversation. Players often are invited to defend why they made certain comparisons between cards. Yet though Apples to Apples can sometimes get raunchy or awkward, Cards Against Humanity is expressly designed to provoke. The designers of the game have written phrases and questions that are almost certain to offend — all in the name of fun, of course. Adolescents of all ages can play Apples to Apples, but Cards Against Humanity should only be introduced to an adult crowd — and one that is emotionally mature enough to understand the difference between playfulness and mean-spiritedness.
How Cards Against Humanity Works
Here’s how the game operates. Each player holds the same number of White Cards throughout the game. One “answer” is printed on each of these cards. For each turn of the game the Card Czar (a different player each turn) presents the question or statement that is printed on a Black Card. The rest of the players must then select one or more of their answer cards and submit it to the Card Czar. The Card Czar then shuffles the cards and presents the results, reading each question-and-answer combination or statement that has been produced that round. Then the Card Czar selects his or her favorite result.
Those are the basic mechanics, but the makers of Cards Against Humanity say the game is meant to be remixed, so the game can be altered in any way imaginable. Want to turn it into a drinking game? Have the Card Czar select their least favorite answer each turn and make the person who played that card imbibe. An intimate group of friends may opt for a more risqué punishment (or reward), such as a spanking. Or play it the way we played it, with the player of the “losing” hand required to grab the Karaoke microphone and sing a song picked at random from a list of well-known hits. (The game normally has nothing to do with Karaoke. That’s just how our hosts decided we’d be playing the game that evening.)
“It’s what happens between the turns that make it interesting,” a friend described one particularly engaging turn. The outcomes produced during a turn of CAH are often hilarious or obscene, and sometimes downright disturbing. The only thing players are limited by is the cards they hold in their hands (and even that limitation can be removed by playing a variation of the game called Never Have I Ever). But even when a particularly outrageous result left most of us speechless, the game was still fun. And that’s when you know you have a good party game, when every turn is consistently fun.
The fun isn’t likely to end anytime soon, either. The game’s designers have already kicked out a few expansions and encourage players to create their own. In fact, Cards Against Humanity is distributed under a Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use and remix the game for free. So there’s really no end to the fun that can be had with this game. If CAH’s designers haven’t written cards that you wish they had, you’re free to do so yourself — or you can suggest your card idea at their website. Who knows, maybe your idea will make its way into the next expansion pack!