Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Apples to Oranges

I have an unfashionable confession to make: I do not enjoy the game Apples to Apples. I will play it, sure, if such is the will of the people, and I will try to be gracious and make the game fun for others, but in terms of ways to while away an evening with a game, I would choose almost anything else.

The rules for Apples to Apples are simple: one person reads an adjective (a green card), and each other player has a set number of nouns (red cards) in their hand. The other players choose a red card that they think the person who read the green card will think is the most fitting noun for that adjective. Players can lobby for any option they choose, but at the end, only the judge--the reader--has the power to decide which player will be awarded the green card. Five green cards collected in this way wins the game.

Sounds fun, right? That's what I thought...until I played. I enjoy the premise of Apples to Apples, just not the game itself. In reality, Apples to Apples is arbitrary and frustrating. I can hear my detractors ready to pipe up, "Well, that's the point of the game. That's what makes it fun. You have to know the person who's judging!" My response: "Baloney." Judges, on the whole, even the most conscientious, do not have the kind of consistency necessary to fully guess what will be chosen. Sure, you might be able to point to the Spider-man fan and know that the Spider-man card will always get his vote, but that's about the only certainty in the game. The rest is guessing, pure and simple. It could be a fun way to have a discussion--which of these cards really fits the adjective?--and laugh at the irony of ill-fitting cards submitted for judgment, but most of the game, in my experience, follows mob rule, and there is very little room for actual discussion.

So, Apples to Apples is not my cup of tea. And, if you like, you can write me off as the muttering loser who scores points only rarely. I won't be offended, but neither will I want to play again any time soon.

My recommendation, if you have a group together and would like to play a game that's fun and simple and not Apples to Apples, is the Game of Things. (I know they sell a version of this in a box; I can't vouch for it that it's the game I'm about to describe. I played a version where the players made everything up. It was a blast.) You'll need a decent amount of paper, cut into small slips, and a pen for each player. The way we played this is that before the game starts, every person who is playing writes down three categories that involve the word "things." (Examples: Things found on a beach, things you wish your mother wouldn't say, things you wish Santa would bring you.) When you make up the categories, you can also use things specific to people in the group. (One category when we played was "The little things that matter to _____"--this ended up being the best category of the night.)

Once all the categories are in, place them in a hat. The first player (decide amongst yourselves) draws a category, and each player, including the player who read the category, submits a "thing" that fits in that category. Things can be as ordinary or as creative as the players want. Then, once all the things are submitted, the category player reads each answer twice and no more. Going clockwise around the circle, players guess who submitted each answer. If a player guesses correctly, he goes again and the player whose thing was guessed is out of the guessing. (Each correct guess scores a point.) Play continues until only one person's thing remains unguessed, or all the remaining players cannot remember what things have not been guessed. The last player standing (or players standing if a truce is called) scores five additional points, and the next player reads a category.

What I like about this game is the creativity of it. You can submit anything, and it's great fun to hear what your friends come up with. I enjoy it more than Apples to Apples because there is some objectivity to it (you submitted that answer--yes or no; there's no denying it) and the players are not limited to what is written on cards. (I know that Apples to Apples has the blank cards in the box so players can submit their own answer for judgment, but I've never seen those turn out well; they seem a little clunky to me.) The Game of Things is like Scattergories without the timer and without the limitation of a letter. In other words, it doesn't require a large vocabulary, and it seems fit for a wide range of people. The only problem I foresee is that players who are out are out until the next round. With a large group this could get boring (though I don't think it does).

Another great group game, which I will not discuss in depth, is Caveman Telephone (which, from what I understand, has been packaged for retail as Telestrations). Or Catch Phrase. Or Cranium. Or, if you're adventurous and want to try some Euro games with more rules, Bohnanza, Bang, or Incan Gold. My point is, let's move on from Apples to Apples, shall we? (And Scene It, but thankfully that one has been shelved for a while.)


  1. I love the Game of Things! My friends and I played a more organic version of it that we named "The Question Game," but it followed the same premise. The Game of Things is good for those who need more structure (written rules, playing pieces, etc.) for their game playing.

  2. I enjoy apples to apples, although my least favorite time to play it is as an extra to someone elses group. On Lauren's birthday we played with her family, and me and Amanda both lost miserably because they all just new each other too well and we rarely snuck in.

    I enjoyed the Game of Things too, but I'm terrible at remembering all the things so I'm not to great at that either.

    Incidentally, you could almost convert Apples to Apples to the Game of Things, simply by going around and guessing who played which card on the adjective instead of the judge picking one that fits the most. You'd just have a constant reference to what was left to be guessed.

  3. @Erin--Could you describe the question game? And did you play the boxed version of Game of Things? Was it the same as what I described?

    @Wolfie--Yes, that would be the worst. I can see how Apples to Apples might be fun in just the right group, but as you point out there, it can be nearly miserable in the wrong group. And you're right--you could play Things with A2A cards. Alternatively, you could play Things with all the slips lying in the open. Of course, then handwriting becomes a factor.

  4. I bought Things ( a garage sale for $2 last year. It may have been the best purchase ever. It would have come with me had I ever made it back to Chicago since then. I love it, especially when playing with "writerly" types. It's fun to try and "disguise" your handwriting or throw out an answer that would make someone think it belongs to someone else. All the rules you play with are the same except that I have cards to choose from rather than creating your own categories.

    But I still love Apples to Apples, too, because it gives me suggestions I never would've come up with on my own.

  5. Hi Jonathan

    I am the co-inventor of "The Game of Things...". Good for you for coming up with your own version of THINGS... to play with your friends. Your rules are very close to our original rules (although since we licensed it to HASBRO for Canada & the US they made some rule changes). I do hope that someday you do play our official version that comes in a box (we did coin and copywrite the name The Game of THINGS...). We played THINGS... for many years just to make each other laugh before we even thought about putting it on the market and so most of our topics have been tested and have inspired a lot of comedy. At the least you should check out our website which we relaunched in December and now you can actually play a few topics for free on-line. There is also a contest to win free copies of THINGS... and if you check in monthly there will be other fun ways to get involved and possibly win something.

  6. The game of things has a little bit of the same problem Wolfie mentioned with Apples to Apples- if you're sort of an extra in someone else's group, it makes it much harder to play, and not as much fun in general. When we played, I only knew you and the hosts of the party, but I had to try guessing what this guy I met 20 minutes ago wrote down (while also trying to remember what his name is in the first place). It was still fun-ish, but I think it would be better with a group you know.