Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who Won? Who Cares? - Apples to Apples

One of my really good friends hates Apples to Apples.  I mean really despises everything about the game. And most of the time, I agree with him. I think that, as a game, it's terrible.  But that really comes down to your definition of game, doesn't it?

See, Apples to Apples is all about knowing your audience and trying to play to their preferences.  I don't think I've ever enjoyed myself playing completely by the rules.  But some of the most fun I've had at game-related gatherings was spent playing the game.

Why is that?

  1. Only play with people you want to get to know better. This isn't a game I'm going to play with people I dislike - moreso than other games. Even if the dislike is only mild, it gets in the way of the play, as I'm dramatically more likely to throw something designed to irritate them.
  2. Don't throw cards randomly.  Think about what you're playing.  If you have no good cards, discard your hand and draw a fresh hand. Is the deck somehow exhausted?  Reshuffle it.
  3. As the adjudicator, don't just say "No ... No ... No ... Yes."  Give reasons.  "I used to keep garter snakes that I caught in the yard, so I don't find Snakes to be at all Creepy."
  4. Don't keep score.  The game isn't about winning - it's about getting to know the other people at the table. In fact, when you "win" a card, just put it in a discard pile.  This is not a game people can win.
  5. Stop when you're bored with the game, not when an arbitrary goal is hit.  If we get two turns in and no-one is having a good time? Time to stop. Have we been going for six hours and it's time to get some sleep?  Time to stop.
  6. Allow players to drop in and out. Since you're not keeping score, there should be no reason players can't deal themselves in and out more-or-less at will.  This also allows for a continual table of this game at larger gatherings that serves as a "not in another game" pool. That way, when Saint Petersburg finishes and two people there want to play something different, they can head to the Apples to Apples table and mention that they need "at least one more" for whatever they feel like playing.  Or they can jump in and wait for Battlestar Galactica to end (sometime next week ... ).
These six tweaks make the game less of a game and a lot more fun for me.  I think that - realistically - removing the game aspects of keeping score and figuring out a winner is the thing that most works towards adding fun to the game. Because I'm not focused on, "Which of these crappy cards can I just dump for a laugh so that I can get a usable card later?"  Instead, my focus is on, "Which of these cards is most likely to pull an interesting or revealing response from the judge?"

In other words, it re-aligns the goal of play to one that (to me, at least) better fits the game in the box than the rules which are included in the box.

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