Joking Hazard review

Joking Hazard (2016) (NSFW)

Game Details
NameJoking Hazard (2016)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.06]
BGG Rank1908 [6.44]
Player Count (recommended)3-10 (3-7)
Designer(s)(Uncredited)
Artist(s)Uncredited

TL;DR: It's fun, what do you want from me? What are any of us even doing here?

I have no idea what a tier list is, and yet suddenly they seem to be everywhere. There’s nothing that makes me feel more confused and angry than people having fun in a way I don’t understand. It’s how I know I’ve become properly old. That and the noise my knees make when I try to move them. What alarms and frightens me most about these things is that they are put together in fragrant dismissal of the alphabet we’ve all agreed to use. Why the hell is S at the top, and why does A follow? And then other tier lists come along make up their own conventions and it’s all just… it’s so exhausting and upsetting. Let’s hope this isn’t the last thing we do together as a culture before climate change finally speeds us all into the apocalypse.

Anyway, Joking Hazard.

Joking Hazard box

I took these pictures at Cafe Sirius in Gothenburg. Stop by, play a game or two!

I bring up tier lists for a reason – there are a whole range of tiers in gaming that we all kinda understand but don’t really talk about. Under all the hippy-dippy lovey-dovey stuff about how we should all just enjoy each other through the medium of games, we all know that not all games are equal. Mainstream games, the kind that everyone knows about, aren’t really games that belong to this hobby. It’s easy to be confused. After all, they look and act like any other game. They’re just… not the same. They’re… I don’t know. S tier. F tier. W tier? No idea. They’re the Hanzo main tier.

Did I do that right? Did I meme correctly?

And then there are games like Exploding Kittens and Cards Against Humanity. Not quite as bad but not really on the level with proper games. They’re for frat boys and party girls. They’re for people that wouldn’t play Monopoly of an evening but wouldn’t blink at a poker night. They’re for the people that would never call themselves gamers but still enjoy playing games. They’re in tier 5. Tier P. The Leviticus tier.

And then there’s all the real games, that the vanishingly small minority of people that read blogs like this are playing. We’re the god tier. The half past five-tier. The blue tier. Whatever tier we are, we’re at the top.

I mean, this is all nonsense. Games are games. We know this is a bad way to be thinking, and yet it’s hard to shake off a cultural prejudice that has ossified into a kind of institutional bedrock. When you see someone venturing into /r/boardgames to talk about Monopoly, you just know they’re going to get a lecture on what they should be playing instead. They didn’t realise they were venturing into a lion’s den. They just know they wanted to talk about a board game. Little did they know that there are board games and then there are board games. 

It’s an unwelcoming attitude, sure. But also – it’s just wrong. While there’s an implicit hierarchy of games threaded through gaming discourse, it’s fundamentally misguided. Games don’t have tiers, they have use cases. They have scenarios for which they are ideal, and for which the end-goal isn’t necessarily mechanical elegance or thematic richness. What’s better, a monkey or a fish? It kinda depends on into what environment you’re planning to dump them.

A hand of cards

We are often dismissive of games like CAH and Exploding Kittens because they’re not actually very good games. If there was a Rotten Tomatoes of board gaming though, you’d see something interesting. These games would be green rotten tomatoes across the board in the critic score, but certified fresh by the people actually playing them. Sometimes a game doesn’t need to be good. It just needs to be fun, and that’s a property of the people playing rather than the game itself.

And yeah, Joking Hazard is fun. It couldn’t not be really, because it’s basically Cards Against Humanity with pictures. It’s Cards Against Humanity for those that feel Buzzfeed is annoyingly wordy. It’s the Cyanide and Happiness random comic algorithm given a bit of human agency. You already know exactly what the game is, because you’ve probably already played it. Maybe not this specific version of it, but you know the game. It’s always the same game.

You get some cards. Here, they contain panels of a comic strip yet to be. They are predictably varied. Some are inherently funny. Some are situationally amusing. Some are rubbish that will never find a home. The dynamic is predictable – a judge plays out a setup, and everyone else plays out a punchline.

Here, the deck gives you a little bit of anarchic deconstruction of the same tired design tropes that every other game is using. It spits out a card – a punchline (red border) or a setup card. If it’s a punchline, everyone plays out a two-card combo setup. If it’s not, then the judge plays down a card of their own to the left or right. That’s your context, and then everyone else supplies a one card punchline. The judge decides which is best, and the game ends… whenever you like really. There are variant rules available too, and you’re encouraged to make up your own as needed.

Punchline

And that’s interesting, because it raises an important question. Where is the game in a game?

Let me put it another way, because you’ve already pretty much got my review of Joking Hazard. You’re not in a review any more, you’re in a critique. Don’t bother running for the door, it’s already locked.

Give me your honest, first response answer to this question . Is Star Trek chess a different game to normal chess?

Okay. Stop thinking about it.

You had a knee-jerk response to that question. Hold on to it, because it says a lot about what you think a game is.

First panel revealed

If you said no, your intuitive framing of a game is inherently systematic. Games for you are defined in majority by their mechanisms. The only thing that changes between Star Trek chess and normal chess is the framing. It’s the set dressing. The actual game, the semiotic conceptual symbolism you use in your head to work out when you see one, is bound up in activity.

If you said yes, then your intuitive framing of a game is at least in substantial part about an identification with the setting of a game. Moving Kirk to defend Spock is a different thing, in your mind, to moving a king to defend a rook. In any case, you shouldn’t be moving a king to defend anything. You’re a bad chess player.

So, where is the game here? Is it in the rules, or is it in the pieces?

Okay, you can go back to thinking about it.

More reflection will almost always lead to a more conciliatory conclusion. Almost everyone will agree they’re different, but where you’ll differ is in the nature and the extent of that difference. Is it a difference in kind (a category shift), or a difference in degree (the same thing, but more or less so of itself)?

Right, here’s my followup question.

Is Cards Against Humanity a different game to Joking Hazard?

Stop!

And… yeah?

They are, because you’re doing something different. You’re matching up pictures in one and words in the other. The rules aren’t the same.

But…

Both also emphasise variation and experimentation with these rules, because systematically they are not really all that interested in the mechanisms. Win conditions, losing conditions, even the fundamental states of play – they’re all pretty much up for grabs. I’d go so far as to say they don’t even really give you rules, they give you a starting point for experimentation. You can iterate over both of these games and find them meeting in the middle. There is a version of CAH and a version of Joking Hazard that you can invent and it will seamlessly play both together in a crossover mode.

Where is the game in these titles then? If they explicitly enable you to disregard the manual and find the fun for your own group, what are you even getting here?

It turns out the game is in the decks, and that’s where it’s been all along. The game is the deck, and it’s only ever going to be as good as that deck permits it to be.

And that’s important.

Ful comic revealed. Second panel has blue character says 'You're hired

What’s the use-case of a game that exists only in its content and not in its rules?

It turns out… it’s exactly what we’d really like all games to be. Something where the rules aren’t an impediment to fun. The universal inaccessibility in board gaming is that the manual is still the way we introduce people to new play experiences, and rules are horrible. You need to remember them. You need to interpret them. You need to be constantly evaluating correctness and making sure everyone is accurately adhering to the system. Many games are great because their rules are articulate – succinct enough to be memorable, eloquent enough to be expressive. They persuade you into fun through the application of precise and pleasing rhetoric. They’re songs that reach inside you and caress all your best parts.

But the thing is, you’re the singer and you can easily screw that up if you forget the words or the rhythm. Every one of you, you need to be in harmony – with each other and with the piece as it was composed. A mechanistically driven board game requires a choir, and you better be up to the job or God is gonna be mad.

Games like Joking Hazard, Cards Against Humanity, and any number of popular party activities are different. They’re looser. They’re more like a karaoke night. Who cares if you don’t remember your part, just improvise something. If it’s in the right key, that’ll be enough. If it’s not, it’ll still be a right laugh because your mates are your mates, and they wouldn’t be your mates if they weren’t.

The use case of Joking Hazard then is that it’s frictionless fun. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to have enough songs on the machine that nobody gets tired of hearing someone mangle the same tunes over and over again. The deck has to be big enough, varied enough, and broadly applicable enough that you never get tired of the selection. Just get it to the table and your friends will do the rest.

And here, Joking Hazard does that.

It’s more varied than Cards Against Humanity because of the additional flex in its basic design. The most interesting parts in CAH, for me, are where when people played two cards for an answer because there’s a lot more you can do in the intersections than you can in any individual card. Joking Hazard stresses those intersections and it’s better for it.

It’s funnier than Cards Against Humanity because it doesn’t rely so much on convenient juxtaposition. It’s much less about having the funny card for the funny question, and much more about creating the circumstances within which people can be funny with the cards in their hands. It’s not perfect in that regard, but it’s better. Not Funemployed better, but notably better. If Cards Against Humanity relies on funny cards, Joking Hazard is happier to put its trust in funny people.

The same comic is before, except the punchline is that the blue character is sodomising the green character.

I spend a lot of time in this blog talking about what makes a game good, and what makes a game bad. For most games, that’s fine because they’re being assessed in a frame appropriate for their design. Joking Hazard fails spectacularly to be interesting as a game if that’s your fitness function. Z tier. The Expanse Turned into A TV Series tier. Mint viscount tier. But in terms of fit for the use case of people that just want to have a laugh with their mates? Use whatever tier you like. This whole process is nonsense. We’re here for a good time, not a long time, and maybe we shouldn’t be wasting it obsessing over the minutiae of how people arrange the cardboard in their boxes.

 

  1 comment for “Joking Hazard (2016) (NSFW)

  1. Darryl
    04/03/2020 at 2:34 pm

    My knee-jerk reaction: Star Trek chess is not a different game but it *is* a different *experience*. Apparently I even hedge my knee-jerk reactions 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.