Sunday, 1 June 2008


Pretty much every time I play Scattergories, it turns into a shouting match (and I hope that's a general rule, and not just a function of my presence). Not that arguments are necessarily a bad thing in a game - if there's no competitive element and no drive to win, any game can become meaningless - but it does seem to happen every time.

Usually it'll be over some vagueness in the category - how famous does someone have to be to qualify as notorious? If something is found in one persons fridge, can it be said to be something that is 'found in a fridge' or does it need to be more common than that? And sometimes it's something more abstract - can Superman be an answer in the category 'something that can fly' if he doesn't exist. How can something fly if it doesn't exist? And if you can put superman down, can I put 'Steve the flying puppy' down? Of course he can fly, it's there in his name. Whatever the answer to these questions, half the fun is arguing back and forth with increasing frustration for half an hour until it becomes clear that whatever answer is decided on, someone is going to go off in a strop afterwards.

Anyway, for a while I've been trying to get people to play "Apples to Apples", and finally managed to convince a group to try it last night. The game is actaully a published one, and the description from wikipedia is here, but when it was first explained to me, it was explained as a party game, rather than an official one, and I think the unofficial version has some advantages.

The point of the game is to match a series of adjectives (chosen by the "judge") from an increasingly small selection of nouns in your hand. Rather than being dealt particular "noun card", as in the published game, I think it's more fun and interesting to get players to write their own nouns at the start of the round, to encourage variety and allow for additional tactics from the players.

In the official version, the 'judge' picks the winning noun based on the face value of the card, wheras in the version I was taught, players are allowed to argue for or against the different nouns on offer, and the judge can choose to take their arguments into account, or not. I think this adds a real extra level of tactical depth to the game, without running into the problems that can mar a game of Scattergories.

Since the arguing is a part of the game, it is less damaging than it can be if the argument is about the game. Whereas in Scattergories, the players are arguing about something that is not necessarily covered by the rules of the game, and so cannot be resolved fairly easily, in Apples to Apples, the argument is made to an official judge, who's role is to adjudicate. Whether the judge chooses fairly or not, all players have a chance to be the judge, and all players know that they will have another chance to argue their case in the next round.

In this way, the arguments become tactical ones: don't screw anyone else over too badly, or they might judge you more harshly in the future; argue based on the judge's character - exploit his or her areas of uncertainty; support other players when you've got no hope of winning a round, and hope to win their support later on.

Whether or not the unofficial version is better than the official one, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it produced some fantastic comparisons and arguments. We played 24 rounds with 6 judges, and these are the best ones I can remember:

I won "Reflective" with "9/11", "Shady" with "Adolf Hitler" and "Rhythmic" with "William Shakespeare", while "Coalition of the Willing" won "Superfluous". In possibly the longest argument of the night, "Jesus" eventually triumphed over "Captain Planet" and "Play-Doh" on "Merciful", though it was a very close run thing, and the most surprising decision was probably on "Intriguing", where "God" was edged out by "Philippe Senderos".

It takes a couple of rounds to get people warmed up, and you need to be comfortable arguing with your friends over inconsequential decisions within the context of the game, but if you can get into the spirit of it, there's enough scope for tactics (and meta-tactics) to make the game interesting and fun.

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