Critical Play: Apples to Apples

Name: Apples to Apples

Creator: Matthew Kirby and Mark Alan Osterhaus (published by Mattel)

Ages: 12+

Intro: Apples to Apples has carved out a niche within the judging games genre, appealing to a wide audience and becoming a classic family game through its simplicity, humour, and social interaction.

Critical Formal Elements:

  • Procedures/Mechanics:
  • Each player is dealt a hand of seven red apple cards. During a round, one player serves as the judge and draws a green apple card, revealing the adjective to the group. The other players select a red apple card from their hand that they think best matches the adjective and submit it facedown. The judge then shuffles the submitted red apple cards, evaluates them, and selects the one they find most fitting, humourous, or appealing. The player who submitted the winning card receives the green apple card, and the role of the judge rotates to the next player.
  • Objective: Winning a pre-determined number of green cards or a set time limit is reached, can be house rules.
  • Outcomes: It is a zero-sum game in the sense that only one or two players will be “winners”, depending on the rules decided on. However, the fun is created by the gameplay itself and is not really shaped by the outcome, since the ambition to win (at least in our case) doesn’t really create a driving force to keep playing. The inter-player humour and fun of seeing what cards others will play trumps the desire to win.
  • Resources: Comprises two decks of cards: red apple cards, which contain nouns, and green apple cards, which contain adjectives.

Kinds of fun and what makes for a compelling game: Apples to Apples engages players in several types of fun, including discourse, fellowship, and expression. Fellowship is a key component of the game, as it fosters fun interaction and lively conversation among the players. Expression is evident when players attempt to tailor their card choices to the judge’s preferences and showcase their creativity and humour. Lastly, discourse is fostered as players often engage in discussions and debates over the submitted card choices.

What I enjoyed was that even though the cards were well-defined, there really was no limit to which card you could play when. In a round where we were supposed to submit a “Mysterious” card, the card someone played, “Tomato Ketchup,” seemed out of place, but won because it made us laugh. Although the game isn’t super flexible with what you can choose to express yourself with (you’re dealt the cards and the prompts), the limit to what you play when is predominantly defined by the judge, which is why I’d say that expression and discourse dominates the gameplay more than all other types of fun.

Why it works and how it can be improved: Apples to Apples works because it’s simple, accessible, and fosters light-hearted conversation among players. The game requires minimal setup and can be played pretty much anywhere, making it an attractive option for casual settings. I’d improve the game by expanding the decks to include a broader range of nouns and adjectives, as well as incorporating more unexpected cards or diverse references. I did find that the ways in which I could express myself sometimes felt limited and called for some expansion of my options. I would therefore argue that the game limits originality, since the content of the cards isn’t as daring as some other games and it still caters to very basic concepts which don’t get very interesting no matter what you pair them with.

Where it stands within its genre: Compared to other judging games like Cards Against Humanity and Dixit, Apples to Apples stands out for its family-friendly appeal. While Cards Against Humanity thrives on edgy humour and adult themes that some families definitely wouldn’t enjoy, Apples to Apples caters to a broader age range and focuses on MUCH more lighthearted word associations. Dixit, on the other hand, relies on visual storytelling and abstract thinking. Apples to Apples is more accessible and easier to learn than Dixit, making it a more suitable choice for players who seek that. However, as I said before, this simplicity may also limit its depth, causing the game to become repetitive over time. This made me realise that a game like Dixit may be more suitable for a person like me who doesn’t prefer having more constraints. I’d thus classify Apples to Apples’ target audience as people who enjoy family-friendly games and enjoys having more rather than fewer guiding constraints.

How vulnerable do you need to get? Not very vulnerable, as the game does not really call for it and personal disclosures are not a central component of gameplay. Instead, the game emphasizes wit and an understanding of the “judge”‘s preferences, but in a way that is suitable for all ages.

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