Critical Play: Bluffing, Judging and Getting Vulnerable…

For this critical play, I played the game Cards Against Humanity, a party card game created by 8 friends in 2011.

The target audience for Cards Against Humanity is groups of 3-20+ people, working best for groups of adult friends older than around 17 (due to the nature of the card contents). One player is the judge or ‘Card Czar,’ and to begin the round they choose, play, and read aloud a black card with questions or a fill-in-the-blank sentence. The remaining players choose from 7 white cards in their hand (featuring nouns/gerunds) and play them face down in the middle of the table. The judge will then read each option aloud and award a point to the funniest card. The role of the judge changes, players redraw their cards, and everyone plays until someone reaches a certain number of points. 

This objective makes Cards Against Humanity a Unilateral Competition style game, as each player aims to win as many rounds as possible. The main type of fun, then, is fellowship. Because of the nearly infinite possible combinations of black and white cards, every round is different and engaging. Sometimes you have a perfect combination of cards and sometimes it’s more random, but every round is different and offers yet another wacky and taboo suggestion. Making your fellow players laugh offers fun memories, and engaging with the potentially unexpected combinations means the game is hard to get bored of.

The game’s main influence is likely Apples to Apples, a similar game containing the same mechanic wherein a singular judge gets to decide the winner amongst group submissions. While Apples to Apples is more wholesome and family-oriented, however, Cards Against Humanity takes a turn towards more vulgar or politically incorrect humor, making it better suited for adults. 

The vulgar content of the cards unfortunately opens the door for discomfort or offensiveness. It can be stressful or revealing to feel like you don’t understand a certain inappropriate joke or to suggest a combination that another player might not like. This makes the game slightly more stressful to play around strangers, who you may not know as well or be as comfortable with. However, changing the nature of the cards’ contents would simply change the intended audience, and plenty of people find the game absolutely hilarious. One final adjustment that might work for all potential audiences would be to introduce blank or wild cards where players can write in their own original answer, either just for the round or to keep in the box, offering groups a chance to customize the game and include more inside jokes or to shift the focus of the game towards a specific kind of topic/humor.

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