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Alumni Profile

Their game plan: Create R-rated versions of Scattergories, Taboo

By Caroline Cataldo

What do you get when you put a group of Brandeisians in a room with board games and limited cellphone reception?

Answer: An R-rated version of Scattergories that has been endorsed by Emmy-nominated actor and comedian Neil Patrick Harris.

Longtime Brandeis friends Bekka Saks ’06 and Ken Goff ’06, MA’07, first came up with the idea for Odious Lists at a birthday party for classmate Monica Katz-Lapides ’06, and now the game is being played at parties across the country, with almost 1,500 copies sold in the last year.

“We were hanging out in a place with very little reception and we had to figure out another way to amuse ourselves,” Goff says about the evening in California that started it all, “so we brought a bunch of board games.”

After a few rounds of the popular adult board game Cards Against Humanity, Saks and Goff, who were active in Brandeis’ TBA Sketch and Improv comedy club as students, had a thought: If Cards Against Humanity is simply an adult version of the popular children’s game Apples to Apples, why aren’t there adult versions of other games?

Saks, a certified appraiser of fine art and antiques, and Goff, a former investor relations manager at Facebook, began plotting about what Scattergories with adult content might look like.

“The beauty of making dirty versions of existing games is that you have the crude humor popular amongst millennials on top of having the nostalgia aspect of a familiar childhood game,” Goff says. “We had a blast playing our own creation right off the bat and thought maybe this could actually be something.”

After developing a few different versions and incorporating feedback from hundreds of game testers (including many Brandeisians), Saks and Goff posted their creation on popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter.

On the game’s third day on Kickstarter, Harris found the game and tweeted about it to his more than 19.8 million followers: “Hilarious. An R-rated version of Scattergories!”

Predictably, sales of the game soared. Saks and Goff have proudly been “beating that endorsement to death” ever since.

Odious Censor, the brand’s version of Taboo, was released on Kickstarter earlier this week and was tested by current members of Brandeis’ TBA Improv and Sketch Comedy.

The duo says finding the right tone for the game was not easy. They thought about their time at Brandeis, recalling the type of environment created when friends hung out in small, tight-knit groups.

“A sense of comedy is tough — it’s a bit of a powder keg — because we are not out to actually offend people, but a lot of humor stems from addressing uncomfortable issues,” Goff says. ”We are about introducing taboo topics to people that they can then laugh about.”

Goff says Odious Lists and Odious Censor differ from the genre-defining Cards Against Humanity, where all of the content is pre-baked. Because the Odious games use player-created content, they confront difficult issues the players grapple within a judgment-free environment.

“When we are all able to get together and have a good laugh about differences like race, religion and sexuality, that’s really powerful,” he says. “If we, as a culture, can laugh at ourselves and each other in a magnanimous rather than a malicious way, I think that is going to be the type of progress everyone wants to see long term.”

“While dirty jokes aren’t for everybody, we are kind of betting the farm that there is a big enough market for people who would view immature and potentially offensive comedy as a good way to maximize the enjoyment of social interactions. The ability to laugh about sensitive topics is a show of strength. If you can’t laugh at something, it means that thing has power over you,” Goff says.

Like improvisational comedy, the Odious games are about being able to communicate with members of a group and listening to each other. That’s also why Saks and Goff have continued to work so well together after their time at Brandeis.

“We know how to listen to each other,” Saks says. “We know how to complement each other and bounce ideas around. I think that is the largest factor in being successful in business.”

In the spirit of their game and using the letter “B” (for Brandeis), Goff and Saks came up with words to describe their experiences working on this project. As expected, their answers, “Bad-taste good-fun” and “#blessed,” came quickly and ended in contagious laughter.

Categories: Alumni Profile
Date: January 26, 2016