January 24, 2013

DIY Cards Against Humanity

The Samurai of Spoken Word have an event coming up where we're going to be playing a party game called Cards Against Humanity team trivia style.  I'm excited for several reasons.  First of all, it's going to be a hoot juut because the game rocks.  (It's best described as Apples to Apples for people going to hell.)  But, I also get to use my own home made deck AND be the MC for the night.  I can't wait for the 28th.

Since discovering the game Cards Against Humanity in 2011, I've sent probably close to 10 decks through my little laser printer.  Being a creative commons game, the creators made the cards available to download from their website and print either at home or at a place like Kinkos.  Over time, and with some help, I modified the game and cards.  It started with printing out more blank cards so we could keep the deck fresh.  Then, when my group of regular players and I got tired of the small size (the original downloadables are on perfectly square cards with nothing on the backs of them so it got to be a chore to keep them separated or determine which way was up.) we got the idea to completely re-do them on our own custom deck.  I did some thinking, and decided that business card sized cards would be just right.  They were large enough to be easy to read, but small enough to not create a space hog of a game.  The bonus was that you could also easily tell which way was up based on the shape.  The addition of a back with a "!" for the answer and "?" for the questions was cosmetic, really.  But it's generally agreed that it was a nice touch by the people who've seen my deck.

I've made the PDFs of the final product available for people to download over the years, and I've passed along how I did it to a couple others as well.  But, I thought I'd take a minute to talk about what steps I took to get the deck made start to finish in case someone wants to recreate or even improve upon what I've already done.

I took two skills that have been my bread and butter over the years and dove right in.  I was a QuarkXpress kind of girl in college, and I knew the power of an actual page layout program would make creating this a snap.  Not having a current copy of Quark, I had to look for the best of all my options.  So, I dug up my copy of Office 2007 and installed Publisher.  While that was chugging along, I opened up my spreadsheet program and stacked the two lists of cards in front of me and started typing.  Each card type got its own separate worksheet rather than document.  It was just tidier that way, and was a smaller risk of losing one file or the other.  (This also explains some of the typos in the first versions.  I'm hoping they become collector's editions.)

The reason for creating a spreadsheet was that I had planned on using that other skill I talked about earlier; the mail merge.  I might type like a tommy gun, but there's so many benefits to doing a merge.  You have one card that you have to dick with if you want to change fonts, sizes, or colors and those changes are applied across the board.  I'm all about simplicity and idiot proofing the process to protect me from myself.  

Once I had my vehicle picked out, it was time to look into what I was going to do about the medium I was going to use.  I popped in to a local office supply store, thinking I'd get a pack or two of the perforated business cards so I wouldn't have to spend so much time with scissors in my hands.  (Having cut at least three decks with scissors, I think I  might be able to crack walnuts with my bare hands, but DAMN if it didn't sting at the time.)  When I saw what they were asking for the large pack of perforated cards, I nearly went code brown right there in the aisle.  As I weighed my options, it was actually cheaper by about $20 to get a pack of plain, 110 lb cardstock and a small guillotine style paper cutter.  So, that’s exactly what I did.  To note, all but one of my decks has been printed on white cardstock.  But, if you want to save on toner, you could easily change the color of the paper between card types rather than choosing to print them in reverse white on black.

It’s worth noting that while you’re out buying supplies, you might want to pick up a large can of aerosol hair spray.  Brand doesn't matter, what you’re after is a very fine mist more than anything.  I learned the hard way that if you don’t spray the sheets of paper before you cut them, your hands look like you've been sweeping chimneys by the time you’re done with your game.  You want the fine mist to keep the pages from warping while they dry.
Bear in mind, you could skip the print at home step and just take your final files to a printer.  But, if you’re an enterprising person with access to a laser printer, it’s good to know how it’s done.
Supplies in hand, I sat down to create the cards.  I started with a blank business card template.  You can choose which one you prefer, but I picked one that gave me 10 cards per page.  I’d use less paper with that layout than I would if I chose the slightly larger option that only fit 8 on a page.
I wanted to stick with the original look and feel of the cards with my deck.  That meant keeping the question cards black and the answer cards white.  (That also cut down on toner since you have fewer question cards than answers.)  But, I did change it up a little bit with some small embellishments around the edges of the card.
I’d been brainstorming with a friend of mine on making our own deck, and he’d scanned in the CAH logos from the original cards and turned them into a scaleable vector image that wouldn't blur when you changed the size.  I used that at the bottom of the cards to show the name of the game.

I started the mail merge wizard, chose my spreadsheet as the data source, directed it to the sheet I wanted to use, and picked the fields I wanted to have inserted into the deck.  As a note, I’ve toyed with the idea of printing who came up with the idea for a card, but it’s never panned out.  It could be kinda fun though if you want to include it in your own deck. (For more details on how to use the mail merge function, do a quick search on the web with your spreadsheet and page layout included in the search.  There are far too many variables to cover here.)
Once the sample text was in place, I could fiddle with the font, size, and special effects like bold or italics.  I could also preview what it would look like with live data.  Tip from me to you, know how your text behaves when it needs to hyphenate.  My first couple of attempts had really awful line breaks in them.  Once you've gotten all the text tweaking done, go ahead and complete the merge.  I opted to merge the data to a new publication instead of printing it directly to the printer.  This gave me the option to mess with the margins and create a .pdf that I could share with others.

I wanted to have something on the backs of the cards so you could tell them apart more easily.  I also wanted it to be simple because I’m absolutely not a graphic designer.  This is something that’s easily changed if you've got the ability to draw, but for me, I opted for a large ! on the back of the answers, and a ? on the back of the questions.  I dummied up a page of 10 of each of those just like I'd get when I printed the others and was able to use that as the back.  Sure, in the end it involved 4 files, but to me that wasn't a big deal.  The best part about having 1 sheet to print multiple copies of is that you can use it to create blank cards for write in suggestions.
When I was done, I had 4 PDFs, 2 fronts and 2 backs.  After I printed everything up, I had a stack of roughly 80 pages of cardstock.  I put a garbage bag on my craft room table, put down two sheets of cards and started spraying them with hairspray.  I sprayed both sides and put them in a pile to dry.  An hour or so later, I stacked them up next to the paper cutter and got to work.  Each page takes 9 cuts to complete and if you put more than 2 sheets on my cutter they tend to slide around or tear more than cut.  You'll have to learn what your sweet spot is, as well as have an afternoon to block out just to get the deck cut.  It's the perfect opportunity to get caught up on your Netflix or DVRed shows.

To recap, you'll need:

  • A laser printer
  • 1 package of 110 lb cardstock
  • 1 can of hairspray
  • 1 copy of a spreadsheet application
  • 1 page layout application
  • 1 paper cutter or many people you can blackmail into using scissors with you
  • 1 plastic card container
  • 1 evening or afternoon to devote to creating your design for your cards.

Once you've cut your deck out, you'll more than likely have a table full of paper and a need for something to put it in.  I had been using a container without a lid previously, but thought that was a little precarious.  Being that I didn't want to pay game store prices for a container meant for cards, I thought about my Tupperware options.  I found the perfect container with a snap on lid at Family Dollar for about $1.25.  All of my cards fit, the lid stays secure, and they don't slide around so they can't mix up the card type.  Yes!  I am 100% ready.  Is it Monday yet?

Edit - When reading the instructions for a DIY Cheapass Game called Unexploded Cow, they suggested using old playing cards and stick on labels to make your own copy of their games.  Curious, I googled blank playing cards.  That's when I came across this: 


I'm considering doing this for the next set that I make.  You can get the business card sized versions of their cards too.


These would fit the template I've already made.  Food for thought.


  1. Awesome template! Thanks so much, this turned out so much better than the ones they give you to download. I was about to create this myself, so you just saved me a TON of time. Thanks again, they turned out great!

  2. You are so very welcome! Mail merges were my bread and butter during one particularly grueling stint in my long and "illustrious" help desk career. The original downloadable cards were frustrating, lacking a back, and being such a weird size. I took what I knew about layout, mail merges, and my second hand laser printer and went just a bit nuts. It seemed a shame not to share the fruits of my labor. Glad you found them useful and entertaining. If you should want any of the original templates to make your own, don't hesitate to ask. I can easily provide those as well.

  3. If you ever want to print these again cheaper and better quality you should check out
    I was looking for the way to do this myself and found them out of orlando. They came out really good.


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