Apples to Apples
A few weeks ago, I happened upon a press release about a game called "Apples to Apples". Seems this game had been named the 1999/2000 Party Game of the Year by Games Magazine, and had also earned the Mensa select award for games. To be honest, these accolades weren't exactly making me run towards this game. Many of the games that I play get honored with awards from time to time, but I think it's safe to say that Call of Cthulhu is going to be up for Mensa select award the same year that Mr. Potato Head gets a lifetime achievement ribbon. So, I was a little apprehensive about this game from the start. And besides, what kind of name WAS "Apples to Apples" anyway? Fruit doesn't normally inspire one to think about action, excitement, or fun (and if it does, typically you need psychiatric help). And yet, it got SOMEONE'S attention....I needed to feed my curiousity.
A multitude of different possible game designs ran through my head as I e-mailed Out of the Box Games for more information. Mark Alan Osterhaus, the lead designer of the game, very kindly sent me a reviewers copy Priority Mail (which meant I recieved the game 4 or 5 days later. My next review will be on the US Post Office; watch for it, won't you?). The moment I opened the package and saw a picture of two dancing apples staring back up at me, I realized that "Apples to Apples" was not going to be anything like I had expected.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is an example of "understatement".
The game itself is fairly simple. There are two types of cards, red apples and green apples. The red apple cards each have a picture of a demonic dancing apple and a noun ("people, places and things", in other words), followed by a phrase describing the word. The green apple cards, also adorned with the aforementioned dancing devil fruit, have an adjective on them ("words that describe nouns"). Each player is dealt seven of the red (noun) cards, and one player is named the judge. The Judge chooses the top green card, reads the adjective printed on it, and lays it face up on the table. The other players choose a card (up to two cards with four players) from their hand that is most closely described by the green card and lay them face down on the table. Since only the first four red cards on the table can be used, speed is of the essence here. At this point, the judge shuffles the red cards, reads them one at a time, and laying them out next to the green card, chooses which card is best described by the green card. The owner of the red card selected gets the green card and then play passes, with the next player becoming the judge and the round starting over. The first player to reach a set number of green cards is the winner. From reading the rules, the whole game sounds like little more than an elementary school grammar exercise.
"Apples to Apples" is a riot. I would need charts to explain just how much fun this game really is. Remember the red cards with the noun and little corrosponding phrases on them? These aren't "car", "bus" and "dog", oh no....
Oh my GOD, they quoted Devo! Any game that can quote Lovecraft AND Devo AND make perfect sense doing so is pretty much a must buy in my book. Four of us sat down to play this game, and wound up laughing just about every single round. After the first game, we read the cards, and then we had to play again. And where reading all of the cards might take away from the "newness" of other games, the sheer random nature of the game means that no hand will ever be the same, and so the laughs are different every time. On top of that, Out of the Box includes 324 noun cards and 108 green cards to go through, with two expansions planned in the coming months to add to it (although it stands alone just fine). The rules sheet is one page, but a game this simple doesn't really require a lot of guidelines (No rule books to flip through; yay!).
Don't let the "party game" moniker fool you; this is a game that would make a nice, quick, funny diversion between campaign sessions as much as it is a perfect way to pass the time among couples and families. It's simple, reasonably priced, and quick to play. In fact, the only negative about this game that I had (and the reason that it didn't get an "excellent" in style) was that the cards are printed on stock with only slightly less weight than a 3X5 card. I can already see where some of my own cards are already getting worn and bent after just a few games. However, this is a minor detail overall, and doesn't detract from the game (just me being picky).
As our group sat down to play "Apples to Apples" for the first time, I kept thinking about the first time we had played "Once Upon a Time" by Atlas Games. The two are totally different in just about every way, so I couldn't figure out why they struck me as similar at all. As I looked at the tears of laughter on the faces around me (mine included), it suddenly clicked.
We were having FUN. This is a simple game. No dice, no complex rules system, no figures. Just laughing and lots of fun. So often when people game, in the effort to memorize lots of rules to exploit or push the boundaries of what is allowed (myself included, to be sure), gamers can lose sight of the reason that they sat down to play in the first place; to have spend time with friends and have FUN. People, this game is just that, lots of fun. If you have kids, or adult friends (And don't worry Sandy A., you'll get some of those one day), or have friends who like having a good laugh, then you *need* to try "Apples to Apples"! Don't just take my word for it; just ask Mensa. People with high IQ's CAN'T be wrong.......
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)