Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Apples to Apples (1999)

by Out of the Box, for at least 4 players

Apples to Apples is a popular non-game party game that's been around for over a decade, providing its followers with hundreds of expansion cards to satiate their wordplay appetites.

The rules are rather simple. Each player (the number of participants is virtually limitless) is dealt a hand of 7 nouns on red cards. These can range from Jesse Ventura to whipped cream to HMOs. One player assumes the rotating role of judge, and draws a green
description card. Printed on it is a word, like "gorgeous" or "unusual." Each player throws down a noun. Unaware of the cards' owners, the judge decides which they like best, and that noun's owner keeps the green card. Whoever collects the pre-determined number first is the winner.

The supposed fun of playing Apples to Apples is in the judging. Hey look, the card says beautiful and you said pond scum! Ha ha ha ha ha. The description was gargantuan and the judge picked miniskirt! Ha ha ha ha ha. The people who suggest playing Apples to Apples refer back to all these times when the game was hilarious. They tell us about their "instant win" cards - the nouns so wacky, they'll always pick them as a winner.

Apples is given credit as a social activity - a game for people normally afraid of playing games. It's also cited as a great icebreaker, and I've been part of its use as such. I think you shut yourself off from learning about other people in playing this game. There's an almost total lack of creativity. You have a better shot to breed discussion and learn about people in the rather staid proceedings of Scattergories. If the players are less than verbal, there's nothing about Apples to Apples to coax them out of their shell. Apples to Apples might be the cheap beer of party games. Sure we're all loosening up, but what's this awful taste in our mouths?

The official rules say the last person to lay down their noun is automatically disqualified. This encourages speed, and contributes to the random "fun" of the game. Like what happens with a lot of popular games, most people who own Apples to Apples don't even know the rule exists. Those who do generally toss it out, because they want to keep the warm & fuzzy feeling in the air, and remove any pressure. Between the "aw shucks"-type fun, and a lack of meaningful scorekeeping, Apples to Apples sounds like it belongs in a therapy circle.

I've tried to give this game a fair shake, playing it in crowds of varying sizes and sense of humor. To make things any sort of fun, you have to wring this towel with both hands. Played in earnest, Apples to Apples is a DULL activity. Played carefree, people get enamored with judging in off-the-wall ways. In that atmosphere, you're better off playing a random card right away, hoping the game will end soon.


I've tried to see the light, but it just isn't there for me. If you have any say in the matter, try to avoid this "game." There are plenty of things to do at a party that provide more abject fun without the comedic heavy lifting Apples seems to require. As it stands, I've come up with more interesting things to do with the cards provided on my own. It's not freeform enough on its own to be really wacky.

For a true pick up and play experience, and a much greater batting average on fun, look no further than my next review.

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