Posted by: gschloesser | December 8, 2011

Crappy Birthday – Review

Design by:  Brian & Amy Weinstock
Published by:  North Star Games
4 – 8 Players, 20 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Have you ever received a horrible gift for your birthday?  You know, one that instantly dispels the notion that “it is the thought that counts.”  One wherein you bite your tongue as you thank the gift-giver, but immediately after they depart, you toss the gift or donate it to your local charity thrift store.  We’ve likely all been the recipient of such, well, crappy gifts.

Paying tribute to these crappy gifts is Crappy Birthday, a new game from the husband and wife design team of Brian and Amy Weinstock and published by North Star Games.  The cube-shaped box contains two hundred gift cards, each with an attractive – and sometimes disturbing – photo of a potentially questionable gift.  Each card also has a brief and humorous explanatory statement about the gift.  The cards are of top quality and will likely withstand hundreds of plays – but you are unlikely to play the game anywhere near that many times.

The game plays almost identically to the immensely popular Apples to Apples.  Each player receives a hand of five cards.  Players alternate being the “birthday boy or girl”.  All other players give that player a gift they think the he will detest.  The player then chooses the one he would most dislike receiving.  The player who gave him that present keeps the gifted card, scoring one point.  Play continues in this fashion until one player accumulates three points which doesn’t take very long.

The fun and humor in the game is derived from the often outlandish gifts.   Would you like to receive 20 Sumo wrestling lessons?  How about a decorative urinal that looks like the big lips from the famous Rolling Stones album cover?  Perhaps you would prefer five Chihuahuas that you must keep for their entire lives?  Just the thought of receiving or giving such gifts generally results in laughter – a good thing for a party game.

To be honest, some gifts aren’t so bad.  The old adages “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “one person’s treasure is another person’s trash” are certainly applicable.  For example, I know many folks who would love to be enrolled in the “cigar of the month” club or receive flying lessons.  Indeed, part of the challenge of the game is knowing the likes and dislikes of the other players so that you can choose the appropriate – well, inappropriate – gift that will rankle the birthday boy or girl.

The game certainly succeeds in its objective – to serve as a fast and fun ice-breaker at a party or with a group of friends.  It is very easy to teach, understand and play.  Further, it plays to completion in 10 – 20 minutes – sometimes less.  It does generate considerable laughter, moans and groans. For a retail price of approximately $15.00, one cannot go wrong.

That being said, I do have a few quibbles.  The game plays too quickly with the rules as written. Playing until one player has acquired three cards can cause the game to end very quickly.  We immediately changed the rules, playing until a player acquires five cards.  Of course, this does deplete the deck of cards fairly quickly, making it grow stale even faster.  I am more concerned, however, with the game’s re-playability.  My wife and I played twice with two different groups and after the second playing, I now feel I am personally done with the game.  I have seen all of the cards, and the laughter they initially caused is now gone.  As such, I’m not eager to play again anytime soon.  That is a shame, as I usually want more staying power from games.  It seems to be a game that you should play with completely different groups each time so that you can at least enjoy their reactions.

So, I have mixed emotions.  The game certainly accomplishes what it sets out to do, and for a price that is truly amazing in today’s market.  However, in just two playings of the game, I feel it has quickly run its course and the freshness is gone.  There may be a better setting for the game than in a gamer’s collection.  I can envision it being a great game to have at a place with an ever-changing clientele, such as a coffee shop, fraternity or sorority.  It is a game that can be learned by anyone within a minute or so, negating the need for someone to constantly teach it and play it over and over again.  Perhaps in such a setting the game will maintain its freshness.  Also, it could be the type of game that you bring to a party that will be attended by folks with whom you normally don’t spend much time.  The drawback there, however, would be that you don’t know them very well, so choosing the gifts to give them would be a crap-shoot.

Perhaps, however, I am over-thinking this.  Perhaps, to borrow a phrase used by my good friend and fellow gamer Jim McDanold, the game “is what it is.”  You will likely get at least a few good plays that will generate laughter and amusement amongst those with whom you play.  And that, after all, is what the game was designed to do.



  1. Crappy Birthday may be the most successful of the Apples-to-Apples knock-offs, if only because it is so instantly hilarious. You may need a variant to return dead cards to the deck, because with a table of Geeks just about everyone WANTS the Star Wars action figure collection. The deck contains a short number of cards (just 200) which may limit replayability. But it works beautifully. (8/10)

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