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.)