The card game we couldn't make (and then someone else did)


This is a good response to the oft-heard claim “I came up with that two years ago!

Yes, you may have come up with it two years ago, but the initial germ of an idea is perhaps 5% of the process towards making something you can sell.

I have a friend who is constantly coming up with “great” ideas for apps, and has been bugging me (as someone in the tech world) to help him sell his ideas to companies, where other people would be making his ideas and he’d just be getting cuts of the profits. It’s hard to explain why great ideas are literally worthless if you’re not actively putting in the weeks and months to make them happen.

(The OP, of course, is a little different as they actually put in a fair bit of legwork.)

PS: I (really) totally came up with Pintrest a year before it existed, and had even spent an hour or so one night coding it! I should be getting a cut of the profits.


I used to say that good ideas are a dime a dozen, so I once performed an experiment where I carried a notebook with me and recorded every “kind of interesting” idea that occurred to me. At the end of the experiment (I did this for a month or so) I had convinced myself that yea, if you pay attention good ideas – and some not so good ones – flow. [A few of those ideas became the impetus behind months of personal projects; I think you could probably come up with a lifetime’s worth of good ideas in a few months.]

This is not to diss the OP – I think they learned this lesson, and the next game idea they come up with may result in a killer product.

Party type card games have been around for a while, but I get the impression that Cards Against Humanity introduced a ton of people to them who weren’t all that aware of games like Apples to Apples or The Big Idea. For me the inspiration from CAH directly led to me designing Channel A and getting it published, and there are a bunch of others like Story War, Superfight, and Machine of Death. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to rope anyone into a game of Slash yet, but it looks like just the kind of creative party card game I especially like.

My favorite of the genre, which looks quite similar to your Channel A game, is Snake Oil.

You cobble together two of your cards to sell a product to a customer. With good friends there’s much more brilliant salesmanship and silly-idea-generation than in CAH.

CAH was very fun the first five rounds, and now it’s pretty much “oh, that funny card again.”

The biggest strike against CAH for me is that if you play the rule with the Rando player, Rando wins a surprising amount of the time, even with great players. It shows to me that it’s mostly just the cards that are funny. With Snake Oil, though, you have to both come up with a brilliant combination and make a great (preferably funny) sales pitch – the same combination in a weak player’s hand will never win.

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Channel A is amazing. Thank you for making it. I completely concur, CAH opened up the eyes of designers that something more could be done with the matchmaker style game. While some of the games that have sprung up in their wake fail to bring anything innovative to the table there are some, like Snake Oil, Monikers and Channel A (and perhaps my little game slash) that aim to build on top of the party game structure. On another note Ewen, we should chat about games and stuff. Are you headed to GenCon?

Thanks! :slight_smile: Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to Gen Con. I’d love to chat though! Feel free to hit me up by email (ewen AT neko-machi DOT com) or on the social media thing of your choice.

The weird thing is you can have an idea for a screenplay, lets say, and actually write it, and shop it around to some studios, and get some favorable coverage here and there, and not get it produced. Then over time other films can come out that contain more and more elements of what used to be unique in your work (because sooner or later other people will independently think of them) and little by little your story and the universe it inhabits gets attributed to other, later people. That happened to, um, a friend of mine.

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Oblig. XKCD.

Huh, is CAH really that much more popular than Apples to Apples? My impression was that A2A was (inexplicably) the breakout hit, and CAH was merely picking up slack in the space A2A opened up.

I sometimes wonder what John Kovalic’s rate is for drawing a single apple. If he wrangled a cut of the take instead of a flat fee, it could be the most lucrative apple drawing ever.

The best product ideas are the one that you have developed to solve a problem and then you say “Hey other people might like this too.” Posers talk about “vision” because they don’t have vision.

This is a great article. I learned a lot about some things I know nothing about. Thanks!

You know, really everyone isn’t into slash. I know it must seen that way from inside the community but mundanes often find it disturbing, weird & creepy, I think.

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I think the real innovation was realizing that party games can be made by companies that don’t sell toys to children. What makes CAH so much fun is that it is categorically not for kids. It is for adults. The only joy out of Apples to Apples for anyone past puberty is trying to make kid safe words sound vulgar. CAH just cuts out the kid crap and gives adults what they want; a bunch of vulgar things to yell at each other while they are halfway to drunk.

Hell, I think the entire gaming renaissance we have seen in the past decade has come about as people started making games for adults that are not stogey Avalon Hill war games. That isn’t to suggest that this didn’t always exist to some degree, but between the awareness that adults can play board games and that you can make board games for adults, we have seen a real surge in board game sales even when one might think that Internet and TV choices should be killing the old medium.

Personally, I think that board gaming has a very bright future. A lot of people are still stuck thinking that “board games” mean Monopoly and Risk. Pull out Monopoly or Risk at a board game meetup, and someone is likely to slap you. As more and more people come into the fold and realize that board games are fucking awesome and not that Hasbro crap you grew up, more people will dive in. It is a good thing for all. I know a game of Battlestar Galactica, Eldritch Horror, or Chaos in the Old World, while technically adult games would have sucked me right up. People don’t give young folks enough credit for having a little maturity.

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Oh, and while on the topic of Cards Against Humanity: Yes, that game gets stale pretty quick. If you are at that point when someone suggests you bring out some CAH and you groan, let me give you a pro-tip. Turn Cards Against Humanity into Charades Against Humanity. Just make whoever’s turn it is try and act out the card they are holding. You can squeeze a few more entertaining plays out of CAH that way.

I am a mundane and I find slash disturbing, weird, and a little creepy - or at least, I find slash fans to be all of those things. The thing itself is filed mostly under ‘harmless’ in my brain, but for whatever reason the few people I know that are into it are like way too far. There doesn’t appear ot be a middle ground, but I suppose that’s just due to the stigma around any sort of porn.

Speaking as an IP lawyer, yes, they’re right, you were too scared and ill-advised. It probably arose from a combination of chilling effects due to actual actions by rightsholders and the internet equivalent of campfire stories – “Once, there was a man who owned some mice. He posted on Tumblr that he called one of them Mickey, and DISNEY LAWYERS TOOK HIS HOME!!!” As I’ve practiced, I’ve come to believe that trademark is the most elegant and equitable of the IP forms, and patent and copyright would be well-served by adopting some of its attributes.

I recently played Slash and it is indeed enjoyable fun. Having read this article though I note with amusement that we all agreed it was mis-named. For the same reason. And indeed we reckoned it should have been called OTP :wink:

I would say that Apples to Apples is more popular overall, but it’s popular in a very mainstream kind of way. Mattel publishes it, and it shows up in places like Target nearly as much as Monopoly. (A friend of mine who played it before the Mattel version complains it’s been watered down; make of that what you will.) Design-wise CAH is pretty much an Apples to Apples variant, but I do think that CAH has been influential with a lot of people who in turn made things of their own. There are certainly a lot more fan-made CAH cards than A2A cards, for example, not to mention the whole new games that have come out of its influence. Basically although its fanbase is objectively smaller, it has managed to inspire much more intense enthusiasm and foster a lot more creativity in turn.