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[Review] Apples to Apples

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I love teaching people to play games; and many times, after a game session, people tell me how much fun they’ve had. One of the biggest compliments is how easy it is to play the games that I teach; and for this reason, I’m always on the lookout for “German” games that have simplistic rules. Whenever I go to any event, like a picnic, or some such get-together, I always bring a box of games, with several simplistic games, for everyone to play. But I also always bring several party games, because nothing can generate more fun and excitement than a good party game at a fellowship. I have dozens of party games, with my personal favorites being Time’s Up and Talking Tango. However, the most popular party game I own, with NO exception; and one that I take to almost every event, is Apples to Apples (Out of the Box Publishing, 1999 – Matthew Kirby).

If you read about Apples to Apples on the internet, you will find a wide range of opinions about it. Some people love it, and think that it’s the greatest party game ever. Others find that it falls flat for them, and recommend other party games over it. But one simple truth cannot be denied. Every time, without exception, that I have introduced the game to a new group of people, they have loved it on the spot, and wanted to continue playing. People who insisted that they would “just watch” ended up joining the game enthusiastically, and wanted to play another game immediately after. Yes, Virginia, there are better party games; but no other game is so easy to learn and is so easy to play, giving Apples to Apples the kingship of party games.

The rules for the game are incredibly simple. There are two stacks of cards – “Green” apples (which are adjectives, such as “Fresh”, “Moronic”, etc.), and “Red” apples (which are nouns, such as “Mel Brooks”, “festering wounds”, “My Past”, and “Japan”). The stack of green cards is shuffled and placed in the middle of the table, along with the red cards with each player being dealt a hand of nine Red cards. One player is chosen to start, and then play passes clockwise around the table.

The player whose turn it is (the “judge”) flips over the top green card. Each other player tosses a red apple card onto the table (face-down) that they think most matches that card. The last player to play a card must return it to their hand. The judge shuffles all the red cards, then lays them out, reading them out loud. The judge then, at his own discretion and whims, picks the red card that he thinks best matches the green card. Players are allowed to lobby for their card (or any card), but the judge’s word is final. The player whose card he picks receives the green card. All red cards are discarded, and a new card dealt to each player whose hand has only eight cards. Play continues until one person has reached a set number of green cards (determined by how many players are in the game). This player is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The game comes in a small but long box, similar to a baseball card box. The box, like all OOTB games, is extremely sturdy, and a pleasant design scheme helps make the game friendly and inviting. The cards are of decent quality – I would like better quality cards, but that would probably drive the price of the game up quite a bit. The cards themselves are well designed, with three synonyms on each green card to better clarify the adjective (to help with the selection of the red cards), and humorous quotes or explanations about the subjects of the red cards.

2.) Rules: The rules come on a durable cardboard insert in the box – and are extremely well formatted. They are precise and are easy to learn – a trademark of all OOTB games. The rules can be taught in about 10 seconds, the time it takes to play one turn. People nowadays have an irrational fear of rules, and this is certainly not a problem here.

3.) Whims: There is only one strategy in Apples to Apples – cater to the whims and desires of the judge. The better one learns how to do this – the better that person will play the game. I know, for example, that if I throw down “Mel Gibson” for some gals, that they will pick it, irregardless of the adjective. Other people (myself included) will pick the combination that makes them laugh the most. Some people throw out any cards that they dislike – others may pick a card that has some kind of personal meaning to them. Husbands and wives do well, having an intuitive knowledge of what their spouse will pick. Of course, sometimes one will get a hand full of “junk”, with no cards that match the adjective in the middle. Often the best response is to throw in a random card; it just might get picked! One time, we played with a “computer”, where we drew a random card from the deck and threw it in the mix; and it came in second place. This proves that strategy isn’t that great in Apples to Apples with the hilarity of answers bringing most of the fun to the game.

4.) Variants: Unless I’m playing in a very competitive group, I throw out the rule about “last card down goes back to the hand”. Rather, we accept cards from everyone, unless someone takes forever to decide. I’ve had almost unanimous approval from people about accepting this rule; although the rules, as written can cause some frenzied games! Another variant plays the game backwards, dealing out green cards, and flipping over one red card at a time. While fun, that variant doesn’t seem to catch on, so I rarely play it.

5.) Expansions: There are four expansions for the game currently in print, and two full-sized versions of the game for younger folk. I bought one of the younger sets, two of the expansions, and even made some custom cards (the website, along with a pack of ink-jet printable cards – makes some really nice additions.) All of this gives me a HUGE selection, and rarely do we run into the same combos twice. (And I play a lot!) If you have the game, I highly recommend getting one of the expansions and expansion 4, which has pairs (i.e. Black & White, Sick & Tired, Pepper & Salt, Lois & Clark, etc.) is by far my favorite. I have to admit though that the custom cards I seeded my game with usually bring about the biggest laughs (although I’m not always pleased to see the adjectives my name is paired off with!)

6.) Fun Factor: The thing that makes Apples to Apples such a big hit is that it is easy fun. It’s not hard to select a card from your hand and throw it down, and nothing you do is really “stupid”. The game is just plain, easy fun, and the laughs that occur at some of the combinations can cause the whole group to go into hysterics. Time’s Up makes me laugh more, but also brings stress – as you are trying frantically to win. Apples to Apples is easy going fun.

If you don’t have Apples to Apples, shame on you! I don’t expect that “gaming groups” will play this one often, as there’s not much of a challenge in it. But Apples to Apples goes so well with so many different groups and people, that it should be on all shelves; because eventually you’ll run into a situation where it is the perfect game. I always have people request this game, and kids and adults can play in perfect harmony (and laughter). Apples to Apples is destined to become a classic game, and one that should be on every shelf.

Tom Vasel

[Review] Apples to Apples

It's a good game, I agree. It just seems like the judges know who put what answer so they can kind of decide based on who they want to get the point sometimes.

Whoa wait a sec, you're Tom Vasel from the 'geek, aren't you?

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