Crappy Birthday To You…

Designer: Brian & Amy Weinstock
Publisher: North Star Games
Players: 4-8
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 20 minutes
Review by Mark Jackson (5 plays w/a
review copy provided by North Star Games)

Lost in the mists of time are the hours I spent in English classes (I have a B.A. in English literature with particular attention paid to the writings of Chaucer, John Steinbeck & C.S. Lewis)… seriously, it’s been so long since I took my Shakespeare class that all I can remember is how amazed I was that my professor, a noted Shakespeare scholar, could make these wonderful plays sound so boring.

By now, you’re probably wondering how my under-used undergrad degree ties in with a review of a party game from same folks who brought us Wits & Wagers and Say Anything. In fact, I’m going to tie it in twice:

  1. the fact that I have owned three different sets of the Complete Works of Shakespeare
  2. the miracle of context

The Complete Works of Shakespeare & Disney: Monopoly

Tis’ the season in which we buy gifts for people – probably too many gifts. You can tell when someone is scraping the bottom of the gift-giving idea barrel when they give an English major a set of Shakespeare volumes or a game collector a themed edition of Monopoly. (For the record, I like both Shakespeare & Monopoly… but I have 7 editions of Monopoly in my collection & have managed to give away 2 of the 3 Shakespeare sets.)

But the gifts pictured on the card set of Crappy Birthday are from a completely different barrel… they are (with a few lovely exceptions) gifts that only completely unhinged people might give you: their grandmother’s record collection, a decorative urinal or boots that look like feet.

My shortened descriptions don’t do the game justice, however – because the over-sized cards have great pictures of the offending items as well as witty descriptions of them. A real part of the enjoyment of the game is hearing these descriptions read aloud.

At it’s heart, Crappy Birthday is a reimplementation of the Apples to Apples “judge” mechanic – players in turn act as the judge while the rest of the table chooses a crappy birthday gift for them. When the judge picks the worst gift (in his ever-so-humble opinion), the player who “gave” it to him gets a point. The first player to 3 points wins.

The Miracle of Context

So, yes, the game is short (15-20 minutes) and simple. There’s probably even some questions about replayability with the same crowd of people.

And that’s where being an English major comes in handy. As a student of literature (or at least as someone who could write papers quickly & didn’t mind reading a bunch of poetry in order to pass a class), you learn that context is important. Isolated lines or metaphors can have their meanings twisted and misjudged when disconnected from their context.

The same thing is true for Crappy Birthday… North Star Games (the publisher) has said from the beginning that:

Crappy Birthday is designed to be taken as a gift to a party instead of a bottle of wine or a 6-pack of beer. The goal of Crappy Birthday is to get people talking, laughing, and having a good time as quickly as possible.

With a MSRP of $15.00, an offbeat sense of humor & really nice production and packaging, they’ve accomplished their goal.

And it’s within those parameters that you have to judge/review the game – the design does what it sets out to do & delivers at least 2-3 great plays with groups of gamers & non-gamers. We’ve had fun every time it’s hit the table and I’d be happy to play it again.

Extra Goodie: An Official Variant

The folks from North Star posted an official variant for Crappy Birthday that I think adds a nice touch – the judge picks the worst AND the best gift from the cards given to him.

Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers

Greg Schloesser:  My thoughts somewhat mirror Mark’s — other than his opinions of Monopoly and Shakespeare.  I’m not overly fond of either.  On Crappy Birthday, however, we are of one accord … up to a point.  The game is easy to learn, plays quickly and provokes some laughter — all trademarks of a good party game.

That being said, the game plays too quickly with the rules as written.  Playing until one player has acquired three cards happens too quickly.  We immediately changed the rules, playing until a player acquired five cards.  Of course, this does deplete the deck of cards fairly quickly, making it grow stale.  I am also more critical concerning the game’s re-playability.  My wife and I played twice with two different groups and after the second playing, I now feel done with the game.  I’ve seen all of he cards, and the laughter they initially caused is now gone.  As such, I’m not eager to play again any time soon.  That is a shame, as I usually want more staying power from games.

So, while I enjoyed my two playings of the game, I feel it has quickly run its course and the freshness is gone.

Matt Carlson: I’ve played the game with several different sets of people (family, the local youth group, the boardgame group at my high school) and it was universally well received by non-gamers and moderate boardgamers alike.  It was liked well enough to take out multiple times for each group.  I, too, felt that the game was a bit short with a 3 card win so would often increase a game to 4 or 5 cards (or whatever seemed appropriate based on our time available).  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and looking at the funny photos on the excellently produced cards is fun in itself.

I love the idea of the judge choosing the best and worst gift, as sometimes – even though the gifts are whacky – one simply ends up with a handful of choice gifts (at least for that one weird player – usually me.)  I will have to try that the next time I play.  Unfortunately, that may not be anytime too soon.  The game tends to lose its luster after a couple of plays (this was even noticed by some of the non-gamers with which I played), and only regains that fun edge again if played with a group consisting primarily of new players again.  Thus, while I think the game will see some repeat play, it will be more limited and scattered out amongst my various gaming groups.

The price point is excellent, and the production values are top notch (love the whole presentation of the cards with funny photos and a pithy quote) but the game will dim a bit under repeated play.  I’d be hesitant simply to bring the game to a party and leave it, as I wouldn’t want the hosts to feel obligated to play it over and over again.  However, I will get my use out of the game simply by playing it in the local high school club and my church’s youth group, as both of those audiences rotate in and out every couple years and the game will always be fresh to someone.

Dale Yu: This is a cute little party game.  Having talked with some of the guys from North Star Games – that’s exactly what they want you to do with the game… Bring the game to a party, play it to have a good time, and then leave it as part of your present!  Like many of the party games, the fun is usually not in winning or in losing but rather in the laughing and joking that the game causes as well as learning a few things about people that you didn’t know before!  I’ve played it twice, and I have enjoyed it both times.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!…
I like it… Mark Jackson, Dale Yu
Neutral… Matt Carlson, Greg Schloesser
Not for me…

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 44 as he did at age 14
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