Why Your Cards Against Humanity Variant Sucks Ass

Because the base game you’re templating off sucks ass.

That’s it, we’re done, easy.

Content Warning: I talk a bit about, you know, The Cards Against Humanity creators and obliquely talk about recent events that weren’t recent when this article got started.

Okay, okay, no no no. I’ve been looking at a lot of games in this space lately, because it’s inevitable when students are involved. This game is hugely widely distributed and that means that it comes up a lot, in much the same way that if you want to talk about ‘car racing’ people do assume you mean one of the big types of car racing around (you know, Formula 1 or NASCAR).

And there are lots of variants.

The basic engine works. You have a set of cards that work together in a way that cannot be proven beyond an entirely subjective perspective, then you make a subjective choice of those cards an anonymised choice. This game engine is fantastically simple. It’s hard to compare it to things to complain about because if not for the fact someone else writes the foul words on cards,it lives in the same complexity as a kind of passed-notes king’s-cup style folk game, the kind you play with just a ruler and a pencil.

Now, you can make the case that by making the profane meaningless, Cards Against Humanity invites scrutiny and an enlightened examination of things like slurs and sexual assault, but it’s in my experience that Cards Against Humanity largely is about rationalising to yourself how the game you just played, where you laughed, doesn’t reflect badly on you as a person.

If a game is a philosophy engine, the philosophy of Cards Against Humanity is justifying to yourself how it’s not your fault you said or did those awful things. It is not an invitation to examine but a protest to excuse.


I am loath to say that any particular game design is low effort. After all, playtesting and designing anything is, to some extent hard. The problem is that Cards Against Humanity and its imitators actively cultivate the idea that what they do sucks. If you want a game that you can belt out in a weekend at a game jam, this whole game engine will do the job just fine and you will not need to refine it much. And so, they don’t. Instead, what you get when you look into this space is a deep, awful, rotten vein of games that are, if not basically a weekend of work and a fortune of marketing, trying very hard to look like it, a sort of sabot ensconcing a small handful of genuinely interesting, creative and fun paidic improvisational games.

There are lots of games in this space and they all follow the same basic rule, where there’s a either a judge who determines a victor each round or a democratically selected winner. The thing is this entire game is extremely paidic. There’s game there, sure, but the game is the people you sit down with, and there are lots of games in this space that are about enabling people who are actually funny – games like Funemployed and Choking Hazard are reliant on forms of surrealism and the same theatrical play, but they require you to have at the very least some experience with the concept of telling a story. I made a game like this, Crowdfund This and its cousin game Escape Code which are primarily about giving funny people an opportunity to be funny.

It’s not like you can’t do something with this engine, the problem is that overwhelmingly people aren’t, and they’re people who are convinced through sheer repetition that board games are basically this, monopoly, and some weird thing about trains, and so you see a marketplace soaked by people who want to participate in this creative culture with no appreciation for the culture they’re expecting to make room for them.


This article was written and drafted before the recent … I don’t want to say news about Max Temkin? Because it wasn’t news? it’s just a bunch of people saying hey, we all know this thing and none of us have done anything about it, right? Huh? That’s wild. That thing. I’m not saying this to pile on. I’m saying this because I’ve watched thirty people half my age show me that when I talk about modern card and board games, this is what they think that means and how poisoned that makes the game landscape.

Cards Against Humanity is made by bad people acting badly, but even if it was not it would still be a game whose outsized cultural presence poisons a creative space that has so much room for interesting, vibrant, fun and funny works by so many more people than just

that.

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