Humor in boardgames

game design

Recently Shut Up and Sit Down published a review of Cards Against Humanity which stirred up a lot of online discussion. After a couple of interesting conversations I was left wondering about humor in boardgames and how the designers approach games when they explicitly want to make the players laugh.

I’ve found most funny games seem to fit in one of these three categories:



1 – Games with jokes

These seem to be the most common. The game does its best to make the players laugh using jokes on the cards and/or funny illustrations. It can leave a good impression IF the players find it funny.

With repeated plays the players will see the entirety of the game’s content. More often than not the humor will fade away and the players will only keep playing if there is a good game underneath the jokes.



2 – Games that include humor in their design

This is unusual, but always a treat. The humor is built right onto the rules set of the game. This one is easier to explain with an example, so here we go:

“Village” is a worker placement game with a twist. There are several generations of workers. As time advances in the game the earlier generations start dying and they go on the Village’s Book of Deeds, which earns you some points. When the book is full, they go to (worthless) unmarked graves. So early on you start planning your strategy to get the most of your workers and kill them in the right place, at the right time. Sometimes, to get the last spot in the book you can even rush the passage of time to make sure the worker dies before someone else’s.

This is such an integral part of the game, you can’t ignore it if you want to win.



3 – Games that let the players be funny

These games can be the funniest of all, and usually they don’t even have any jokes in them!

How can that be?

Well, it’s up to the players! These games are light on rules, but give the players just enough ingredients to create hilarious situations. The humor comes from the interactions between people, and often from misunderstandings.

Every time you play you get a different outcome because the game is just a vehicle for genuine, human and comical moments. The replay value on these is through the roof and the games create very memorable situations because they were so spontaneous.


Of course there are also games that are unintentionally funny, but I’m only looking at this through the lens of a game designer that wants to make a funny game. This could even be the theme of a future article.


Just as humor is subjective, so are these categories. Your favorite might not line up with mine and that’s totally fine as long as you have fun!

What’s your favorite funny game?

I admit it, I was really surprised to find out that the funniest game I’ve ever played doesn’t include a single joke! I’ve never played a bad game of Telestrations, so if you get the chance please give it a go!

One thought on “Humor in boardgames

  1. Great write-up! I think humor-based games are underrated. I’m launching one on Kickstarter next week that falls into the “Let’s players be funny” category. It’s about creating your own movie by mixing up cards from four decks. So far it’s been doing a great job of making people laugh!

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