Over the course of the last couple of years I have ran into a lot of what I refer to as “Apples to Apples” clones. These are games that all have the same basic guiding mechanic. Players choose something and pass it to the “leader” who then picks the one that they like best and the person who submitted that thing gets a point. First person to a certain number of points wins. It’s a very basic concept, there are no right or wrong answers in this style of game, it just a matter of playing to your judge. Knowing them well enough to choose an option that you think will be irresistible to them. Over the course of the last few years, I ran into many of these games, each with slightly different skews on this mechanic.
Apples to Apples is the original. I found this game when I was working at “Games By James” in 2005. It was one of our biggest sellers, and it was a game I had to explain roughly 500 times a day, more over the Christmas season.
Apples to Apples has two different types of cards: green cards which are adjectives, and red cards which are nouns. The leader picks a green card from the box and reads it out loud. For example “Fluffy” might be a chosen adjective. Then each player looks at their hand of red cards and tries to pick a noun that they think will be chosen by the leader. Some times these rounds are very literal, such as “Bunny” would be a very literal interpretation of “Fluffy”. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it the winner. Often in this game, the winner is the player who can cause the biggest laugh, or otherwise strikes a more personal chord with the judge.
Because of this, I always found Apples to Apples to be very limiting in it’s enjoyment by players. Maybe one choice every round will result in a laugh, sometimes less then that. Other times the choices are made based upon inside jokes which will only be understood by the submitter and the judge, leaving others in the dark. So while this is the original for this genre, it is far from my favorite adaptation.
Some time later I was introduced to “The T-Shirt Game“. This game seemed to solve my most basic issue with the original Apples to Apples. This game brought forth laughter for all involved, rather then relying on esoteric or inside jokes. This game worked upon the premise of matching a t-shirt design with a funny caption. This was geared for hilarity in it’s creation.
The T-shirt game however, did not hold to the model of “1 point” per chosen card. Instead, players received a card off of the prize deck for each round that they won. These cards could be worth a lot of points, or just a few points. Because of this, sometimes games went on for far too long. However, on the whole these cards seemed pretty balanced resulting in the person who won the most rounds still be the ultimate winner.
As if expanding on the popularity of these games, two more such games have come to my awareness in the past year: Crappy Birthday and Faux-Cabulary.
In Crappy Birthday players pass a single card to the player who is the judge, just like in Apples to Apples and The T-shirt game. However, the judge does not read a primer card (a card that sets up the round, like the adjective cards). Instead players are pandering directly to their judge, trying to choose from their hand the birthday present that the judge will hate the most. While the premise was funny, the replay-ability of this game was almost null. Approximately 200 cards came in the box, but this simply wasn’t enough to keep it fresh and interesting.
Faux-Cabulary ran into similar problems as Crappy Birthday, but it wasn’t due to the lack of a primer card. Faux-Cabulary did something very unique, they got rid of the cards, and instead used cubes and covers to pass words created from fragments to the judge. The word they created was based upon a silly definition read from a primer card. For example, the primer card might read “A word for old hair gel” and the a player could create a word such as “no-frizz-tastic”. The downfall was in the number of cubes. Because the designer shyed away from cards for this more inventive cube style, they also limited themselves on the word possibilities. The game only came with 21 cubes, and so only had a possibility of 126 different word fragments. This made the game feel stale in a hurry.
While I am sure there are other games of this style I am missing, these are the few that seem to most closely duplicate the Apples to Apples archetype. Other games exist on the market that have elements of Apples to Apples, but these games expand on the concept nicely, and therefore I don’t feel they should be lumped into this generic category. Dixit is a great example of this, and is worth taking a look at.
But in this battle for the best Apples to Apples clone, for me and my group, I feel that the T-shirt game wins hands down. It’s funnier then Apples to Apples, and it also exhibits great replay-ability, something that was desperately lacking in the other two.
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