Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne talks about the hottest game you can’t get at trade discounts.

Cards Against Humanity has proved an interesting topic for the past week or so.  For those of you not familiar with the game and why it has raised so much controversy among retailers, Cards Against Humanity, or CAH for short, is a game very similar to Apples to Apples, only with more "adult" themes, adult meaning sexual or violent, rather than philosophical or literate.  An example of one of the "judge" cards is "What brought the orgy to a grinding halt?"  Other cards have similar themes.  Showing that one can never go broke underestimating the taste of the American public, CAH has shot to the top of the sales charts among those stores choosing to carry it, with some stores reporting sales of 12+ copies in a weekend.  We got 4 copies in last week and they lasted less than three days.  It sells.  I have heard of some stores refusing to carry it because of the themes, a perfectly viable reason not to carry it.  I have known stores to refuse to carry Pimp: The Backslapping, Weed, Grass, or Prison Bitch as well, because they felt the topics of the games did not mesh well with their target market.  However, there is another problem with carrying CAH that has nothing to do with the theme of the game.

The publisher, Cards Against Humanity LLC, has opted for two different channels of distribution.  The first, if you are thrifty, have access to a printer and cheap card stock, allows you to print out all the copies of the game you want from their website for free.  As in no charge.  The only restriction is you cannot sell copies of your printed-out game and agree to this by downloading the cards.  That's pretty cool of the company.

The other channel of distribution is through Amazon.  That's it.  If you want to purchase a copy of CAH, you have to have an Amazon account and purchase the game directly from the company through Amazon, 1 copy at a time.  Customers used to be able to purchase multiple copies at once, and I know of stores that would purchase a dozen at one time, but the publisher has changed the option to forestall that, allowing only purchases of a single copy of the game and 2 copies of each of the expansions per order.  Retailers get no trade discount on the game, playing the same price as anyone else who purchases it, $25 a copy.  Online retailers, other than Cards Against Humanity, that sell the game offer it at prices from $23 (not including pretty high cost shipping) to about $50.

Some stores, fearing customers would perceive them as overpricing CAH and gouging them, have opted to not carry the game, choosing instead to explain CAH's sales policies to customers that inquire about purchasing it.  Other stores (ours included) have opted to meet customer requests and jump through CAH's hoops in order to bring in the game, treating Amazon as just another supplier that sells direct to the customer as well, marking the game up in order to generate a decent gross margin on the product.  Frankly, I really wish another game, such as Great Dalmuti or Jungle Speed, that actually wants retailers to sell their product, had gotten all this attention, but it hasn't.  Given that, retailers have to make a decision as to how they want to deal with the phenomenon.  CAH LLC is making noises about selling the game through distribution and actually sending emails to retailers asking them not to buy the game and mark it up for resale with unspecified repercussions in the future for those that do.  However, I am betting that by the time CAH makes it to distribution, consumer interest will have waned and sales will have dropped precipitously, then CAH will likely get its wish with retailers (and customers) no longer so interested in the game.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of