The Gamebrarians: AAS Plays a 19th-Century Version of Cards Against Humanity

A few months ago we posted an image on Instagram and Facebook that, while fun, we had no particular expectations for. It was a quite a surprise, then, when it garnered a massive amount of attention on both platforms. To this day it remains one of our most widely circulated posts on Facebook.

wordgame post 2The image was a picture of an 1857 word association game called “A Trip to Paris: A Laughable Game. Being a truthful account of what b fel one Jothan Podd.” It includes a small pamphlet that, through a series of random sentences with blanks for nouns, tells the story of Jothan Podd’s trip to Paris—sort of. In reality it’s more a jumble of non-sequitur sentences that are made funny by filling in the blanks with the nouns on the accompanying cards.

Does the concept sound familiar? It certainly did to our social media followers, who instantly expanded on our comparison to Mad Libs to include the now wildly popular Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples. And in many ways the game is indeed a cross between Mad Libs and Cards Against Humanity. Like Mad Libs, you’re filling in blanks to create a sort of story, but unlike Mad Libs, where you come up with the missing words yourself, there are cards to fill in the blanks and those only include nouns, rather than all parts of speech. This is where it becomes more like Cards Against Humanity, in that a complete thought is finished by pairing it with a noun card provided by the game.

The response gave us an idea – why not just play the game ourselves (using twenty-first-century protocol for handling material, of course) and see how it stacks up against the modern versions? And with that, “The Gamebrarians” was born.

Directions collageAlthough the rules of the original game (see left) simply call for one person to read the story while the rest of the players each take a turn flipping over a random card to create a ridiculous sentence, we decided to play the old game by the rules of modern Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity to make it a little more interesting. Each person takes a turn reading a sentence from the pamphlet, while the others finish it with one of their cards. Whoever plays the card the reader finds funniest wins a point. Here’s what happened!

We’ll leave the judging of how well the nineteenth-century plot and terms hold up to you, but the overall result of filling in a blank with a series of irrelevant, mundane, or absurd things (how does one get a clam intoxicated?) remains the same. And while at first glance it seems that this nineteenth-century version is much more PG-rated than Cards Against Humanity or even, for that matter, Apples to Apples, it’s still a word association game and it’s very likely that there was plenty of potential for a double entendre or two (we’re still trying to figure out what a star-spangled weasel is, but there has to be a joke in there somewhere).

Thanks to the generosity of Jay and Deborah Last and an anonymous AAS member, we are currently in the process of cataloging and digitizing our entire games collection, making this wonderful collection more accessible to researchers. The process has also highlighted the fact that there are plenty more anachronistic yet relatable nineteenth-century games where this one came from, and so we hope that this will not be the last you see of The Gamebrarians.

If you want to play the game yourself, a print-friendly version of the entire pamphlet and set of cards can be found here!

Published by

Kayla Haveles

Outreach Coordinator, American Antiquarian Society

9 thoughts on “The Gamebrarians: AAS Plays a 19th-Century Version of Cards Against Humanity”

    1. Glad you noticed, because that’s actually a bust of our founder, Isaiah Thomas. We thought it only right that he be overlooking the proceedings looking benevolent and, yes, slightly amused!

  1. Last October I attended Tableflip, a conference on game design in San Francisco.
    Max Temkin, designer of Cards Against Humanity, presented there and brought along/spoke about his ancient copy of “An Account of Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York”, published in 1890 and precisely the same kind of Mad Libs game though you posit the Trip to Paris game is from 1857).
    David Malki! who also presented, took some pictures of it here ( )

    Synchronicity, kind of…

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Brian! It’s really interesting to see how he might in his own way have been inspired by these earlier games. And that they mention how popular this format of game was through the 20th century, but as our archive proves, actually started much earlier in the nineteenth century. It would be interesting to compare even the 1857 and 1890 versions to see how much the nouns changed over 30 years.

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