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updated: 12/23/2013 7:33 AM

Suburban friends create politically incorrect Cards Against Humanity

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  • Seven of the eight creators of Cards Against Humanity, all friends from Highland Park High School, pose for a photo in September.

      Seven of the eight creators of Cards Against Humanity, all friends from Highland Park High School, pose for a photo in September.
    courtesy of Max Temkin

  • The crass card game created by a group of Highland Park friends, Cards Against Humanity, was a huge hit at the annual gaming show, PAX.

      The crass card game created by a group of Highland Park friends, Cards Against Humanity, was a huge hit at the annual gaming show, PAX.
    courtesy of Max Temkin

  • Cards Against Humanity players match their best answer on a white card to a question on a black card.

       Cards Against Humanity players match their best answer on a white card to a question on a black card.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Cards Against Humanity players match their best answer on a white card to a question on a black card.

       Cards Against Humanity players match their best answer on a white card to a question on a black card.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

It's called "a card game for horrible people."

One reviewer warned it's only "for the crass and jaded."

Yet, Cards Against Humanity -- a game created by a group of suburban friends -- is the #1 best-selling toy on Amazon.com this holiday season.

If you are willing to print and cut out the cards yourself, you can download it for free at http://cardsagainsthumanity.com/

The edgy card game makes humor of politically incorrect topics, with potential to offend every nationality, religion and common sensibility. It's become wildly popular at colleges, in bars and for adult parties.

"It's an inside joke that's gotten out of control," says Max Temkin, 26, the Highland Park native who created the game with childhood friends Josh Dillon, Daniel Dranove, Eli Halpern, Ben Hantoot, David Munk, David Pinsof and Eliot Weinstein.

Temkin won't divulge sales numbers, but some blogs have reported that they've made more than $12 million since 2011. Temkin would only say that the game's success has given them "the freedom to do what they want" in their respective careers. Temkin, for example, once worked as a designer on Barack Obama's presidential campaign and now gets to pick and choose his design projects.

"It's a hobby for all of us," Temkin said. "For me, it's too dumb to do full time."

In a style similar to the family card game "Apples to Apples," Cards Against Humanity features two sets of cards: black question cards and white answer cards.

One person takes a question card, which might say something, like, "TSA guidelines now prohibit ___on airplanes" or "It's a pity these days that kids are getting involved with ___."

Then the other players submit their best answer card, and the question card holder chooses the best answer. The answer cards contain all sorts of nasty nouns, with "grandpa's ashes" and "Michelle Obama's arms" being among the milder options.

Cards Against Humanity has been translated into 10 languages, and the creators now are working on a fifth set of card updates plus niche versions for different professions and interests. They've even custom-made a half-dozen cards with marriage proposals.

No topic is off limits, but there is one rule.

"It has to be funny," Temkin said. "We'll continue writing new expansion packs for the game as long as people think they're funny."

Major toy companies have approached the "Cards" guys, but Temkin says they're not interested in selling their game or their license.

"That would take the fun out of it," Temkin said. "We have no debt, no investors ... plus I don't want anyone else telling us what we can and can't say on the cards."

The creators had fun on Black Friday this year, charging $5 more for the game instead of discounting it, and then returning it to its original $25 price on "Regret Saturday."

The game was invented by a nerdy group of Highland Park High School friends who, Temkin says, were never invited anywhere. So they hung out together and played board games, sometimes inventing their own.

They created Cards Against Humanity for a New Year's Eve party a few years ago. It was such a hit that they put it online to share with friends for free. First, they obtained a Creative Commons license, which protected their idea but allowed them to share it at no cost.

Soon, hundreds of requests came in from people willing to pay for preprinted decks. With no money to launch a business, they started a Kickstarter.com campaign, which immediately delivered almost four times the amount of their $4,000 fundraising goal.

A Chinese company now prints the cards, sold only on Amazon.com or through the "Cards" website.

"We share it for free. That's part of why the game has become so popular," Temkin said. "It was a happy accident that it ever got out into the world."

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