Producing a Cards Against Humanity custom expansion

1 11 2012

Cards Against Humanity is a great, great game. It is so good, in fact, that I found that new content for the game was coming out too slowly for me. If you go to their website, you’ll see that they encourage remixing and player added content, and the game itself is created under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. So I figured, why not?

It started off as many disorganized pet projects begin; as a Google doc. It was a fairly reflective period as I sat in my chair for lengths of time and thought of as many horrible fucked-up things as I could, being careful to check against the existing official cards for redundancy (and synergy). I asked for help and as more and more collaborators bought in to the effort, I had just shy of 20 people on board, each contributing some hilarious and terrible ingredient to our cesspool of ideas. Before too long we were looking at a hefty list of over 350 entries, quite enough to make the endeavor worthwhile. It was time to carry this thing to term.

Naturally, I wanted to find a method of production that would be the absolute cheapest yet at the same time I wanted acceptable quality and most importantly similarity in materials to the official cards such that the finished expansion would be able to integrate with the actual game as seamlessly as possible. It was an exercise in attention to detail as I examined dozens of fonts to find the correct match (Helvetica Neue 75 Bold if you wanted to know), learned of the correct cut of cards pertaining to width and height, roundedness of the corners, weight of paper stock and types of finishing and varnish available, and learned about resolution, color temperatures, and file outputs that high quality printing projects demand.

My first inclination was to research Chinese printing companies overseas which offered highly attractive rates. However, this soon became problematic due to the high cost of receiving samples which was integral to the process to ensure I got what I wanted. I then evaluated options stateside and while the costs were considerably higher, communication and negotiation with these companies was much more prompt and painless. I eventually settled on a NJ based company called AdMagic, who had very similar cardstock to what I needed and was also open to producing fully customized cards in irregular quantities.

I worked with various members from the AdMagic team to negotiate pricing and to make precisely sure that they understood the nature of the project and what I was trying to accomplish. I wrestled with their provided printing templates to avoid the setup fee and elected to do all the alignment and organization of the image files manually with guidance from the team, the years of self-taught dickering in Photoshop and Illustrator finally bearing fruit. All in all the project was turning out to be a lot of work but with the end in mind I feverishly edited, checked, and rechecked until everything was ready to go to the physical production phase.

However, perhaps I made the folks at AdMagic understand a little too well. Whether they had already heard of Cards Against Humanity, or looked it up on their own initiative, they contacted the creators of the official game about my proposed project; an understandable move from a legal liability standpoint. I was surprised to receive a message from Ben Hantoot, one of the designers of CAH in my inbox and expected bad news. However, I was pleased to hear that after his review of the material, the project had his blessing to move forward with two conditions: Firstly that I must never sell the cards from the custom expansion and second that I append “Kyle’s Custom Edition” or something of the like to the faces of the cards such that they can be differentiated from the official ones. The first item I had already accepted to be true under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0, and the second I was more than happy to oblige. So the CAH guys are indeed as cool as they say and there was finally nothing left to do except send the money to get this thing under way.

So a few weeks and several hundred dollars later the box shows up on my doorstep and I am quite pleased with how the set turned out. The cut of the cards is ever so slightly larger than the originals, noticeable only if you are looking for it, and using protective sleeves on the cards will probably mitigate this entirely. Even though it was grueling and costly, in the end I have a very fine finished product, a greater understanding of the experience of printing and producing physical games, and the smug satisfaction of carrying a project of this nature through to the end and having a pretty banging custom set of Cards Against Humanity that is uniquely my own.



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