Usually when awkward phrases like "some sort of Asian," "Dem titties" and "coat hanger abortions" sneak their way into dinner conversations, it's a good time to wrap up dessert and start making frantic hand signals to your waiter to bring the check.
In the insanely popular card party game Cards Against Humanity, those aren't fighting words. They're winners ... at least if you play your cards right. The Alamo Drafthouse's alcohol delivery wing Glass Half Full started a month-long CAH tournament this month every Wednesday as part of their ongoing effort to bring DFW's game lovers something to do outside of their friends' dining rooms and basements. Being a longtime lover of gaming and particularly this unique mix of strategy and cringe humor, I had to jump into the fray.
Usually a game of CAH is played with people you know (who don't carry weapons) who also have similar senses of humor (guys who don't know about the horrors of poverty, the existence of a "world" section in their local newspaper or the existence of a local paper). This would be my first time playing with an entire group of strangers who were all members of the opposite sex.
Stephanie Stone-Robb, the Drafthouse's resident games host and interactive show organizer, sits me down with a friendly group of women named Marion, Sam, Sara, Ashley and "Wino Wendy." (So her name tag said, I didn't bother to verify it with a driver's license). Most of the collective weren't familiar with the game or even seemed to know just exactly what kind of delicious hell they were about to enter. That's really the most fun part of the game. It's like convincing someone they are about to enter a fun house only to realize after the doors have shut that it's a slaughterhouse.
The game's description sounds so innocent. Each person takes turn judging each round. They draw a black card that presents either a question or phrases with missing words to fill in and each person plays however many white cards the black card calls for that round. The white cards have potential answers. For example, to a black card that asks "What's the next Happy Meal toy?" you might play a white card that says "Lance Armstrong's missing testicle."
The judge or "card czar" picks the answer they like the best and reads it aloud. Whoever played the winning white card gets a point, and hopefully nothing worse.
Since this is technically part of a tournament in which points are accumulated in order to become grand champion and take home a massive prize, the game works a little differently. We play four rounds that last around 20 minutes each in which we try to earn as many points as we can. Players switch tables at "halftime" and have to work with answers from a handful of cards taken from a number of "CAH" decks.
My initial strategy is to try to play a little more low key than I normally would with the sick bastards who I call my friends. That's not that hard to do in this game since fate usually deals me sucky cards no matter which competition life throws at me (Poker, UNO, Guess Which Collection Agency Letter Will Most Affect My Credit Score Once I Open It, etc.) It does not pay off. The answer "50,000 volt nipple clamps" easily sets the tone for my losing streak.
Six rounds in and I've yet to rack up a single point. These ladies are handily beating my flabby ass, even as they put their hands over their gaping mouths for longer stretches of time with each new answer. Eventually I get what I consider to be the game's trump card (and my personal favorite white card in the deck) "Being a motherfucking sorcerer." It's the pearls of white cards; it goes with everything. It has just a dash of filth perfect for the most discerning degenerate. It has an open-ended element so it can pair easily with just about any black card in the deck.
I even get one of the more perfect questions to use it on: "What never fails to liven up the party?" I throw it down with the confidence of a star jock strutting into a speed dating clinic and when the answers are read, my jaw hit the table. Someone else had played the same card.
The throngs of laughter turn to shock in confusion that in a game in at least 500 cards occupy an oblong box, someone would not only play the exact same card mixed in from another deck but they would also play the one I had been raving about from the very beginning of the evening. It's the closest I'll ever come to becoming a David Blaine street magician without voluntarily losing my sense of shame or hairline.
That, however, wasn't the biggest surprise of the night. Navigating social situations to me are like trying to navigate some lost jungle trail to an ancient civilization. I'm terrified of making a wrong turn by saying something inappropriate. The true magic of CAH is that it squeezes you through all those fears of offending someone or taking a conversation down a weird place by getting it out of the way by exposing "being offended" as the ludicrous concept that it is. It is social lubricant. Like alcohol.
Plus, some kind of "lubricant" card probably would have worked better for that round.