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The Madness Behind the Game for Horrible People

Learn how a group of Chicagoans created our favorite TNT game, Cards Against Humanity, and the easiest way to know the darkness of a man's soul.

One way to potentially break the ice is to force someone to read the phrase “Virginia Tech Massacre.”

Cards Against Humanity, self-described as “a party game for horrible people,” is an awful version of Apples to Apples. By awful, of couse, I mean amazing, clever, and delightfully insane.

The rules are deceptively simple. Each round, there’s a judge who picks a black card. Everyone responds with white cards. Black cards contain various setups (“Instead of coal, Santa now gives the bad children [blank]”), while white cards are used to fill in the [blank] (“the blood of Christ,” “a bleached asshole,” “poorly-timed Holocaust jokes.”).

The goal isn’t to be accurate, mostly because that’s basically impossible. You want laughter.

At least in my experience, whenever Apples to Apples gets pulled out, it’s a painful wait until someone pulls a blank card and begins scribbling down nightmares. The most vile phrases become part of an otherwise completely innocent game. Cards Against Humanity proposes a version of that game where all of the cards are like that.

Max Temkin is just one of the creators of Cards Against Humanity.

Max Temkin is one of the people you have to thank (blame?) for Cards Against Humanity. Maybe you know him from his other Kickstarters, too: software to drive one of his other pet projects, Human vs. Zombies, and a set of slick-looking philosophy posters.

The Chicago native (and avid deep dish pizza defender) told me the similarities to Apples to Apples were purely coincidental.

“I don’t think the point of Apples to Apples is a comedy game,” he said. “If there’s any conceptual part of Cards Against Humanity that you can say is a good idea, which is already a stretch, it’s that we had the idea that you should have a party game where the point is to be funny in that open model like Apples to Apples.”

Cards Against Humanity is not just Temkin’s baby, though he’s become its public face. The game comes from his core group of friends, people he’s known for years, and started as a New Years Eve distraction. The way Temkin tells it, his group weren’t exactly the kids getting invited to the cool parties you’d heard about in the hallways around high school, so they found other ways to pass time.

“We love structured activities where there are rules and you have cues on how to behave,” he said.

Balderdash, a board game focused on bluffing your way through word definitions, was an early inspiration for Cards Against Humanity. Like Cards Against Humanity, Balderdash has more to do with understanding the psychology of the judge each round, rather than being correct. Being accurate only makes sense when the judge might respect that. Another player might want to be entertained, and you’re forced to change your response appropriately.

An early version of the game didn’t have the white cards. There was a discussion card (i.e. “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”), and that’s it. The core of the game was based was pure improvisation, putting the onus of humor and creativity squarely on the player. That worked for Temkin’s tight-knit group of friends, but the moment outsiders came in, the game immediately lost some of its magic.

“They had a really hard time being funny with it,” he said. “They could play honest answers, but they weren’t as good as writing comedy answers that made fun of the other people. We realized that if we’re going to make this game so we can play with other people, we have to put the jokes in for people. “

This when Cards Against Humanity began morphing into a dirty variant of Apples to Apples.

As college friends started asking about how to purchase the game, Temkin’s group put the cards online in PDF form. The decks that existed were hand-crafted. That PDF is still available, but Cards Against Humanity raised $15,570 on Kickstarter (they wanted $4,000), which allowed the game to earn a formal production process. Good luck getting a copy, though--it’s still sold out, and every time the game has become available again, it disappears in hours.

It’s worth the wait, though.

Temkin and his friends during a brain storming session. Look how crazy they are!

Your first time with Cards Against Humanity, it’s not even about cracking jokes. Every time you flip a card, someone is laughing or groaning. “Win cards” emerge, in which a card is so profoundly offensive or strange, context is irrelevant. The second time, the shock value wears off. “Virginia Tech Massacre” still gets you a little bit, but soon, the card alone isn't enough. That’s when the next layer unfolds, and wordplay skills comes into play.

A real consistency to the jokes embedded on the cards becomes apparent once you’ve seen the full deck, too. Some of Temkin’s friends are still in Chicago, while others have jobs or graduate school elsewhere. Every week, though, they hop onto a Google+ hangout and hash out new cards.

There are no hard and fast rules for the process, and there isn’t a directive to be offensive.

“Offensive cards are fine, there’s no line that we won’t cross,” he said. “It just has to be funny. If you’re making people uncomfortable, it has to be in service of a great joke. If it’s making them uncomfortable and it’s not funny, if it’s just shocking, it’s not worth it for the game.”

The biggest surprise about the card creation process: all of it happens while they’re stone cold sober. I can’t say the same has been true of the times when we’ve played Cards Against Humanity on camera.

Giant Bomb's dirty secret? Brad Shoemaker is the best player at Cards Against Humanity.

As often as life allows, the next step is to have the group get together to finalize new cards face-to-face. This is where the personality dynamics of each member comes into play. Temkin described the process as a hostage negotiation, as one friend tries to convince the whole group why their card shouldn’t be axed.

There is a logic to it all, too.

Are there too many poop jokes? How about sex jokes? Are more cards related to men needed? The details of balancing are tracked via spreadsheet, even if their importance isn't apparent to people busy laughing at “Expecting a burp and vomiting on the floor.”

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t need a reason to be included, and it doesn’t even have to be clever.

“On our last writing retreat, someone said ‘flying sex snakes,’ which isn’t a thing,” he said. “It’s just some words that someone said, but we laughed for like 15 minutes! We couldn’t identify why were laughing, but it just had to go in the game because it made us laugh so much. It’s not responsible to put that card in the game.”

Temkin wasn’t very specific about the future of Cards Against Humanity (don't expect an iPhone version anytime soon), but the reason was obvious: those steps are taken very slowly. It’s dawning on Temkin that Cards Against Humanity is now a legitimate business. This means he’s renting temporary office space near his apartment in Chicago, and consulting with his friends about where to take the game next.

There will be more cards, of course.

For now, he’s processing the idea being a game designer, and if he even wants the title. Given how many would love the next game from the designers of Cards Against Humanity, his group may not have a choice.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek

One way to potentially break the ice is to force someone to read the phrase “Virginia Tech Massacre.”

Cards Against Humanity, self-described as “a party game for horrible people,” is an awful version of Apples to Apples. By awful, of couse, I mean amazing, clever, and delightfully insane.

The rules are deceptively simple. Each round, there’s a judge who picks a black card. Everyone responds with white cards. Black cards contain various setups (“Instead of coal, Santa now gives the bad children [blank]”), while white cards are used to fill in the [blank] (“the blood of Christ,” “a bleached asshole,” “poorly-timed Holocaust jokes.”).

The goal isn’t to be accurate, mostly because that’s basically impossible. You want laughter.

At least in my experience, whenever Apples to Apples gets pulled out, it’s a painful wait until someone pulls a blank card and begins scribbling down nightmares. The most vile phrases become part of an otherwise completely innocent game. Cards Against Humanity proposes a version of that game where all of the cards are like that.

Max Temkin is just one of the creators of Cards Against Humanity.

Max Temkin is one of the people you have to thank (blame?) for Cards Against Humanity. Maybe you know him from his other Kickstarters, too: software to drive one of his other pet projects, Human vs. Zombies, and a set of slick-looking philosophy posters.

The Chicago native (and avid deep dish pizza defender) told me the similarities to Apples to Apples were purely coincidental.

“I don’t think the point of Apples to Apples is a comedy game,” he said. “If there’s any conceptual part of Cards Against Humanity that you can say is a good idea, which is already a stretch, it’s that we had the idea that you should have a party game where the point is to be funny in that open model like Apples to Apples.”

Cards Against Humanity is not just Temkin’s baby, though he’s become its public face. The game comes from his core group of friends, people he’s known for years, and started as a New Years Eve distraction. The way Temkin tells it, his group weren’t exactly the kids getting invited to the cool parties you’d heard about in the hallways around high school, so they found other ways to pass time.

“We love structured activities where there are rules and you have cues on how to behave,” he said.

Balderdash, a board game focused on bluffing your way through word definitions, was an early inspiration for Cards Against Humanity. Like Cards Against Humanity, Balderdash has more to do with understanding the psychology of the judge each round, rather than being correct. Being accurate only makes sense when the judge might respect that. Another player might want to be entertained, and you’re forced to change your response appropriately.

An early version of the game didn’t have the white cards. There was a discussion card (i.e. “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”), and that’s it. The core of the game was based was pure improvisation, putting the onus of humor and creativity squarely on the player. That worked for Temkin’s tight-knit group of friends, but the moment outsiders came in, the game immediately lost some of its magic.

“They had a really hard time being funny with it,” he said. “They could play honest answers, but they weren’t as good as writing comedy answers that made fun of the other people. We realized that if we’re going to make this game so we can play with other people, we have to put the jokes in for people. “

This when Cards Against Humanity began morphing into a dirty variant of Apples to Apples.

As college friends started asking about how to purchase the game, Temkin’s group put the cards online in PDF form. The decks that existed were hand-crafted. That PDF is still available, but Cards Against Humanity raised $15,570 on Kickstarter (they wanted $4,000), which allowed the game to earn a formal production process. Good luck getting a copy, though--it’s still sold out, and every time the game has become available again, it disappears in hours.

It’s worth the wait, though.

Temkin and his friends during a brain storming session. Look how crazy they are!

Your first time with Cards Against Humanity, it’s not even about cracking jokes. Every time you flip a card, someone is laughing or groaning. “Win cards” emerge, in which a card is so profoundly offensive or strange, context is irrelevant. The second time, the shock value wears off. “Virginia Tech Massacre” still gets you a little bit, but soon, the card alone isn't enough. That’s when the next layer unfolds, and wordplay skills comes into play.

A real consistency to the jokes embedded on the cards becomes apparent once you’ve seen the full deck, too. Some of Temkin’s friends are still in Chicago, while others have jobs or graduate school elsewhere. Every week, though, they hop onto a Google+ hangout and hash out new cards.

There are no hard and fast rules for the process, and there isn’t a directive to be offensive.

“Offensive cards are fine, there’s no line that we won’t cross,” he said. “It just has to be funny. If you’re making people uncomfortable, it has to be in service of a great joke. If it’s making them uncomfortable and it’s not funny, if it’s just shocking, it’s not worth it for the game.”

The biggest surprise about the card creation process: all of it happens while they’re stone cold sober. I can’t say the same has been true of the times when we’ve played Cards Against Humanity on camera.

Giant Bomb's dirty secret? Brad Shoemaker is the best player at Cards Against Humanity.

As often as life allows, the next step is to have the group get together to finalize new cards face-to-face. This is where the personality dynamics of each member comes into play. Temkin described the process as a hostage negotiation, as one friend tries to convince the whole group why their card shouldn’t be axed.

There is a logic to it all, too.

Are there too many poop jokes? How about sex jokes? Are more cards related to men needed? The details of balancing are tracked via spreadsheet, even if their importance isn't apparent to people busy laughing at “Expecting a burp and vomiting on the floor.”

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t need a reason to be included, and it doesn’t even have to be clever.

“On our last writing retreat, someone said ‘flying sex snakes,’ which isn’t a thing,” he said. “It’s just some words that someone said, but we laughed for like 15 minutes! We couldn’t identify why were laughing, but it just had to go in the game because it made us laugh so much. It’s not responsible to put that card in the game.”

Temkin wasn’t very specific about the future of Cards Against Humanity (don't expect an iPhone version anytime soon), but the reason was obvious: those steps are taken very slowly. It’s dawning on Temkin that Cards Against Humanity is now a legitimate business. This means he’s renting temporary office space near his apartment in Chicago, and consulting with his friends about where to take the game next.

There will be more cards, of course.

For now, he’s processing the idea being a game designer, and if he even wants the title. Given how many would love the next game from the designers of Cards Against Humanity, his group may not have a choice.

Staff
Posted by OllyOxenFree

Chicagoans? Really?

Edited by TheUnsavedHero

I still need to buy this.

edit: GAH! So close.

Posted by TyCobb

Must get this game.

Edited by REIGN

Awesome. I've gotta get this.

Posted by Jackhole

I love this game. Good read.

Posted by skrutop

Deep dish pizza is the best pizza. I'm a recovering Chicagoan.

Posted by bigsmoke77

The two responses that I get from people after we start playing Cards Against Humanity are " This is awesome!" and "This is awesome, I want to buy it"

Posted by onan

Snatched it up last time it was on sale at Amazon along with the expansion. Money well spent.

Posted by Veiasma

Card games are video games now, I guess?

Posted by paulwade1984

I dont get " the underground railroad" as the next happy meal toy. Its not funny. Is it meant to be funny. Somebody more intelligent please come call me stupid and then explain it to me.

Thanks.

Posted by iShayman

For a game as vile as Cards Against Humanity, this article was oddly heartwarming. It's great to see a close group of friends who found success in something they love.

Posted by zanshin

Why does Santa give things to Band children? No one likes band children, not even Santa.

Posted by ZombiePie
Moderator
Posted by Stubee

Hope my set gets here soon. I paid well over the odds for it to get it imported to the UK and that was over a month ago :(

Posted by Humanity

I guess I have a thicker skin because both Cards Against Humanity TNT's were fairly boring to me and I couldn't get into it. I believe the humor is found when you turn an innocent game like Apples to Apples into something with a double entendre, where the sudden realization that while perfectly innocent, at the same time something is horribly vile - thats where the real humor is. Cards Against Humanity just seem too blatant because you know whatever someone puts down will be offensive, just varying degrees of how much. Possibly this would be fun if I played it with people I knew, but I just can't imagine sitting down to play a game with the singular purpose of trying to out-gross my friends with "naughty" phrases.

Posted by Winternet

It can be evil, but it's no Lantern Run.

Posted by BonOrbitz

I'm so lucky I managed to score the updated set and expansion!

The free online version is pretty fucking rad but not as fun as sitting in a group of people. It's also harder to play because you may not know everyone in the game and that will have an effect on what you decide to play.

Posted by chilibean_3

I really like this game. Bought it and introduced to my friends and they all love it. But I don't think I'd ever call the game clever. And I don't believe for a second this nonsense about not taking inspiration from Apple To Apples. I mean, it IS Apple To Apples but requires much less from the players to add a twisted humor to it.

Posted by patrickklepek

@chilibean_3 said:

I really like this game. Bought it and introduced to my friends and they all love it. But I don't think I'd ever call the game clever. And I don't believe for a second this nonsense about not taking inspiration from Apple To Apples. I mean, it IS Apple To Apples but requires much less from the players to add a twisted humor to it.

They realize it's like Apples to Apples, but as the story points out, if you follow the design process of the game's ruleset, it simply ended up becoming like Apples to Apples.

Staff
Edited by ShaggE

@Veiasma said:

Card games are video games now, I guess?

Are you seriously bitching about Giant Bomb running a CAH story? Where have you been?

Posted by EndlessLotus

A game reveling just how malicious we are as a species.

I must have this....

Posted by Megadestructo

CAH is excellent. Got a chance to play it first this past New Years. Once I saw it available on Amazon I grabbed as quickly as possible along with the expansion. Money well spent.

Another game that's worth a look, though the humor all comes from the individual, is "The Game of Things." Someone reads a card with a phrase like "Things you wouldn't do when meeting the Queen of England." Then everyone writes their answer a slip of paper, folds it up, and tosses it into a hat or container (including the person who read the card). Then people have to go around the group trying to guess who wrote what.

With my in-laws it's a funny but family friendly game. With my friends? Well, let's just say it goes to very dark places very quickly. :)

Posted by PrintedCrayon

"Virgina" should be Virginia, Patrick ;)

Another great article though!

Posted by Helios1337

My copy of the game came in last week (Canadian version + expansion) and played it on the weekend with 10 people. Everyone was was pretty much in uncontrollable laughter for the entire time. With that many people we started to go through the deck a second time... which is much less funny because the cards no longer have the shock value that they rely on. Hopefully that just means next time we play that you will need to be more clever with your cards, instead of relying on the shock value. Apples to Apples is still an enjoyable game and requires a lot more strategy/playing to the judge, just not nearly as funny.

Posted by DaSoul

@bonorbitz said:

I'm so lucky I managed to score the updated set and expansion!

The free online version is pretty fucking rad but not as fun as sitting in a group of people. It's also harder to play because you may not know everyone in the game and that will have an effect on what you decide to play.

I can vouch for this, played it with some GB folk while on Mumble the other day and it was a ton of fun. Voice chat definently helps this version out.

Posted by Corvak

Against humanity, the cards always win.

Edited by Yummylee

Patrick, how could you have not used this other little masterpiece that you uploaded!

Goddamn... this got me giggling...

Posted by Coafi

Thanks Patrick, for giving us a more info on how this wonderful game was made. May we all burn in hell.

Posted by chilibean_3

@patrickklepek said:

@chilibean_3 said:

I really like this game. Bought it and introduced to my friends and they all love it. But I don't think I'd ever call the game clever. And I don't believe for a second this nonsense about not taking inspiration from Apple To Apples. I mean, it IS Apple To Apples but requires much less from the players to add a twisted humor to it.

They realize it's like Apples to Apples, but as the story points out, if you follow the design process of the game's ruleset, it simply ended up becoming like Apples to Apples.

Maybe I'm just being way too cynical about this. I read how the process was described but my mind just says, "nope". Played Apple To Apples and said, "yeah, like this but tweaked."

Posted by SternOne

Deep dish pizza is not lasagna. To say otherwise is heresy!

Posted by Toug

I'd kill for a Giant Bomb specific expansion pack for CAH.

"But before I kill you, Mr. Bond, I must show you _____"

"Will Smith's O face."

Posted by yoshisaur

This game reminds me of a psychology class I took during a pre-college credit course in high-school. It's explained that all humans have some form of perversion inside of them, be it a fetish of some sort, or a different way of looking at things that many may or may not relate to. CAH is pretty much one of those tools. As also explained in the class, it represents a harmless way to allow those perverse thoughts and actions to channel themselves instead of building into something someone may regret or hate later on.

The reason I say this is because things like this, imho, are very good for our minds. The fact that bomb crew is able to channel those inner dark-humorous perversions has the benefit of not allowing them to show up at a later, more embarrassing or darker time.

Plus, it's fun.

Posted by mnzy
@Veiasma said:

Card games are video games now, I guess?

You poor soul.
Posted by Lyfeforce

Nice article. I've introduced most of my friends to the game at this point and we're all looking for some kind of way to spice it up a little though.

...And as I'm writing this and opening my mail, there's a envelope from CAH with my "we done goofed" cards. What timing!

Posted by kayeyeeff

So when is the TNT for the Giantbomb Community Expansion happening?

Posted by sallyboomstick321

I hate that the Aids Card is an automatic Win..

Posted by DFSVegas

The only thing I hate about Cards Against Humanity is that it's sold out :(

"Mid May" can't come soon enough, when ever that is.

Posted by patrickklepek

@Yummylee said:

Patrick, how could you have not used this other little masterpiece that you uploaded!

Goddamn... this got me giggling...

That's the original set they made, FYI.

Staff
Posted by Kartana

So that's what people find funny these days? I don't get it... 

Posted by LordKorax

My group's instant win answers:

William Shatner

Two midgets shitting into a bucket

BATMAN!!

Posted by ajamafalous

My roommates and I bought the game and have played it several times. Never not fun.

Posted by DJJoeJoe

When I got my cards and it's expansion (with canadian conversion kit) this was the first card I saw from it:

First things first I guess.
Posted by ZenGaijin

@sallyboomstick321: I feel like the "Kid's with ass cancer" card is like the win card

Posted by LordKorax

Also, worst card combo I've seen (which was totally my fault):

I never understood the KKK until I met Barack Obama

Posted by mrcraggle

@DFSVegas: You can always make ghetto cards. I did but I have yet to really get around to playing it. I feel playing that game not drunk would make you a worse person.

Posted by Skyfire543

I have to buy this.

Posted by NocturnusFatalis

So this is today's content?

Posted by Jackel2072

Started playing this with my Girl friends Parents ( i knew her mother would clean house with this game) needless to say it was a huge hit. in some extremely perverted way it brought the whole family together. Thats the power of games my friends

Posted by Funzzo

Tried to find a place to buy this online and found only people selling the first set for about 100-180$ and the first expansion for about 75.00. WTF!! Thats total bullshit. Game looks cool I might buy it if it ever comes in stock at a normal price.

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