When I was in college we played a lot of Settlers of Catan, but we also played a lot of Apples to Apples. Some of the biggest laughs I’ve ever had at a game table came from those early days, before Apples to Apples was sold in every store and had become a mainstream hit. Once someone matched up “Manly” with “Anne Frank,” and we had to take a 10 minute break while everyone recovered. My wife and I got a copy for our wedding, and we trot it out every so often with the right crowd. I like it well enough, but it’s kind of a stupid game, one that acts more as a joke-generating experience than as an actual competition. That’s not really a problem, just something that I’ve come to accept.
But tonight our housemate invited some friends over to play games with us. We’ve been trying to work out a good evening for this for a while, and I wasn’t sure what kind of crowd he would be bringing. It ended up being a couple of teens from his youth group and his youth pastor, and we eventually settled on playing Apples to Apples. Now I’ve played that game a ton of times, but I’ve never had an experience quite like this one. It was a very uninhibited group, dedicated to debating the various merits of different cards. I didn’t think I would ever have to convince someone that yes, “baked beans” is a better fit than “Disneyland” for “delicious.” But that’s just what I had to do, and I failed! It’s right there on the side of the box: it says lobbying and campaigning for your card is accepted and expected. I’ve never seen a group so committed to that, and it brought out an aspect of the game I’d never seen before. It was more about putting something out there and then fighting for it, much more competitive and, I might add, way funnier.
It’s always a nice surprise when a game that isn’t much more than a diversion suddenly lands on the table and produces one of the funniest sessions I’ve had in a long time. I’ve written before that games are very much about with whom you play them, and that goes double for party games. I still don’t love the game enough to play a bunch. After all, this was the first time since college that I’ve been able to really find that laugh-till-you-can’t-breathe experience, and I’ve had many laughs over the years from this game since that time. Sometimes the old workhorses have a surprise left in them.