I found this game at Gen Con 2011 and I was intrigued. We heard the short explanation of the game, and by the last day of the con, we walked out with a copy to take home and try with friends. What we found was less then thrilling.
Crappy Birthday is an “Apples to Apples” clone, plain and simple, but I had kinda known that going into it. In the demo we were shown some cards of really bad birthday gifts, you pick one gift and pass it to the judge (the birthday girl or boy) face down and they mix them up and then read them out loud and show them. They pick which they think would be the worse birthday gift for them and the player who played that card gets a point. First person to three points wins.
When we got this game home and played a couple of games of it, we realized the fatal flaw: There isn’t any creative combining of cards in this game, and so the deck gets really boring really fast. For example, one of the funny bad gifts was a set of calendar window blinds. Given that the deck of cards isn’t very big (only 200 cards), in every game I played we saw that card. And given that you weren’t combining that card with any other cards, the window blinds were always just window blinds.
What do I mean by combining? In other Apples to Apples type games a player is combining a card in their hand with some other card that has been played out for the group. For example, a word like “cuddly” might be played out and people could pass cards with other words to the judge. This interaction of the “cuddly” card with the cards in your hand gives those cards new meaning. None of that is present in Crappy Birthday.
The other major complaint I got from my players was that the gifts just weren’t awful enough. Yes, there were some really bad ones, like the calendar window blinds, but there were also several really good ones, like a custom built chopper motorcycle. While that might not be someone’s preferred gift, it’s hard to believe that would be the worse to anyone. This led to some player frustration, as their hands filled with cards that were sure to lose them a round.
This game was a fun premise, just not very good follow through. What would have been a better use of this concept? Give the players a hand full of different cards and let them combine those cards to create a crappy gift. For example: If your hand contained the words “Window Blinds”, “Calendar”, “Wind-up”, “Ceramic”, and “Monkey” you could create really awful gifts such as “a calendar monkey: flips your calendars for you at work!” , “Wind-up window blinds: Opens automatically by windup power”, “Window blind monkey’s: create an attractive window covering using real live monkeys!” Now that could have been a fun game.
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