Cards Against Humanity. Never heard of ‘em.
At least I hadn’t before last year when I read about their contest for indie game designers, The Tabletop Deathmatch. Maybe I live under a rock, or maybe I am not friends with enough horrible people to have been introduced yet, but I hadn’t heard of the #1 Best selling item on Amazon. So, before jumping into the contest we looked them up.
If you play the game or follow them on twitter, you know that they have no qualms about calling you an idiot, dumb, a moron. Their jokes in the game are crude, irreverent, and deserving of the subtitle, “A card game for horrible people.” And that’s how they want it. They’ve worked very hard to create a public, company persona of arrogant jerks who don’t care about you, but they’ll take your *%$?^ing money for buying their *%$?^ing game. So, when The Amberden Affair got selected as a finalist in the competition, knowing we’d have to stand in front of the creators of CAH and pitch our beloved game, we were *%$?^ing intimidated.
THIS IS HOW I PICTURED IT PLAYING OUT:
- We walk into the room and Max Temkin says, “Hi, Nerds, I hate your shirt.”
- We awkwardly give our pitch while being stared at by judging eyes.
- One takes out a pen and writes a horrible comment they’ll say later about how Helen Keller would have made a better game with her hands tied than what we made.
- They take the next 10 minutes to berate us and undermine all our hard work.
- We leave. Cry a little. Drown our sorrows in chocolate ice cream.
HOW DID IT ACTUALLY PLAY OUT?
Well, not like I had pictured, for sure! The whole experience was fun! They were running late when we got there for our pitch, so we got to sit with other finalists and check out their games. Grow was really pretty, The Jane Austen Card Game was brilliant, and Cool Table was designed by the cutest person you’ll ever meet.
We walked into the room, and yes, a panel of judges stared at us while we gave our pitch. But with smiles. And nods of understanding. They wrote things down to ask later, but nothing horrible or cruel. And, honestly, nothing that caught us off-guard!
Actually, we were given five minutes to give our pitch. We did it and ended just as the clock hit 5:00. And then, the man behind the camera said that his memory card was full and he didn’t know how much he got of our pitch, if anything. So, we waited there while he cleared some space and the judges, both CAH guys and the other designers and publishers, were friendly, kind, laughing and personable. We got the OK from the cameraman and we did our pitch again, while the judges kindly acted for the camera like they were hearing this for the first time.
A note about how the contest was run: The scenario of standing in front of people presenting yourself and your art, and then leaving while they talk about you only to never hear their feedback might be weird in the world publishing board games. But for us, new to the industry, it felt really normal. As actors, Mike and I have had countless experiences like this, where you audition, don’t get feedback and never hear from them again. And it’s OK. So, that whole element of the contest didn’t bother us, although I understand why it bothered other contestants.
The day after our pitch we were scheduled to do the interview where you see us directly talking on screen, as if to someone. The “someones” we talked to – actually just giving us somewhere to look off camera, were Trin and Jenn. These are the girls with CAH responsible for community and social networking. And they’re awesome. We had a lot of downtime, waiting for someone, or setting up a shot, to just hang out. One minute we were talking about how Trin eats baby-food because it’s easy and yummy. The next, they jump up to go harass a group of people playing CAH. The girls put on that persona of “what a *%$?^ing stupid game you’re playing,” and then came back to us and asked to see pictures of my baby.
OK, SO I DIDN’T DESTROY THEIR REPUTATION.
As you may have guessed, Cards Against Humanity is not as much of a bad boy as they want you to believe. Cards Against Humanity, as a company, is every bit the disrespectful, ridiculous company you think it is. And it works for them. Clearly. But, the truth about the people who make up that company is that they are kind, generous, fun people, desiring to see other indie designers succeed, and desiring to promote community within the gaming world. The Tabletop Deathmatch is proof of that.
I’ve been asked by some to reveal the gritty, dark underbelly of the monster that was The Tabletop Deathmatch. If you want to hear more about what they did wrong, read the interviews from the other contestants; they’ve done tasteful work at discussing the pros and cons of the competition. Cards Against Humanity has also been finding ways to improve the Deathmatch so that 2014 will be an even better experience for all involved.
THE FINAL WORD
But, if I’m going to offer one final word, from the final finalist, it would be this: If you are sitting there with an idea for a game that you love, and you want to see other people play it and see it on shelves in bookstores, and even make some income for yourself, the fate of your game is up to you. The Amberden Affair is not being published right now because of a contest we entered. It’s being published because we put the game out there. And we’ve done a lot of work to get it to a point where we’re proud of it and confident in it’s potential. In our experience in the Deathmatch judging room, they did not ask a single question that we had not already considered through development. There was nothing they said that took us by surprise, no suggestion they made that we hadn’t already considered and worked through to find what we believed the be the best way to play that game. I don’t say this arrogantly, it’s the result of a long, long, process of developing the game.
And, because the game was so ready to go by the time the Deathmatch took place, we’ve been able to since ride the wave of the Deathmatch and get it published, with an awesome complementary Kickstarter project! There’s a lot of work left to do!
If you want to make a game. Make a game. Do the work to develop it. And do the work to get it into people’s hands to play it. There are no shortcuts. Then do the (very fun) work of getting it in front of people who can help you get published. Enter contests, contact publishers, make friends in this community. We can’t do this alone, we need each other. I wouldn’t be part of this League if I hadn’t met Peter. I wouldn’t have met Peter if it weren’t for going to get a drink with Shari from AdMagic. And I wouldn’t have met with Shari if I hadn’t been in the Deathmatch. And if we hadn’t done the Deathmatch, we may not be releasing a game at Gen Con this year. We can’t do this alone. But, no one else can do it for you, either.