The first official party game I ever played was called Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Thousands of people have participated in this game or a variant at one time or another, yet nobody asks the tough questions. How and why did the donkey lose its tail in the first place? Will "pinning" the tail back on the donkey truly restore the unfortunate hoofed mammal to its former glory? How much fun is blindfolding people and spinning them in circles until walking becomes a challenge? The uncomfortable truth is that Pin the Tail on the Donkey is a horrible party game.
More recently, I discovered a party game that manages to simultaneously celebrate and dispel the tension, awkwardness, and discomfort that can arise at social gatherings. Cards Against Humanity is unabashedly inappropriate, raunchy, hilarious, and highly offensive. If you're planning to play you should swap your blindfold for your Warby Parkers because participation will require reading.
At this point, a few of you will be thinking, "I already know how to play Cards Against Humanity and I just want to learn how to win," or possibly, "why isn't this article teaching me how to properly prepare a hot beverage?" If you find yourself thinking these thoughts, skip ahead to the How do you win? section below and don't look back.
What is Cards Against Humanity?
Originally created by eight pals* looking to amuse a large group of friends at a New Year's party, Cards Against Humanity launched through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter in 2011. The game comes in a black box and consists of two types of cards: Black question cards and White answer cards.
Cards Against Humanity occasionally releases expansion sets to extend the original game. These come in handy when cards like, "50,000 volts straight to the nipples," "Fiery poops," and "A windmill full of corpses," start to lose their shock value.
How do you play?
There are as many ways to play Cards Against Humanity as there are to skin a cat and wear its furry hide as a leg warmer, but the basic game is refreshingly simple. Each round, one player reads a question from a random Black Card, and then everyone else answers with their funniest White Card. Refer to the official rules** for more detail.
The first time I picked up the game, I failed to recognize that I'd need grit, focus, and determination to win. I found Cards Against Humanity highly enjoyable, but time and time again I'd watch helplessly as opponents I'd previously considered friends wracked up impressive point totals.
Things came to a head the night I brought the game to a local wine and cheese shop where I planned to meet a few friends. Our entire group got schooled by a couple of med students out on a first date. The couple had never played before, but they waded right in and proceeded to demolish everyone else. I suspect the pair profited from a natural advantage due to the grisly sense of humor many proto-doctors develop as a coping strategy. Later that night after the effects of the all the cheese had mostly worn off, I sat down to analyze the game. It wasn't easy, but eventually I figured out how to win.
How do you win at Cards Against Humanity?
If you consider yourself a "nice person," or if you've developed "morals" or a set of "ethics" or "care what other people think," you may not have what it takes. But even if you are nice, if you can overcome your natural squeamishness and stop acting like a pansy for a couple of hours, you too can win at Cards Against Humanity. Here's how.
1. Know your audience.
In order to pick the winning card from the ten White Cards you hold in your hand, you need to understand the psychology of the individuals with whom you're playing. If these people call themselves your friends, this will not be difficult. If you don't know anyone, you'll need to infer what their personalities are like from subtle clues. Is the woman across from you dressed conservatively? Is the bearded gentleman to your left laughing at your witty puns or does he appear unimpressed by the brilliance of your subtle wordplay?
What you find funny is a reflection of your values. There will be people at the table who will laugh at anything, people who always want the answers to make sense, people who will choose the most horrific answer as the best, and people who are afraid to chose the most horrific answer because they worry people will judge. Once you understand these tendencies you should use this knowledge to your advantage.
2. Watch carefully and keep score.
Watch how many Black cards each of your opponents picks up. Is there someone who wins round after round? Try to determine a pattern to the winning answers. When it's your turn to judge, pick a totally lame response just to ensure a slight reduction in your skilled opponent's Awesome Points total. Don't feel bad about this. You're at war.
3. Play your best cards early.
Cards Against Humanity is a party game, and typically alcohol will be served in large quantities alongside your cards. Unless someone in the group is on medication or pregnant, everyone will grow increasingly intoxicated as the evening wears on. This means your opponent's ability to discriminate between hilarious answers and those that incite a mere courtesy chuckle will decrease over time. Play your best cards early. Cards that are difficult to play because they aren't particularly funny should be reserved for later on when everybody is laughing at everything and you have a better chance of winning the round.
4. Hold on to your trump cards.
Occasionally you will draw a card that is a surefire winner. This will depend in part on the people you are playing with, but some cards in the Cards Against Humanity Deck are wildly, shockingly offensive and they will win every time. If you have only one trump card, play it right away and get a round under your belt. If you have more than one, it is worth saving for those times when your hand fills with weaker cards.
5. Be horrible.
You can play this game and stay true to your values, but if you really want to win, you must tap into the dark river of offensiveness that flows through us all. The genius of Cards Against Humanity is that YOU aren't the one writing horrible things. You're merely choosing one answer from the ten despicable cards you hold in your hand and submitting it for consideration by another person. It's okay. If the card gets chosen, all it proves is that you're a genius with a profound understanding of your fellow man.
Where Can You Get Cards Against Humanity?
You don't actually have to buy Cards Against Humanity to play the game. That being said, do you have time to download a file, print out all the cards, and cut them to size? Think about the cost of the paper, ink, and the value of your time! Just order the set from the Cards Against Humanity website or Amazon for around $25, then go forth and horrify your friends.
*Josh Dillon, Daniel Dranove, Eli Halpern, Ben Hantoot, David Munk, David Pinsof, Max Temkin, Eliot Weinstein
** Cards Against Humanity Official Rules