There’s no doubt that as card games go, Cards Against Humanity is a massive hit; it’s literally the best selling on Amazon. I’ve played it sporadically across the last eighteen months or so and for the most part I’ve enjoyed the experience. But with every game, I can’t help but feel I enjoyed it less than the time before; to the point that my current stance is this: Cards Against Humanity isn’t a very good game.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a massive tabletop fan. Card and board games are a hobby that has exploded in the last decade or so and I welcome anyone who wants to see what the fuss is about. But it saddens me to think that some people’s first experience to modern card / board gaming is Cards Against Humanity; that some may think this is the pinnacle of what we’re calling ‘the golden age’. That it’s introducing people to the hobby and simultaneously turning them off.
To me, it’s like having all the fonts in the world and someone suggesting Comic Sans.
It’s not creative or challenging
In a nutshell, CAH is a game about jokes where all the punchlines are pre-written. To me, that’s not only not creative, but bordering on a game that could play itself.
Infact, there’s even a variant that introduces a passive imaginary player, which works by merely drawing a punchline at random into each round. Sometimes the only way to tell between human and AI submissions, is that the AI one doesn’t fit grammatically. If that doesn’t illustrate how unimportant your creative presence is, I don’t know what will.
Note: There’s two games – Game of Things and Word Whimsy – that are very similar to Cards Against Humanity but rely on actually thinking.
Some punchlines are genuinely more valuable than others; either because they’re funnier, work better in more contexts, or both. But because there’s no mechanic to refresh your hand, and the hand size is capped at ten, every player slowly inherits crappier cards and eventually develops the urge to forfeit a round (or two) to ‘burn’ them.
The result is that every so often a setup receives punchlines that are purposely unfunny, verging on non-sensical. Perhaps it’s even followed by an apology; “I’m sorry, I just needed to get rid”. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens often enough to notice, and it’s annoying to know you’re playing a game that requires players ‘tapping out’ to simply to refresh their options.
Regardless of the size of the group and the company you keep, Cards Against Humanity revolves around its punchlines. But the game has a finite amount; so each time a given card reappears, it’s impact diminishes. Sure, the first time you play “Daniel Radcliffe’s delicious arsehole” you’ll laugh your ass off, but it takes less time than you think to devolve to this:
When it comes to expansions, Cards Against Humanity is rather unique. Unlike other card / board games, it doesn’t attempt to prolong its shelf-life by introducing new mechanics, adding new factions or increasing the player count. Instead, each expansion just bolsters your black and white card counts by 25 and 75 respectively and charges £8 for the honour. It’s a bucket with a hole in the bottom: it’ll only stay full if you keep topping it up.
So with a base game of £20 and expansions totalling £48, Cards Against Humanity isn’t what you’d call value for money.
This point is the one that divides opinion. Regardless as to what you consider offensive, I think we can agree that the content in Cards Against Humanity is what we’d consider adult language and topics.
Whilst it’s not impossible to play CAH ‘clean’, or at least PG-13, you only need to see one hand of punchlines to realise that to win, you’re expected to nosedive into the naughty / taboo rabbit-hole.
Therefore the game often descents into a mob of who can construct the best Frankie Boyle joke. It’s enabling the entire group to act disgustingly because everyone else is doing it; and more importantly, because you didn’t write the punchlines, you perhaps feel somewhat absolved from responsibility.
Well, here’s a great game I have for fans of Cards Against Humanity. Take the game and your group of friends to a relatively busy bar / pub. Instead of just reading the punchline aloud to the group, stand up and shout the answers into the room.
- Feel at all apprehensive about reading any cards aloud?
- Lower your voice for certain cards?
- Outright refuse to shout any to the wider audience?
If you said yes to any of the above, ask yourself why.
If you say, “it’s not the sort of game you play in public”, ask yourself why.
Some have suggested that I, and people like me, should ‘get a grip’. Below are three suggestions I’ve been given to rectify my stance:
1. Don’t play
Translated to: “Why don’t you sit out of this social event for the next 90 minutes?”. Fact is, Cards Against Humanity is a party game for lots of people, so by saying don’t play it you’re telling the person to fuck off and do something else, or suck it up and spectate.
2. Remove the offensive cards
Offense is relative to each person, some may find cards more offensive than others. So where do you draw the line? Does “coathanger abortions” and “date rape” get thrown out but “The Holocaust” gets to stay?
To remove certain cards is making a judgment call as to what is and isn’t allowed to be joked about. To crudely quote South Park: “either it’s all OK, or none of it is”.
3. Play it with ‘the right people’
I’m honestly not sure what this means:
- A) Ensure you’re not playing with “delicate snowflakes”
- B) Ensure no-one’s suffered some of the shock-value scenarios depicted in the cards.
The mere thought of needing to vet players, or draft a ‘dream team’ smacks in the face of what games are about. Card / board games are perhaps one of the purest forms of inclusive social activities. It doesn’t matter who someone is, as a person or in relation to you, everyone’s welcome as a potential player.
Cards Against Humanity is the only game in existence where it’s been suggested to butcher your game or limit your company to make it ‘playable’, which I think speaks volumes as to why it’s not very good.
I’d be a terrible person to hate on Cards Against Humanity at such length and not offer some better alternatives. Each of the games below would be considered a ‘party game’; that is, they play a lot of people and are easy to play. And for bonus points, they’re all roughly the same price to CAH.
3-20 players | £24 | 30-60 mins
Each player is an interviewee, and must use all four qualification cards in their hand to describe to the employer why they would be the perfect fit for a given role.
On the surface, Funemployed plays in a similar way to Cards Against Humanity:
- each person has a turn to be the judge (read: employer)
- the black card is ‘the setup’ (read: job)
- the white cards are ‘the punchlines’ (read: qualifications)
But the qualification cards merely form the basis for you to weave a winning narrative. The order of the cards becomes important, the timing of the reveals become important, your performance becomes important. It’s basically improv drama but in card form.
3-10 players | £22 | 15 mins
The entire group is dealt a single identical card (face down), which details the location of a future rendezvous point. Amongst the group, one player will be secretly dealt a ‘spy’ card instead.
By asking questions about the location one-on-one to each other, it’s up to the group to figure out who the spy is, whilst simultaneously not giving up enough information for the spy to guess the location.
5-10 players | £17 | 30-40 mins
The group is an underground resistance movement looking to take down their oppressive government. Unfortunately, some amongst you are spies looking to sabotage the group’s efforts.
The Resistance consists of five missions. Before each mission and after some debate, an appointed leader chooses the members embarking on the mission; the group get to vote whether the mission goes ahead. All it takes is one spy present on the mission to fail it, and the spies win if they fail three missions.
It’s a game of social deduction in a world of constant uncertainty; a combination of chaos, persuasion and observation which often ends in disaster and the satisfying reveal of the spies.
If you thought Monopoly caused arguments, just wait until you play The Resistance.
Mafia de Cuba
6-12 players | £21 | 10-20 mins
The group have just returned from a successful diamond heist. Afterwards, ‘the Don’ passes a cigar box around his team to show off the fruits of their labour. Each player has a choice, they can secretly pocket some diamonds for themselves, or secretly claim a poker chip depicting their role in the heist (eg. loyal thug, getaway driver, undercover cop).
The box inevitably has some diamonds missing by the time it gets back. The Don must then interrogate the group in an attempt to determine friend from foe; eventually accusing someone of stealing and getting them to turn out their pockets (literally).
Mafia de Cuba is a game of deception and bluffing that often climaxes in your most trusted friend emptying out a pocket full of diamonds.