Cards Against Humanity – Critical Play

Cards Against Humanity is a widely known card game that I’ve seen bring strangers closer together in a short amount of time. It was created by a group of alumni from Highland Park High School in Illinois: Josh Dillon, Daniel Dranove, Eli Halpern, Ben Hantoot, David Munk, David Pinsof, Max Temkin, and Eliot Weinstein. It was surprising to learn that such a popular game arose a tight group of high schoolers in 2011. Based on the content, it is definitely a game meant for a mature audience. Online it says that the game was meant for 17+ but I’m not sure my 17-year-old self would understand all of the concepts on these cards.

Formal Elements & Fun

Firstly, it specifies that there must be at least 3 players. In my experience, Cards Against Humanity can be played with as many people as you can get and as long as you have enough cards. It truly is a party game in the sense that you can recycle cards to keep playing, you can collect more cards to accommodate more people, and the rounds can go forever.

Essentially, there are black cards that the “card czar” handles; the black cards have interesting prompts with fields left blank. Every player has a hand of white cards; the white cards have possibly wacky inappropriate “politically-incorrect” answers to fill the fields with. For each round, the card czar picks from the black card deck and reads the prompt. All other players pick the card in their hand with the phrase they want to fill the field with. Once everyone places their card face down and the cards are shuffled, the card czar reveals them and chooses the card that deserves to “win”.  The player who placed the winning card down earns points. The card czar rotates amongst all the players.

Played an online version that creates servers all over the world

The subjectiveness of the game surprisingly makes the game a lot of fun. Some card czar may choose a card because it is funny, witty, wholesome, terrible, etc. You really learn a lot about other players based on what cards they choose to win. The surface-level objective is to get the most points but on a deeper level it is to figure out what people like or prefer. Additionally, because some of these card concepts are very racy at times, it’s quite a discovery when you or another player has no idea what some of the cards mean. Some of your innocence will be lost at some point, I guarantee it… I remember having to use Google multiple times during gameplay.

Critical Analysis

I would imagine that this game would be a flop if people were offended by what was written on the cards. There are truly opportunities to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. in this game if you take your answers really seriously. Disclaimer: answers can become offensive in context of the whole phrase (black and white card). However, it is generally understood that a lot of the time you are on a fine line between joking and believing the meaning of the cards you put down. I do think this makes the game interesting because a lot of time you want to be funny and not offensive. 

All of this is to say that Cards Against Humanity became popular because it is more risky than the very similar game Apples-to-Apples. I do have to admit that being “politically-incorrect” in this game makes you vulnerable very fast. I don’t encourage less-mature audiences to play this game because I wouldn’t wish people to lose their innocence so fast. In that sense, Apples-to-Apples is the way to go. However, I do think it gets lot more fun and funnier as you get older. It also desensitizes some of these more vulgar concepts and brings them out in the open.

A word on the mechanics: when too many people play, the rounds get insanely long. It is still fun however, with more people, you are more likely to play less rounds and burnout. I’m not sure if this should be improved because it’s based on people’s preferences but worth noting.

I’m going to stop here and say that this game is a hit and will continue to be. I do hope that more people have the chance to critically observe Card Against Humanity.


About the author

she/her/hers | Computer Science + Human-Computer Interaction Track | Class of '23 | hello friends :) I'm looking forward to playing games with y'all!

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