With playable cards that contain vignettes like "A vagina that leads to another dimension," "A Super Soaker full of cat pee" or "Doin' it in the butt," it's no wonder the makers of Cards Against Humanity sometimes are mistaken for a bunch of crass dudebros.
But the co-founders--a group of eight friends who grew up in Highland Park--instead see themselves as socially progressive sorts who relish thumbing their noses at political correctness.
"It's a really terrible attitude to have about the world that says if you ignore problems or talk about them politely it's the same as solving them or making them go away," said co-creator Max Temkin, 26, of Logan Square.
Their so-called "party game for horrible people" asks players to shatter any notions of PC-ness by answering random questions like "What is Batman's guilty pleasure?" or "What will always get you laid?" with a second set of cards full of jokes referencing body parts, ridiculous political figures and celebrities, sex acts, even flatulent animals, and asking friends to choose the best or most hilarious one.
"It's fun to make your friends laugh. You sit around the cards, you get to feel like you're making these shocking jokes," Temkin said. "We set the dominoes up for people to knock down."
It's a formula that has made Cards Against Humanity the hottest party game in America. The company doesn't reveal sales figures, but it's the No. 1 item in Amazon.com's Toys and Games section.
Fans stood in a snaking line for more than an hour to get their hands on a special edition booster pack of 30 cards at this summer's PAX Prime, an annual gaming convention in Seattle.
And on a day when most businesses were falling all over themselves to drop prices on their products, the "CAH" crew opted for a stunt of black comedy this Black Friday--by raising the asking price of the game by $5. ("We hate Black Friday and just thought it'd be a funny prank," Temkin said.) Instead of backfiring, the higher-priced version actually sold more copies than it did in 2012.
Not bad for a game that turns 3 years old on New Year's Eve.
The group never intended to make Cards Against Humanity into a living. As college kids, they tinkered with a concept called "Hypotheticals" that was closer in spirit to the "Would You Rather" game before simplifying it into a question-and-answer format. "It started as a hobby, a dumb thing we made in our parents' basements," Temkin said.
Their friends loved it, so the eight opted to launch a Kickstarter campaign in December 2010 to make a professionally printed version. They asked for $4,000 and raised nearly four times that amount. Soon enough, the game began to sell a lot of copies, despite the fact that it wasn't sold in stores and they spent no money on advertising--relying mostly on word of mouth and positive press.
"The game is weird, and so it's not something you'd sell at Target," Temkin said. "Plus, we didn't know we were supposed to do those things like get a publisher. If we knew those things, it would have been a different game--a game we could have sold at Target. But it was a combination of not knowing what we were doing and us liking being creatively in charge of the game."
But even though its members no longer are wide-eyed college students, the Logan Square-based company has never changed its loosey-goosey yet democratic structure. All eight founders are equals, there is no CEO and all decisions are made by consensus. The new cards in the four expansion packs (the latest 113 card expansion was released last month) are chosen the same way: Every one of the members must agree that something is funny enough to go into the game.
"It's not the most efficient way to run things perhaps, but it's kept our friendships intact and it's helped the creative quality of the game," Temkin said. "We just keep getting better and better as writers."
Temkin is proud of the company's structure, its marketing strategy and relationship with fans--but oddly enough, isn't a huge fan of the game itself.
"There are so many better games out there," he confessed. "It's funny to me that it gets the attention that it gets, but people like it. I mean, it's a good complaint to have."
Bonus! 5 Questions with Max Temkin
Is it too soon to include a Nelson Mandela card?
We don't like cards that are just callouts, like just Nelson Mandela, because it's just an easy joke and it's going to get old really quickly. We like cards that have a perspective or a voice. It'd have to a be a funny aspect of Nelson Mandela, probably something to do with apartheid. Actually, I'd love to do a joke about apartheid. It is funny, it's a ridiculous thing that existed for a very long time. It should be easy to make a joke about that.
Are there topics you won't touch?
The only thing we care about is, is it funny or not? There are subjects we feel are too shocking or uncomfortable and won't make people laugh and we won't put that in the game. So, like a rape joke, that's not funny to most people. Certainly there's an audience for almost any kind of joke, but we feel it doesn't hit that threshold of making people laugh, it just makes people sad. So no jokes about suicide.
Do you have a favorite white card?
I like animals cards: the micropig wearing the tiny raincoat, falcon with a cap on its head, the gassy antelope. Animals are ridiculous.
Can players get a sense of your politics by playing?
Our political sensibilities are definitely in the game. We have a lot of jokes making fun of conservatives and Republicans because they tend to be the more absurd of the political parties. They say dumb things all the time, they're bullies, they're wrong, they ignore science and facts; it's so easy. It's fun also because they themselves are bullies, so there's a satisfaction in taking them down a peg.
Do you get a lot of angry emails?
Only about one a month, but I did [get one] recently about the "Muhammad, Praise Be Unto Him" card. it's a joke about how you're not supposed to say his name. But we got a vaguely threatening email about it. I was like man, I really don't want to be murdered for a joke in Cards Against Humanity. What a terrible way to die; the message of my life would be "Oh, he went too far." I don't want that. I want to get hit by a train, something no one could read into.
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