The phenomenon that is Cards Against Humanity (CAH) seems to have reached a critical point where it's effectively in the mainstream. At least on the east coast, it's a game that many young people have on their shelves, next to the old Hasbro and Milton Bradley staples. The game was first published in May 2011, and has undergone many editions and expansions since; the creators are currently working on a sixth expansion. This game took off like wildfire, and thus this game is no longer confined to indie-loving circles who backed the original Kickstarter.
However, maybe you're finding that you and your friends have over-played the game.
"Pretend You're Xyzzy" makes it too easy to play pick-up games of CAH, leading to burn-out over the game. Also, the year 2014 wasn't a good year for CAH in the media; a trans teen named Jonah publicly burned a transphobic card, causing many who had enjoyed the game to examine it critically - some people removing over a hundred cards from the original decks. Even though the creators of CAH ultimately reject many of the original cards, persuasive articles like "Why I Quit Playing Cards Against Humanity," (2014) and "The Case Against Cards Against Humanity" (2014) have accompanied the trend of people falling out of love with the game.
One of the most great things about the rise of this game is the way it has revived gaming in person amongst friends (especially those who don't game regularly, and are otherwise stuck with the classics of Monopoly and Scrabble). The hard copies of CAH have become wildly popular among diverse folks of all ages and identities. In short, this game has helped people bond and connect in ways that ordinarily they wouldn't. This is a net positive. Other positives of the game include: the flexibility of integrating new players and letting bored players drop out, the ease of teaching the game, and the dirty elements of the game that create bonding experiences.
Still, after playing a couple hundred times, you might be tired of CAH. Maybe you wish you had something to take its place and diversify your board game collection. If you're looking for games functionally similar to CAH, but that have a more inclusive flavor, check out the following games!
1. Slash: Romance Without Boundaries
This game merits considerable attention because of its unique flavor. It's an independently published game that had a very successful Kickstarter in 2015. Functionally it's very similar to CAH. However, this is probably the nerdiest game on this list because of the content matter: in this game, you're pairing up potential love-matches between fictional characters, and justifying why you think they go well together. Basically, it's a game where you make fanfiction. It's amazing.
So who do you think is a better romantic partner for Elsa from Frozen? Maybe Snow White, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves - Elsa just needs someone to take care of her, and Snow White's name has the word 'snow' in it, so that could work. Or perhaps a better pairing might be Mr. Freeze from Batman - Elsa is pretty much the only person he could ever mate with given his cryogenic suit situation. Final and winning option? Frosty the Snow Man - because once Elsa came out and built a snowman, she fell in love with it. Or something. The goal is to convince the judge to choose your pairing as the best. Given how subjective judges can be, 'playing to the judge' is critical to success in this game, same as in CAH. Watch a video about this game here.
This game is a delightful romp through silliness, and is kid-friendly (aside from the vaguely ableist name). The premise of the game is simple. Similar to CAH, each player is justifying their card choices to the judge. The judge is the 'instructor' and the other players are the 'students' in a zany science class. The instructor chooses an 'assignment' for the students to fulfill, and each student chooses a card to use as their method of fulfilling their assignment. For example, one of the assignments might be "Get Something to Eat!" and the project cards might include "A Rubber Band," "A Baseball Bat" and "Lemonade." The goal of the game is to come up with as convoluted and silly a plot as possible to fulfill the assignment. For example, you might justify using "Lemonade" to "Get Something to Eat!" by saying something like this:
So I get some lemonade from the cafeteria. Then I go to the lab and I get some zombiefying fluid and add it to the lemonade. Then I go outside and I convince all the students in the courtyard to drink from this pitcher of lemonade. Then all the other students turn into zombies, and I'll corrall them into the Arby's until the Arby's employees are so overwhelmed that they start giving all the zombies free roast beef sandwiches. And since zombies don't eat roast beef sandwiches, the zombies will give them all to me, and I'll have Gotten Something to Eat! BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!
Sounds fun, right? The flavor is meant to evoke themes similar to the film, Despicable Me. This game is probably the best game on this list to entertain younger folks, but it's still worth keeping around for adult board game nights.
3. Bad Medicine
This is an indie game just published this year! It's designed by Gil Hova, an independent game designer who lives in New Jersey. The game is very similar to CAH in terms of the gameplay, with the goal to satisfy a choosy judge. The flavor reminds one of the television series, Better Off Ted, where big pharmaceutical companies try to cure 'maladies' through developing new drugs, and simultaneously dismissing the side effects of the drugs. A cheeky and sweetly cynical game, the net result is that you build up a portfolio of drugs to treat each malady, and a list of side effects that are 'not that bad.' Check out a description of play direct from the designer here.
This game, published by European company Libellud, involves the same flexibility of CAH, but also is unique in gameplay format. This game's primary merit is that draws upon a completely different area of the brain than CAH, and unlike CAH which is a good game to wind down with, Dixit is a good game to warm up the brain in preparation for a strategy game or other activity requiring active executive function. It requires careful attention to symbols and metaphor, and has a creative element that is absent from CAH.
Gameplay involves choosing one card from your hand, just like in CAH, but all the cards are beautiful modernist paintings instead of words. Then you give a clue based on what you see in the picture, and then everyone submits cards based on that clue. You shuffle the cards, and then everyone votes on all the cards (face-up) to try and guess which one is the one that the clue-giver submitted. Successful clues frequently are phrases of poetry or quotes; for example, if a picture is an oil pump, you might clue "I drink your milkshake" (the quote being a reference to an iconic scene in the movie There Will Be Blood, which is about treacherous oil deals). Or maybe you have a picture prominently featuring a nose, and you might choose the clue "A rose by any other name," and anyone who remembers that the next line is "would smell just as sweet" would probably vote correctly. Point is, you want to choose a clue that's obscure enough that not everyone at the game table will get it, but at least some people will. That's how you earn points and eventually win the game. Watch Wil Wheaton playing this game here.
5. Snake Oil
This game is similar in concept to Bad Medicine, but the execution is quite different. This game is published by Out of the Box, and is great for all ages. The goal of this game is to sell silly items based on combinations of random words to the judge, who is playing a particular character. For example, the judge's character might be a surfer, and the cards drawn by person #1 might be "wonder" and "bag," and they'd attempt to sell the surfer a bag of wonders, and justify how this is applicable to the surfer's character. Then person #2 might have drawn "flower" and "bonanza," and they'd also attempt to sell this item to the surfer. The person who impresses the judge the most wins the round, and then the judge role rotates to the next player. This game sounds basic, but it can result in a lot of fun; it won a MENSA Select Award for 2012. Watch an entertaining example of playing this game here.
6. Love 2 Hate
This game best captures the spirit of CAH. It's funny, it's inappropriate, and it's fresh - but it also very specifically avoids the offensive pitfalls of CAH. The game, published by Green Ronin this year, is functionally similar to CAH in that you are trying to please a judge - but unlike CAH, you're trying to complete the judge's sentence. The judge draws a card with words like "hipsters," "politicians," or "monsters," and they decide if they love or hate the identity featured on the card. Then everyone submits phrases that might be applicable to the judge's perspective, ranging from the absurd to the cynical. You can watch how the game is played here.
7. Say Anything
This game warrants special attention because of how original it is in terms of gameplay, but how it also manages to really capture the same (or better) level of bonding between players compared to CAH. The game also manages to remain fresh in spite of repeated playings because so much of it is player-generated content, and the players don't remain trapped with a set of limited choices. The game is published by North Star Games, (makers of another good game that didn't make it to this list, Wits and Wagers) and has reportedly earned over 30 awards, including the 2008 BoardGameGeek Best Party Game award.
The game is slightly more complicated than CAH, but in a good way. The judge selects a card with a topic question, such as "What's the best movie of all time?" or "What's the worst restaurant of all time?" Each player writes down privately what they think the judge would answer. Then they all reveal their answers, and the judge privately chooses their favorite answer. All the players vote on what they think the judge has picked. Then the judge reveals their actual answer, and points are given accordingly. Watch Wil Wheaton demonstrate the gameplay of this game here.
8. This listicle was originally supposed to include seven games; this game was so great I had to change the title to make sure I included it. This superbly well-designed game was published in 2010 in Brooklyn, NY, and it therefore predates CAH while also surpassing it in quality and excellence. Designed by Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, and Eric Zimmerman, this game is published independently by an organization dedicated to the purpose, Local No. 12. This game takes conversation and makes it into a game, guiding players into interesting discussions that they might not ordinarily have. Moreover, there are six different ways of playing the game, which means that the deck has a lot more functionality than CAH. Watch an example of gameplay here. They have two expansions out currently, one about films and one about science fiction. Like CAH, you can buy it on Amazon or print and play it for free.
8.5. Apples to Apples
Of course, I'd be remiss not to mention that CAH is originally based on the modern classic game, Apples to Apples. Published by Mattel, the game is just like CAH, but it's (almost) completely clean. They have a variety of versions including Sour Apples to Apples, which is a bit more competitive. The base game, which has become a ubiquitous addition to every mom's gaming shelf, was originally developed by Out of the Box, the same people who came up with the aforementioned game, Snake Oil! But Apples to Apples was sold to Mattel, which is how it got distributed so widely. In case you've never played it before, you can watch how the game is played here.
Overall, there are tons of alternatives to Cards Against Humanity. Undoubtedly I missed some games that merit attention, so if you want to share, please add to the comments.
If you're curious about researching these or other board games, check out Board Game Geek. You might be surprised by what you find there! Also, don't forget to purchase your new games from your local board game store. Don't know if you have a local board game store? Check out this list here and see if there's one in your area. (Or just use Google. That also works.)
K.N. Granger is a queer white cis able-bodied person with a radical, social-justice perspective towards games. When not writing, organizing, or playing games, K.N. engages in fanfiction, social justice, playing viola and piano, and other activities in New York City. Her games are available on DriveThruRPG and Amazon.com under the auspices of Goldfinch Games.