The first thing a player sees when they open the instructions to Hot Box is a bedraggled, clip-art hippie mascot welcoming you to the card game by waving his arms like an inflatable noodle person and designating the game's first judge as "the highest person in the room, or whoever has the fewest Instagram followers."
After showing the instructions the three other players, a chorus of half-annoyed half-bemused groans overtook the room.
"That guy is why I never smoked pot when I was in high school," one friend said.
As a table of multicultural 40-year-old cannabis users who all have nominally commensurate tolerances and minimal interest in social media, the collective feeling this mascot gave us was that we were somehow either too old or too young for this game.
Representation-wise, we were off to a lukewarm start. But we're a bunch of good-natured stoners who enjoy the occasional card game—the target audience. If representation didn't arrive via the instruction manual, it was certainly in the cards.
Hot Box is a pretty straightforward comedy card game—basically a stoner Cards Against Humanity, with the addition of cards that prompt dares like holding a bong hit as long as you can or drinking bong water on TikTok. To play, the deck is split into question cards, answer cards and an additional third stack of dare cards. Dare cards appear in the question deck every four or five turns, prompting that round's judge to either perform the required task or forfeit their points. The dares vary from harmless (do the Carlton Dance!) to indefensibly gross (act out the worst poop of your life) to low-key rude (FaceTime your ex).
On Round 1, the first answer card I pulled was about letting a dog lick peanut butter off my vagina, to which I swoon-gasped and clutched my pearls like the stuck-up auntie I am. Based on Lazy Jay or Green Dean or whatever the stoner mascot's name is, I wrongly assumed this game was going to be full of dad-tier weed jokes.
The highlight of Round 2 came when I pulled the dare card that read "Do the Carlton Dance!" I stood up, did the Carlton Banks, and then sat down and gave myself a point. One player's face remained twisted in confusion the entire time.
"What is a Carlton dance?" they asked. "How do you know how to do that?"
And it was with such deserved satisfaction that I then patronizingly described The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to my white husband from Connecticut for several minutes.
On Round 3, our gameplay started to feature the Cypress Hill Expansion Pack, featuring questions framed around the '90s stoner rap crew. Inquiries included: "Sen Dog is known for ____ on tour." "Before performing, Bobo gets in the mood with ____." "B Real loves 2 things, weed and ____."
The expansion pack continues in this, uh, fascinating fashion. If any of us had been superfans, the jokes would have rung some bells for us. We decided that Cypress Hill should be the ones to narrate the instruction booklet, not Bonghit Bob or Marijuana Mel or whoever.
In the end, the player who consistently gave the most non sequitur, stoned-logic answer cards ended up as the victor. At first blush, we all felt a bit stuck up about the stereotypes playing out on the cards and the provocative nature of some of the dares, but after a few turns, a few personal joints, and modifying the dares to be optional, we leaned in as we would any smoked-up Q&A card game.
The loudest takeaway from playing one game of Hot Box was that several of these jokes and dares seemed geared toward a far younger, more nihilistic audience. I just want to get high, sip white wine spritzers and laugh with the homies, I'm not trying to shave one leg on Instagram Live so I can get a point in a card game. But hey, takes all kinds.
That said, I will play this game again, but with two caveats—dares are not compulsory, and we burn the peanut butter vagina card.