A new game that North Star Games has come out with (that they are marketing as something to bring to a party instead of a bottle of wine or case of soda) is Crappy Birthday.
If you've played Apples to Apples, then basically you already know how the game is played. Each player has five cards in his hand representing "really awful" birthday gifts (awfulness like beauty is apparently in the eye of the beholder). Players take turns being the person receiving a birthday present. Your job, as someone who apparently hates your friends, is to give them the worst gift imaginable. Do you happen to know that your friend hates heights? Then you should of course give him Skydiving sessions. Does he hate board games? (Then why is he playing?) Then you should of course give him (my personal favorite card) a Crappy Birthday Party (this card is awesome, because it is actually a picture of the people from North Star Games playing Crappy Birthday)! The person who is receiving the gifts then takes all of the cards, shuffles them up, and reveals them to all the players for everyone's amusement. Next, he picks which one is truly his most hated gift and whoever played that card receives a point. The first person to get three points is the winner (and you might be leery when receiving a present from them in the future)!
The first pro for Crappy Birthday is that it is designed to be amusing. Whereas with Apples to Apples (you're going to get a lot of comparisons to this game since they use the same mechanics) you are trying to get the best match, and thus you are supposed to play "seriously" (I always play the funniest one either way; and I rarely win), in Crappy Birthday you are actually playing what you think is the most atrocious - and these are much funnier. So, though Apples to Apples is marketed as a fun game with a lot of laughs, the rules to Crappy Birthday actually encourage this amusement and, in my opinion (which is the one that gets published since I'm the author of the blog) this makes the game much funnier.
The next thing that I liked about Crappy Birthday are the pictures on each card. This is probably the biggest difference to that other game that is named after Apples. In Crappy Birthday, each card has a picture of what this awful gift would look like. After all, what if you weren't really that imaginative and couldn't think up what a Hairless Cat would look like. They provide the picture to help you realize just how horrible of a gift that would be. I must say that some of my favorite pictures (aside from the Crappy Birthday Party mentioned earlier) are the "Decorative Urinal", the "Taxidermy Your Pet", and "A Llama Named Lloyd."
Unfortunately, there are also some cons to Crappy Birthday. Most notably (and ironically, since North Star Games is actually the company that fixed this con in Say Anything) is that if your cards aren't being picked, then you can quickly feel a bit left out of the game. This is a glaring problem to me in both this game and the Fruit game - after a few rounds of playing the card that you think is "perfect" and still not getting picked, it is pretty easy to start eagerly waiting for the game to be over. Say Anything fixed this by allowing you to bet on what answers you think would be picked so that you were always engaged, but I guess that North Star was trying for a simpler game that could more easily be brought and played as a party favor. I'm sad that they re-introduced this con by doing so, however.
The next con that I have for the game is that there are a lot of "horrible presents" that all of my friends would love. For example, I got this game at GenCon, and I played it with my friends who were with me at the convention. (If you read this and don't know what GenCon is, GenCon is a gigantic gaming convention currently held in Indianapolis. Also, since you apparently enjoy games but aren't insanely obsessed with them like me, please share my site with your friends - I like helping people find games that they will like. I think that there's a game out there for just about everyone. Anyway…) Cards like "Star Wars Collection," "Weeklong Renaissance Fair," and "Suit of Armor" aren't ever helpful to play. Everyone that I was playing with would have been very excited to receive any of those things. And so if you are unfortunate enough to draw too many of these wonderful "crappy" birthday presents, then you won't have a chance at winning. (I think the point of the game is to "have fun," but I am very competitive. It's ok, I'm nice to the people I play with while secretly hoping I crush them.) And, yes, I know that my friends are weird. I did start this paragraph by telling you that we were playing it at GenCon, though, so you should've expected that.
Overall, I give Crappy Birthday an 8.0/10. I debated a bit on this game and what I thought the score should be, especially because it's not especially innovative. However, I think the game is solid and, more specifically, I think that North Star really succeeded on their goal for the game - to make a game that you could inexpensively buy and bring to a party and know that you will have fun playing it with a group of friends. I don't think that they were worried with if you would be able to play it dozens of times - I think they were more concerned on whether you could get $15 of enjoyment out of it, and I think you can.
I would like to thank North Star Games for providing me with a review copy of Crappy Birthday. In addition to being available at Amazon, Crappy Birthday will be available at Barnes & Noble starting September 2011.