Playing Cards Against Humanity is the gaming equivalent of swapping dead baby jokes. In fact, I think there’s a card for that.
There’s a card for just about everything in Cards Against Humanity, as long as its tasteless and irreverent. There’s even a card for Cards Against Humanity itself.
Allow me to be frank: Cards Against Humanity is vile, offensive, and entirely unapologetic. Rape jokes, religious jokes, jokes about pedophilia, and scatological humor all feature prominently. The blacker-than-your-soul box includes no trigger warnings (although there’s probably a card about trigger warnings in one of the more recent expansions), simply because the list would be endless. If you’re sensitive to anything, you shouldn’t play this game.
The game is also very, very funny. In the same way South Park turns childish, vulgar humor into a kind of elite satire, Cards Against Humanity rises above its mishmosh of Mel Gibson and Lindsay Lohan references to somehow become a game that’s not only frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious but also makes its players feel intelligent.
Advertised as “a party game for horrible people,” Cards Against Humanity comes to us courtesy of the indiesphere, self-published under a Creative Commons License. You can buy the game for $25 or less, or you can just print off the cards yourself (warning: you probably don’t have enough black ink to do this at home) or play the unofficial web version at Pretend You’re Xyzzy.
As happy as it is to give freely of itself in the spirit of copyleft and all that liberal nonsense, Cards Against Humanity borrows freely from the games that came before it. In fact, there’s nothing original in its design, except its unfiltered, unedited-for-television content. It’s a blatant palette swap of the family-friendly party game Apples to Apples, which wasn’t exactly the most inspired game design to begin with. A classic party game in the mold of “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter,” Apples to Apples/Cards Against Humanity has players rotating in the role of the judge/Card Czar, while the other players are the judge’s fawning supplicants. Every round, the Card Czar selects or randomly draws a category from the box–in Apples, these are adjectives like “Explosive” or “Absurd,” while in Cards Against Humanity, they’re Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blank sentences like “What is Batman’s guilty pleasure?” or “_____: kid-tested, mother-approved.” The other players secretly select a card from their hand that they think fits best or most amusingly with the chosen category. These could be things like “Darth Vader” or “mud” (Apples to Apples) or “Stephen Hawking talking dirty” or “a big, black dick” (Cards Against Humanity). Then, the judge/Card Czar shuffles up the players’ cards, reads them all out loud, and makes a purely subjective decision about which one they like the best. That player earns a point, which is swiftly forgotten because that’s not really the reason you’re playing, and the role of judge passes to the next player in clockwise order.
And it’s really, really funny. Most games that try to be funny end up being tedious and pathetic, like the college senior who still thinks he’s the class clown. Cards Against Humanity actually is funny, possibly because it’s so specific and absurd where Apples to Apples tries to be generic in a bid to give everybody a fair shake. Even totally random combinations often yield fruitful results, as my wife and I have found in our games featuring Rando Cardrissian, a suggested house rule to spruce up games with low player counts by tossing a random card into the pot each round. (Technically, Cards Against Humanity plays 4-30 horrible people, but Heather and I have found it works just fine with 2 if you don’t care about points and throw a couple of Randos into the mix.) Oh yeah, the rules are hilarious, as well, including House Rules like “Never Have I Ever: At any time, players may discard cards that they don’t understand, but they must confess their ignorance to the group and suffer the resulting humiliation.”
And that’s about it, really. Cards Against Humanity isn’t a deep game. It’s more of a social lubricant, like booze. It will provide enough off-color references to fuel an evening’s worth of small talk, and until you play out the 550-card deck, it will probably pay for itself in beverage-snorts and laughing fits. That’s all most people want–if you’re just looking for an activity to have fun with your friends, and you’re not easily offended, this is the game to get. If you still feel like playing the game after it’s lost its virgin tightness, you can purchase any one of the five 100-card expansion packs, or the themed expansions, and have a second or third honeymoon.
Oh, and you should always, always play with the “Happy Ending” house rule, ending the game with a haiku: