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For Goucher grad, success was in the Cards Against Humanity

Ghouls and Zombies (supernatural entities)Glenn BeckRentalsMichelle ObamaTalk Shows (genre)New Year's Day

On New Year's Eve 2008 — when all of the popular kids were out partying — Max Temkin and his pack of social outcasts were hunkered in his parents' basement.

With nothing better to do, they grabbed a stack of cardboard paper and some scissors and created Cards Against Humanity, a politically incorrect card game in the vein of Apples to Apples. After winter break, Temkin returned to Goucher and introduced the game to his friends. It was an instant hit — other students kept asking him how they could get a copy.

"At that point I was like, we should really make this available," Temkin said. "It's been fun to watch it take off."

Since then, Cards Against Humanity has sold more than 100,000 copies and is currently the top-rated toy or game on Amazon.com. On Friday, Temkin, who graduated from Goucher in 2010, will release the second Cards Against Humanity expansion pack at PAX Prime, a high-profile gaming convention in Seattle.

In a way, Cards Against Humanity is a dirtier version of Apples to Apples. The cards are divided into two categories: Black cards with questions and white cards with answers. One person reads a black card, with a question such as "TSA guidelines now prohibit ___ on a plane," and players can lay down white cards with answers like "Dwarf tossing" or "Michelle Obama's arms." The person with the funniest answer gets the black card, and the player with the most black cards at the end of the game wins.

During Thanksgiving break of his junior year, Temkin created a website and made the cards into a PDF so that his friends at Goucher could download and print them. In a few months, the PDF was downloaded tens of thousands of times.

Encouraged by the attention, Temkin created a Kickstarter campaign after he graduated to raise money for the game.

"We could see it was getting big," Temkin said. "When the Kickstarter [campaign] got 289 percent funded, I realized people were really going to enjoy this game."

Temkin's mix of entrepreneurship and creativity caught the eye of a few professors, such as Steve DeCaroli, an associate professor and department chair of philosophy and religion at Goucher.

"For Max, in some ways, life is an enormous game," DeCaroli said. "Max kind of brainstorms in real time. He doesn't have any inhibitions about taking risks. … He strives to not work a day in his life."

From the start, Temkin and the other creators wanted as much control over the manufacturing and sale of Cards as possible. Early on, they decided to print and sell the game directly to players. The group manages the entire process, from organizing the overseas manufacturing to unloading the freight and shipping the games themselves.

"We wanted to learn how to do the business in the right way," Temkin said.

Temkin has had many offers to sell Cards at bookstores and coffee shops, but he and his friends want to keep the game close. They set the price at $25 through a service on Amazon, since shipping is free for products $25 or higher.

Though you can still download the original PDF of the game for free, the printed version sells out quickly (the expansion packs are not downloadable). To find out when more games are in stock, customers can sign up for email notifications at the website (cardsagainsthumanity.com).

To keep the game relevant, Temkin and his friends (there are eight co-creators in all, though Temkin is the unofficial leader) spend hours working on expansion packs and new card ideas. The group recently rented a vacation house and holed up there to work on the game.

"We sit there for days and soberly argue about the jokes and we have these intense arguments about what's the funniest joke," said Temkin, who is now 25 and lives in Chicago. "We have these really sober, serious conversations talking about it. We work like 18 hours a day grading the cards. We take it way too seriously."

Most of the cards are downright offensive and inappropriate by most standards. But as the logo on the box says, it's "a party game for horrible people." Still, Temkin and the rest of the crew have yet to receive much backlash from the cards — much to his disappointment.

By now, he was expecting some feedback from conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, who pops up frequently on white cards. One example: "Glenn Beck convulsively vomiting as a brood of crab spiders hatches in his brain and erupts from his tear ducts."

"It's almost worse that they aren't complaining about it," Temkin said.

Despite Cards Against Humanity's success, Temkin spends most of his time working on graphic, Web, and brand design for political campaigns and nonprofits. His success from Cards Against Humanity has allowed him to more freely choose his clients and projects, he said.

Cards Against Humanity wasn't the only game Temkin had a hand in. He was also one of the original players and the website designer of Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ), a creative game of tag invented by Goucher students.

Players are split into human and zombie groups, and wear bandannas to denote which side they're on. The zombies try to assimilate the humans, and the humans fight back with Nerf guns and sock grenades.

Temkin's friends created Humans vs. Zombies during his freshman year. But after he got involved, the game went a new level.

HvZ has gotten so popular that the group created a website that helps organize the game, which is played at over 650 colleges and universities across the world.

The idea that Goucher students are still playing Cards Against Humanity and Humans vs. Zombies on campus is comforting to Temkin.

"All the students I knew are gone," Temkin said, "but Goucher is the kind of environment where I want [Cards] to be enjoyed. I think Goucher attracts weird and interesting people, and it makes me happy they're still playing Zombies and Cards."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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