It’s “a card game for anyone who has traded their soul for the six-figure debt, endless PowerPoint decks, and highly embarrassing hi-jinx of business school.” It’s also “the perfect way to spice up a B-school party, procrastinate on case interview prep, or nostalgically relive your glory days of cheap beer and terrible group project partners.” If you love Cards Against Humanity, the purposely offensive fill-in-the-blank card game, and you have a business school background — or live with someone who does — have we got a game for you.
MBA-Holes: The B-School Party in a Box, was developed by Class of 2019 Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management grad Madeleine McDougall and her husband, Matthew Guttentag, while McDougall was completing her MBA. The game emerged out of their conversations about the funny — sometimes absurdly so — patois that is the language of B-school, with Guttentag mining McDougall’s knowledge for treasures that tickle the funny bone for those in the know — turning “B-school jargon and frustrations into irreverent fun.”
“The MBA is a really unique shared experience and I think MBA-holes provides an awesome way to both celebrate that,” McDougall tells Poets&Quants. “And poke fun at it.”
HOW TO PLAY
Guttentag, a research director for the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit educational and policy studies organization, was working remotely, living in Ithaca, while McDougall finished school at Cornell. He was tickled by the terminology and some of the esoteric material she was learning. “In the first semester there was such a sheer number of new phrases and absurdity of new experiences, we would kind of joke about it,” he says. Soon he began to conceive of a way to make the experience more fun, while poking a little fun at it all.
“When Matt initially got the idea to make a game about the MBA experience, he asked me to write down some MBA-specific terms, and even I was shocked at how many terms and phrases I could come up with,” McDougall says. “I must have written several pages’ worth. Over the following months he curated the list and brought the ‘interviewer’ and ‘applicant’ cards to life. When he was ready to test the game out, we printed the cards on regular printer paper, cut them with scissors, and invited a bunch of friends over.
“We played for hours! It was a blast. My friends loved it.”
For those who aren’t “game night” types, MBA-Holes is sort like Mad Libs. Each applicant is dealt a number of cards and a rotating “interviewer” picks a question. The players pick from the cards in their hand what seems to be the funniest or most apt response. For example, if the question or category card is “Consulting Bros,” for example, the answer choices might be: “Writing cover letters drunk,” or “White guys and more white guys.” If the question is “If only there were an Excel shortcut for …” the possible answers include “Gutting the middle class for corporate profits” or “Panicking on a phone interview and pretending the call was dropped.” The interviewer makes a final judgment, giving the winning applicant one point.
“For every round of the game, it seemed someone had a story to share related to the cards being played,” McDougall says.
‘IT BROUGHT US TOGETHER AND ALSO ALLOWED US TO LAUGH AT OURSELVES’
The trial run “was so funny,” Guttentag says, “we decided to continue with it.”
“It’s not a mind bender,’’ he adds. “But it’s fun to play with friends, especially if all the participants are in the MBA program — and drunk.”
One of the initial players, Elise Barry, who has since moved on to a consulting job in Chicago, says the game reflects the overwhelming craziness of B-school.
“Business school is this unique world unto itself,” she wrote in a review of the game. “It’s full of all these frameworks, acronyms, and deadlines that seem so important when you’re in that world, but sound quite bizarre to anyone outside of it.”
Her review was an unequivocal thumbs up. “We spent the entire night laughing harder than I have in a long time, and we started the game again when the cards ran out,” Barry says. “It brought us together and also allowed us to laugh at ourselves and the crazier elements of the MBA experience. I think we all knew that night that this game needed to be out in the world.”
The game offers more than just laughs, Barry says; it “effortlessly brings together MBA students from any school because many of the themes are so universal in business school.” It not only unites but enables students to see their work objectively. “It allows us to reflect on, laugh at, and form a stronger bond over that shared experience,” she says. “It also creates space for non-MBA students to laugh with–or occasionally at–us for some of the absurd parts of business school.”
More seriously, MBA-Holes opens up dialogues around parts of B-school and the business world that need to change, “such as the lack of diversity at most business schools and Fortune 500 companies,” she says.
To see whether MBA-Holes can gain wider traction, Guttentag and McDougall had hundreds of cards printed up and gave a copy of the game to their friends in internships. The feedback they gathered was again extremely positive. With a few minor tweaks, the couple are trying to scale up the game with a Kickstarter campaign — even as life returns somewhat to normal, with McDougall going to work for ZX Ventures, the global growth and innovation arm of AB-InBev.
“After the first test run, Matt took the suggestions he received and revised and expanded the deck. He then got them printed professionally and gave about 10 of the new decks to first-year MBAs to bring with them to their summer internships so they could test the game among MBAs from other schools,” McDougall says. “The game continued to get positive feedback and Matt continued to tweak and improve it. By the end of business school I was fielding pretty regular requests from people interested in buying the deck, so I’m thrilled that he is now putting together this Kickstarter!”
Could it take off? Why not? After all, Cards Against Humanity, now wildly popular, was itself launched via Kickstarter in 2011.
“If we can get 500 people to pre-buy it, we can invest in a larger print run,” Guttentag says. The primary target: MBAs, but also anyone who has a connection to B-school, from interns to alumni.
The next step, he says, is promotion. “Ultimately, I would like it to be school-specific, you know, use smelly bars and things related to a given school, and sell 100 decks per school for about $25 apiece.” Beyond that, they have prioritized a list of top schools. This is not how the couple plans to make their fortune, “But we really enjoyed it. I would love to do more,” Guttentag says. “I really enjoyed examining the funny little things we do in our lives.”