Critical Play: Cards Against Humanity

Cards against Humanity is a social judging game. Players take turns being the “judge” by drawing a card that contains a phrase with a blank placeholder, and other players submit a phrase from their card that would be read in place of the placeholder. The judge picks the card that they feel suits their drawn card the best, and that player wins that card.

A key element of this game is multilateral competition. This element is loosely dictated by the fact that everyone is trying to win as many cards. But, it can change if players decide otherwise, i.e. if they want to team up, doesn’t want a certain person to win, etc. 

Everyone takes turns being the judging player. This presents an element of challenge, as it means that players need to cater to the judging player’s taste of humor, as well as the groups’, as the judging player may feed off of how the group reacts. That is where a lot of the fun comes from, as there is an aesthetic satisfaction from finding what elicits reactions from the group. Also, there are no rules for grammar/which cards must go with which, so the possibilities are endless and the unpredictability is also exciting. While it is not revealed, players can possibly identify who put in what card if you know their personality well. Players may pay more attention to this if they are trying to avoid giving a point to someone.

While not a lot, the game does have some “strategy”: if a player comes across particular cards they find would be received well by the group, then they might save it for a judging card that matches it well to up their chances of winning it. Alternatively, a player may have some cards that they have no idea how to work with, and so discard them on a judging card that they don’t care much about in hopes of drawing something better.

I find that even though the rules dictate that it is a competitive game, the ultimate outcome is that players develop a sense of fellowship and connection from the funny and outrageous phrases that arise from the game. The game works particularly well as the topics and phrases are quite relevant and funny, and it’s surprisingly often that phrases “work” even though they are clearly not supposed to be together, or don’t make much sense –– players have opportunity for aesthetic expression when they choose their cards.

While the game is already very successful, there are some areas that could be improved. First, with larger groups, players may not win cards very easily, so games go for very long before everyone gets even one win. Also, while the phrases on cards do a good job of being relevant and entertaining, players may want some more control if they would like to write in their own phrase. I am aware that some online variants of the game allow for this option.

All in all, Cards Against Humanity is a popular game for good reason. It gives players opportunity for self-expression, generates a ton of hilarious material, and brings people closer together through that shared experience.

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