Game Review: Game of HAM

playing cards against humanity with my teensFirst there was the blockbuster success Cards Against Humanity, then there were a zillion expansion card decks from the company, then expansion decks from a variety of other companies with names like Crabs Adjust Humidity, Cows Grilling Hamburgers, Clones Attack Hilarity, Cads Against Disney and Kids Against Maturity. Yes, they’re all real third party expansions for a rather crass card game that will simultaneously amuse and appall you. Often in the very same round.

For those few of you who haven’t played, each player has a hand full of “white” cards that are wry, awkward, funny or disgusting punch lines. The judge for a given round pulls a “black” card that typically has a phrase or theme with a blank: each player then secretly plays their best card to match the theme and the judge picks the funniest. Simple concept, easily taught in just a few minutes at most, even while inebriated.

All of the CaH expansion decks and all of these third party games retain that basic gameplay, just changing up the black cards (themes and phrase) and white cards (punchlines). Except for game designer Bill S. Naim’s variation Game of HAM, which reimagines the game as one with a playing board, ability cards and quite a bit more layered on top of the basic play. HAM, by the way, stands for Hating All Mankind, though that’s basically lost in the theming and you’re safe assuming it instead refers to the distinctly unkosher centerpiece of an Easter meal.

Here’s the game in action after I finally convinced my kids to give it a whirl:

playing 'game of ham' cards against humanity

Game of HAM is designed for 3-15+ players, ages 18+. Like Cards Against Humanity, there are some words and concepts that you would hope that younger teens don’t know or understand.

Helpful tip: If you search for the definition on your phone, avoid Urban Dictionary. You can’t unsee some of these definitions. Yikes. ‘nuf said. Then again, the pink cards have explanations of the more, um, obscure things if you look closely.

Looking at the above image, it’s completely understandable if you’re thinking “uh, how is that like CaH?” There’s a lot more going on. In fact, there’s too much going on, but I’ll get to that in a little bit. The dark grey cards? Those are GoH’s equivalent of the black cards, while the white cards in CaH have become pink in HAM. Notice that the white cards above are in four stacks, each sitting on a colored ham placeholder. Those are the “colored” cards (confusing given that their backs are white!) and they’re the best part of the game; each color gives you essentially a super card you can hold on to and play whenever you’d like. Here are four typical cards:

game of ham - colored ability cards

After playing for a few rounds, we decided that the yellow cards (which are all about forcing others to lose a turn) were the least fun, while the green (force a different winner) was the most fun and disruptive both. Those were always played with a flourish and met with groans from the person who thought they’d won the round.

The centerpiece of Game of HAM is the board, however, and with four two-sided board pieces there are a lot of different ways you can set up your game and, depending on configuration, how long your game will last. We randomly chose this two-board setup, with everyone starting on the top left corner:

game of ham playing board

Each player has a tiny chit to denote where they are on the board. Colored squares with a red dot are “ability squares” and let you pick one of the corresponding color cards. numbered spots let you additionally move forward that number of spaces (well, not forward, just “move” since you can go in whatever direction you want). The light blue squares are “bounce spots” used with the Piece Bully mechanism, pink squares are… ummm… undefined in the rules but are dead squares. Finally, the gold square on the right edge is the goal spot; land on it and you’re at the finish line and safe from the Piece Bully.

How do you know how many squares you can move? That’s on the bottom of the grey card you win by having played the chosen pink card in a round. Let’s look at those cards for a second, starting with a typical set of pink cards:

game of ham - pink player cards

Yes, it’s distinctly NSFW and definitely not suitable for little ones. If you’re a sensitive wallflower or are the most “woke” person in your social circle, this also might hit too close to home and prevent you from enjoying the game. Then again, that would be true for Cards Against Humanity and all of these so-called adult party games too.

And how about those grey cards?

game of ham - dark grey black cards

If you’re still in the dark about how the game works, I might play “What increases life expectancy?” as the judge, and the pink card “The joker dressed in drag” might be one of the player submissions for that round. See the ham symbol on the bottom of those grey cards, with its two numbers? The winning player can choose either of those as their move if they win the round. So if you won the life expectancy card, you could move 3 or 7 squares in any direction. If you’re playing with 8 or more, you can optionally move the sum of the two numbers too (e.g., 3+7) if desired.

But there’s more. There’s that Piece Bully rule. And if you have a set of grey cards you’ve won that spell out H.A.M. on their backs, you can use that as a block against a play that would otherwise hurt you (like having to lose a turn). In fact, there are three different games and over 50 optional rules included in the instructions.

game of ham cards against humanity card game - reviewAnd that’s where Game of HAM is problematic. Very quickly we decided that the yellow ‘lose a turn’ cards weren’t fun, particularly when my son pulled a “Force 3 target players to sit out a trick” when there were only four of us playing! But the green, orange and red cards are definitely fun. The board? It felt unnecessary. As we were playing I kept thinking that it would be fun to have the colored cards and a six sided dice, with the four color faces, a +1 where you’d get an extra grey card as a bonus putting you closer to winning and a -1 that would do the opposite. Every time you won a round, you rolled the dice and took the appropriate action. Game ended when the first person gets to N grey cards for whatever number people agree upon.

Which means the board, the chits and the ham placeholders are all then superfluous. Then again, a colored ability cards + dice expansion could be sold as a variant people could add to any Cards Against Humanity deck, set of decks, or mashup. At which point, Game of HAM becomes a must-have add-on to anyone with CaH. In that sense, it really could be great fun. As is, however, it feels unnecessarily complicated and fiddly, though you can certainly cherry pick what elements you pulled out when you did want to play!

Game of HAM, 3-15+ players, ages 18+, 30-?? minutes per game. Includes 810 cards, 16 player pieces, 4 board pieces, etc. $39.99 for the boxed set ($34.95 on Amazon) or you can download a print-and-play version for free. 

Disclosure: The company sent me a copy of Game of HAM for the purposes of this review. My opinions are, of course, my own. You can also find the Game of HAM team on Facebook if you want to chat with ’em…

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