Arena Review: Cards Against Humanity

For all of the pomp and circumstance, the bright lights, big displays, cheerleaders with chainsaws and everything else that is PAX East, the game that was the talk of the convention came from the little Kickstarter room on the 3rd floor. Cards Against Humanity, which I first watched people playing in line for DnD Next, takes the Apples to Apples word association game to a different and dark place.

Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people. Unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.

Suggested ages: 17 and up
Number of players: 3 or more
Playing time: 30 to 90 minutes
Contents: 550 cards (460 white and 90 black), rules insert.
Retail price: $25 on Amazon

If you’ve played Apples to Apples, chances are you and your friends have laughed when someone played the AIDs or Helen Keller card at an inappropriate time. You laugh, then draw the next card and go back to making combinations that are zany, funny, but rarely ever offensive. Cards Against Humanity takes those few moments of “we’re all going straight to hell” and extrapolates it out to a full game.

The mechanics work very similar to Apples to Apples. There are two stacks of cards, one white and one black. The white cards consist of nouns, some proper ones like celebrities, specific retail items, or more general words. The black cards consist of questions or mad-lib-esque fill in the blank sentences.

Each turn one of the black cards is drawn and read aloud, then all the players except for the person who drew the black card choose a card or cards (some black cards have multiple blanks) from their hand and play them face down into a pile. The player who drew the black card then looks at all the cards, reading them aloud before choosing one of the white cards.

Whomever played that card wins the turn and collects the black card as a trophy. On the next turn, a different player draws the black card and the game progresses. The game ends when one player wins a certain number of trophies.

A simple concept, but where it gets interesting is how players decide which cards to play. There aren’t any rules and players are free to make the decision any way they’d like. For example, a black card could be drawn that says “he who controls ____ controls the world.” You might be tempted to play a card like “the media” which seems to fit quite well. Some players might try and play the card that will get the biggest laugh. Others might just try and shock as many of the other players as possible with a card like “racially biased SAT questions.” Getting that reaction is incredibly easy with Cards Against Humanity.

Yes that card says "flying sex snakes". No, I don't know what that means either.

You see, where Cards Against Humanity differs from Apples to Apples is in the topics it covers. Everything is in play, from sexual acts, to races, religions, and acts so disgusting and profane I’m blushing just thinking about them. Because of that, you might need to think carefully about who you play with and near. This game is not for the easily offended by any means.

Another point of difference between Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity is in the differentiation in the black cards. You may have a simple statement with one fill in or you might find a card that asks you to combine a few of your nouns, meaning more cards and a little more strategy enters into the fray. There’s also the ever popular “make a haiku” card, which is the suggested end-game by the developers and I heartily agree with them.

The cards themselves have a very simple construction, which means that scuffs and other damage really show up. Sleeving the cards is highly recommended. The box is similarly simple, but the initial set fills the entire box, and leaves no room for expansions, which is disappointing. If you do sleeve the cards, you won’t be able to fit them all back in the box, either, so invest in an extra card box.

However, the makers of the game have done something quite novel. You can actually get the game for free, by downloading it from their website. The pdf has all of the cards laid out in a grid, with directions for you to go to a Kinko’s and get your own set printed, for about half the cost of the cards retail price. An interesting idea and great way for you to play with friends if you need the game in a pinch.

What I found from playing the game is, despite how much fun I have, it isn’t a game you want to break out every night or maybe even every week. It can wear on you a bit and I worry about the novelty and shock value wearing off after awhile. However, this game is perfect when you have a group of new people around, or as a way to finish up the night hanging out with a group of friends. If you’ve been looking for something a little bit different to add to your game closet, you’ve found it in Cards Against Humanity.

 Pros

Finally lets you play the jaded, adult and offensive version of Apple to Apples you always wanted.
Multiple answer cards and haiku card change up the basic formula.
Download for free if you don’t want to pay for it.

Cons

Cards get damaged easily.
Need to be wary of where you play the game (not really a con, but worth noting again).
No room in box for expansions or sleeved cards.