Off the Shelf #2: Apples to Apples

Time for the next in my series of posts where I take a random game off my shelf and re-evaluate it. Today, it’s time for

image by BGG user EJKemp

Apples to Apples was first published in 1999 by the now-defunct Out of the Box Games, with Mattel now owning the license. The game was designed by Matthew Kirby and Mark Alan Osterhaus. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it’s a party game where one player is a judge and the others are trying to select word cards that fit a prompt given by the judge. For example, if the judge plays “Frightening”, you may want to play “Dracula.” Or “Clowns”. Or “Butterfly” if you’ve got nothing better to play (or if you do in fact suffer from lepidopterophobia). The judge picks their favorite, that player scores a point, and you continue.

I learned this game back in the early 2000s, before I got enmeshed in the hobby. Back then, I really enjoyed the creativity of being able to figure out what words to play, and even arguing my case in front of the judge. Technically, who played what card is supposed to be a secret, but it never has been in any game I’ve ever played.

I have very little patience for party games these days. The biggest problem with them is there’s too much emphasis on “party” and not enough emphasis on “game.” When you think of parties, you think of people having a good time, laughing, enjoying themselves. Or, in my case, not really knowing how to socialize and feeling anxious because I’m not enjoying myself like others are.

To me, party games in general are not really games. They’re social activities, designed to be enjoyed by people who don’t really care about winning and losing. And there’s a place for that, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of party games I think are fun to just sit around engaging in, but that doesn’t make them games. They usually give some good moments, but they inevitably always turn into people trying to force the fun.

Let me give a couple of examples that have nothing to do with Apples to Apples. I know I’m going off-topic here, but it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want. Once, I was watching a game of Reverse Charades. It started while I was in the middle of another game, and I didn’t much feel like participating anyway. But most of the people at the game night were participating, and it was interesting. If you don’t know Reverse Charades, it’s the same as regular charades, but instead of one person trying to get others to guess, a team of people is trying to get one person to guess.

There was one memorable moment where a family was playing as a team, and the thing they were trying to get the judge to guess was “changing a diaper”. The mom grabber her teenage daughter by the leg, flipped her over on her back, and started miming changing a diaper while the teenager (who was completely mortified) struggled to get away. It was incredibly funny.

When that game was over, most people said, “Let’s play it again!” Pro tip: NEVER DO THIS WITH A PARTY GAME. The second time through was not nearly as funny. The family was a team again, and tried their best to one-up their previous success, but failed miserably. Meanwhile, other games couldn’t happen because this party game was taking up the attention of most people. When that game ended, everyone went quickly to something else.

Another offender: Telestrations. I know, I know, a lot of people love Telestrations. I hate it. Mostly because people aren’t playing to do well, they’re trying to make things hi-LAR-ious. I remember playing one time with eight people, and we had to wait at least fifteen minutes for one round to end because one guy was trying to be a comic book artist in his books. He had all the remaining books stacked up beside him, and he was just over-illustrating everything. He was having a blast, everyone else was SO BORED waiting for him. And then, his pictures weren’t all that entertaining. At the end of the game, he said, “Let’s play it again!” I don’t think anyone fell for it that time.

My point is this: because party games encourage zany situations, people try too hard to force the fun. They are much more entertaining when things happen naturally, like with the diaper changing thing. But people have that natural hilarious moment and really want to replicate it, and everything falls apart after that.

Apples to Apples is such a game. I have not played in many years, and don’t particularly want to play again. We still have it because my wife still likes it. It’s an OK social activity, but it’s too prone to subjectivity. The judge picks a card to match the prompt, but because of the arguing, you know who gave which card, and so you ignore the person “in the lead” because you want to make things fair. Apples to Apples is also prone to that “forced zaniness” problem that affects most party games. As soon as someone plays a card that is very silly considering the prompt, people always want to one-up each other with their silliness, and most people are trying to make jokes with often very little success.

Apples to Apples is also responsible for inspiring Cards Against Humanity, which…there aren’t a lot of games on my “I will NEVER play that” list, but CAH is one of them. Apples to Apples is not. I don’t want to play Apples, but I won’t say I’ll never play it.

So, to wrap thing up, Apples to Apples is a game from one of my least favorite genres of gaming, and it’s definitely not anywhere close to my favorites in the field. Not anymore, anyway.

What would you pick?

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I hate ALL party games. There are some coming up later in this series (as long as I can keep it up) that are better at the “game” part, and I look forward to talking about them. For now, I’m continuing to rank my collection with this post. I don’t think it will come as a surprise that Morels remains at #1, and Apples to Apples is currently #2. But these ratings are of course only because I’ve only covered two games, and will definitely change.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe out there.

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