Apples to Apples was developed by ImaginEngine and published by THQ. It was released December 7, 2011 for 800 MSP. A copy was provided for review purposes.

When the word practical is in question, which comes to mind first: video games or card games? It all depends on the context, doesn’t it? Not in Apples to Apples, where silliness abounds and players can make as little or as much sense as possible. This party game is roughly a million years old and has been played roughly forty bajillion times, and it’s finally found its way to Xbox Live Arcade.

Apples to Apples is a very simple game where a variable amount of players take turns choosing green apple cards with adjectives on them such as “explosive”, “repulsive” or “loud”. All the other players then choose from a hand of seven red apple cards with all sorts of words which endeavor to be like that green card, ranging from actions such as “running” to people like “Leonardo DeVinci”. The goal is to match the green card with a red card as best as possible, but Apples to Apples has always been a party game and party games love house rules, so some players may not play by the book. The XBLA version introduces a single player feature as well as a different variant to the game’s multiplayer, but at its core this is a game of silly comparisons.

Here’s what we liked:

Fun with friends – Apples to Apples, whether operated with cards or controllers, is an incredibly fun game to play in social situations. The rules are very straightforward so the game can be taught in less than a minute. The ways in which people choose to follow the rules is largely interpretive, allowing each individual in the game to put their own personal spin on their decisions. On top of that, being able to play this staple party game with friends that aren’t in the room is the primary reason to purchase this game.

Variable play options – Social and party games need to have different ways to play them, otherwise they get dry. Apples to Apples has plenty of built-in variation, but on top of that this version has gold cards which allow people to change up the game, sort of like events in Monopoly. On top of that players can shorten or lengthen their games to fit into their own schedule or tolerance for the game’s shenanigans.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Tacked on single player – The single player portion of this game is pretty phoned in. Players can breeze through this single player in a very short amount of time, maybe half an hour. There’s a series of different apples with different personalities and the goal is to pick the red card that matches their stereotype’s idea of the green card. For instance a football player would think rugby is fun, but a hippie wouldn’t. Selecting the cards isn’t just a pick and choose process, however, instead each card has a five letter word which must be spelled out on a small 5×5 board. Halfway through the game players will have to start spelling the word by guessing what it is. When the game starts using several cards with people’s names that not everyone knows, it gets frustrating.

Card game better for local – Nothing beats a four player XBLA game, but when that game is based on a card game which seats up to eight (or sometimes more if insanity is encouraged) players it’s difficult to match up, especially since only three people can be choosing red cards at a time. Beyond that the cards can’t be secret because everyone has to look at the screen. A metagame styled “pick the current card, one to the left or one to the right” mechanic is employed but ultimately if a judge wants to break the game he or she can.

What you see is what you get – There’s little depth to the board game, and the XBLA version much of an innovation. A new game mode is added which really isn’t all that fantastic–perhaps a decent diversion if nothing else. The gold cards are also a nice diversion from the typical game’s formula, but they don’t really evolve the game. Avatar use and backgrounds don’t really help, and neither does the blatant “buy DLC to get these pieces of the game” unlocks in the menus of the basic game.

Apples to Apples is Apples to Apples. It’s a fantastic party game for playing with well known friends, relatives and rivals. The XBLA version is 800MSP whereas the card game can go for about $16 USD. Unfortunately the XBLA version really pales in comparison when featured at actual parties hosted at someone’s house. Diehard fans of this game should buy it, especially if their group has access to a 360 with online capabilities as there’s nothing different about the online multiplayer and playing the card game in a room with friends. People who have never played this game are advised to find someone that has the actual card game, play it, love it, then convince their friends to get on XBLA.

Score: Try it!