by Herb Levy


[Getting together with friends is a great way to spend some time. And a good party game can be the catalyst in making a good time great! What works best can vary from group to group, from eye strain to brain strain to stunts and more. So, here are a few party games for your consideration as we cover a bunch of them, quite literally, from A to Z!]

APPLES TO APPLES (Out of the Box Games,, “core” game, $19.99; expansion sets $14.99 each; Apple crate $34.99)


Back at the 1999 New York International Toy Fair, we were invited to sit in on a session of a new adult party game. The whole point of being at the show was to experience as much as possible so we gave it a try. Was it good? No. It was great! The game was called Apples and Oranges (and featured in the Spring 1999 GA REPORT). Well, the game was soon renamed Apples to Apples but the game play remained as good as ever.

This Matthew Kirby design is for 4 to 10 players, ages 12 and up, and comes with two sets of cards: one set featuring the NAME of a person, place, thing or event and a second set featuring the CHARACTERISTIC of a person, place, thing or event. Players begin with a hand of name cards. The leader of the round (known as the “judge”) draws a characteristic card and all of the other players select a card from their hands and play it face down. The judge collects the cards and decides which of the cards best “matches” his drawn card. The best match is anything the judge decides, funniest, logical or whatever. Whoever played that matching card gets the name card as his reward. Players draw a new card to replenish their hands, the “judgeship” passes to the player on the left and we do it all over again. First player to win the needed number of cards (based on how many are playing) wins the game!

The success of the game has led to four expansion sets so far (giving players more cards to use), Junior editions (for gamers as young as 7 years old) and even an “apple crate” to hold the game and the first 2 expansions! This game still ranks in the upper echelon of adult party games. No adult party game makes us laugh like this one. After all these years, Apples to Apples hasn’t lost its flavor.


GrayMatter (GrayMatter Games, , 2 or more players or teams, 60 minutes, ; $34.95)

There seems to be no end to the onslaught of trivia games that flood the market. Rising up from the glut, however, is a relatively new entry from Canada: GrayMatter

There are four types of questions in the game: Reverse Logic (where the topic has some kind of relationship to the following question), Hear Say (involving movie lines, famous quotes and the like), Anything Goes (from sports to math and anything in between) and Oddball (whatever else is out there).The twist here is that when you pick a category, each category card contains TWO questions. Each question has a title (called a “subject clue”) and the players can choose which of the two to try to answer. The chosen question is then read and four possible answers given. Get it right and you advance around the board and go again. This continues until a wrong answer is given or a player gets 3 right answers in a row. In either case, the turn shifts to the next player. If you get an answer wrong, however, you suffer a “setback” and move backwards along the track. Wager, Gamble and High Roller spaces allows a player to gamble and move further ahead with a right answer. (Of course, miss the question and go back that additional amount.) When you are about to win (by entering the center circle), you choose one of the four categories but your opponents choose which of the two questions you must answer. Get it wrong and you go back 5 spaces. Get it right and you’ve achieved “GrayMatter Supremacy”.

Subtitled “the ultimate game of choice, chance and knowledge”, there is some choice in picking questions and a little knowledge can go a long way but the subject clues can be so nebulous as to increase the chance factor. On the other hand, this does tend to neutralize the “trivia expert” and keep the game on a more equal footing. Limiting a player’s turn to a maximum of three right answers also minimizes the potential for serious downtime. For gamers who can’t get enough of trivia and are willing to gamble on what they think they know, GrayMatter could be a safe bet.


Rigamarole ( Hidden Talents LLC, , 2 players or teams, about 60 minutes,, $34.95)


Designed for play by two to four teams of players, ages 16 and up (although younger players could probably handle this without any problem), this party game challenges players to “prove their skills” in five categories.

In an unusual approach, players search around the room for something to use as their game piece. The team with the “tallest” piece goes first. The die is rolled and the team’s piece moves (back or forward) around the board’s circular path and follows the directions on the landed space.

Four different categories are possible: Word of Mouth (various word games from telling a story to tongue twisters), Stage Fright (charades), Sensory Perception (using the game’s blindfold [!], players have to identify sounds, foods etc.) and Uncommon Knowledge (identifying well known people or things with clues). Three special spaces allow you to pick your own category, allow your opponents to choose one for you (at double the possible score) and roll again. Now, here is where the game is a little different.

Each card either has a multiple choice question OR a single task/answer. Unless stated otherwise on the card, a team has 60 seconds to meet the challenge. If successful, the team earns 5 stones. (The game comes with glass beads that act as currency). In addition, each card has a certain function. It is either a Rite of Passage OR an Option to Buy.

To win the game, a team needs a Rite of Passage card from each of the four categories. Successfully complete your card and you keep it. Alternatively, a team may BUY a Rite of Passage card from an opposing team for 20 stones. (The stones go back to the bank.) An Option to Buy allows you to BUY a Rite of Passage card for 5 stones, a substantial discount. (Once an Option to Buy card is used, it is discarded.)

With a Rite of Passage in each category, the team advances to the center space where they must perform a Hidden Talents challenge. Challenges are more like stunts: hold your breath the longest, walk with a book on your head without dropping it etc. If successful, they win the game!

If when you think of a “party game”, you think “stunts”, then Rigamorole is exactly what you’re looking for.


SMARTY PARTY (R&R Games, for 3-8 players, ages 10 and up,; $24.95.)


Smarty Party has been around for awhile now. Designed by Pitt Crandlemire and Aaron Weissblum (the same Weissblum who has designed many Euro-style games both separately and teamed with Alan Moon), we have, once again, people shouting out answers and moving around a track. But this time, you’re betting you know how much the opposition knows and the players try to come in last!smartyparty

One of the players, known as the “Reader”, takes on of the 100 list cards and places it in the card holder. The topic of the card is announced as well as the number of items on the list and the “Wager” number (found on the upper right hand corner of the card. The Reader then declares whether or not he thinks the other players will guess at least as many items from the List as the Wager Number.

Players try to guess items on the card in turn. If they guess one correctly, the item is checked off by sliding the matching button on the card holder. If a smiley face is revealed, that player moves back one space. If a player supplies a wrong answer, he takes a Penalty Chip. No guess? No problem. You get a Penalty Chip too! There are seven Penalty Chips – one 3, two 2 and four 1 – and players can get stuck with more than one chip.

The game comes with its namesake, a pair of rubbery pants (“Smarty Pants”). These Smarty Pants are awarded to each player as they guess correctly (think of “hot potato” in reverse because you WANT these pants). The round ends when all items on the list card have been guessed or when the last Penalty Chip has been claimed. Now you score.

The player left with the Smarty Pants discards his highest Penalty Chip. (No chips? Then move back one space.) Players with chips move ahead the number of spaces equal to the number(s) on the chips. If the Reader’s guess about the players naming all the items is right, he moves his pawn back one space; if wrong, he moves one space ahead. The player whose pawn is furthest ahead on the track becomes the Reader for the next round. When one or more players reach the end of the track, the game is over. The player who is closest to the starting space wins!

The biggest problems with the game are that it only comes with 100 cards and there can be controversy over the validity of items on the list or answers given. The first problem is being solved as expansion sets for the game are already in the works. With the others, we find that “majority rules” works more often than not. But these are minor quibbles. The game plays fast and furious and is a clear cut winner.


ZOOM-IN! (Falcon Games/Jumbo, 2-8 players, ages 7 to adult, 60 minutes; about $30)


Back in 1992, Mattel had great success with a game called Scrutineyes. That adult party game was like a “Where’s Waldo?” for adults as players examined pictures filled with myriad bizarre images to find certain objects. Now, filling the gap left by the Scrutineyes demise, is Zoom-in! which can make your head spin in trying to find things that are lurking right before your eyes.

Zoom-in! comes with a large circular board which depicts black and white line drawings all thrown together, deliberately so, so that it is difficult to separate one picture from another. There are four sets of cards (55 green, easy, worth 1 point, 35 blue, hard, worth 2 points, 21 purple, very hard, worth 3 points and 9 yellow which are “specials”). Rounding out the package is a nice timer and a rules sheet. Once all of the cards are shuffled together, the first card is drawn and play begins.zoomin

The drawn card shows a line drawing which matches a line drawing someplace on the board. The timer is set at 15 seconds and, within that time frame, the player must find the matching picture. Depending on the color of the card, finding the picture on the board is worth 1, 2 or 3 points. Find it and you keep the card (and the points) and go again. If unable to locate the picture, the card stays in play, becoming part of a “Treasure Row”. (Up to 4 cards can be in the Treasure Row.) Another player, on his turn, can claim any (or all) of the Treasure Row cards by locating the matching picture.

If a yellow card is drawn, special circumstances come into play. Sometimes, a player will get additional time (and additional points) for finding a picture. Maybe all players can try to find the object in question. Or maybe you get a little extra time and LOSE a point if you can’t find the matching picture.

The first player (or team) to get 15 points wins the game!

Zoom-in! takes a certain kind of player. Finding those pictures buried in a crisscrossing maze of lines can be more frustrating than fun. To ease the frustration quotient, a “cheat sheet” is provided to better able you to locate the hidden objects so you can, eventually, find them. But if this is the sort of challenge you like to rise to, then you’ll certainly Zoom-in! on this.


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

Summer 2004 GA Report Articles


Reviewed by Herb Levy (Eurogames/Descartes Editeur, 2 players, ages 12 and up, 30 minutes; $19.95) In the days of my misspent youth, I would love to play pinball. I'm not talking about the video game simulations of pinball games. I'm talking about those man-sized, garish machines that flashed and clanged and assaulted the senses as a big silver ball bearing careened around bumpers and bounced ...
Read More
Shedding Light in the Dark Continent In the 19th century, Africa was considered a mysterious continent, "dark" and unknown. Africa's mysteries were intriguing for many and many explorers ventured into the uncharted jungles to uncover her secrets. European countries including England and France carved out empires while exploring. "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" was the phrase that made reporter Stanley famous as he tracked down the ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Kosmos, 1-4 players, ages 10 and up, 30-60 minutes; $39.95) People do not always view games the same way and sometimes, gaming "attitudes" do not mesh well. You have your "serious" gamers (who look upon games as intellectual challenges and "serious business"), casual gamers (who play for "fun" with winning purely a secondary consideration) and non-gamers (those unfortunate few who wouldn't ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games; 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $32.95) Rüdigor Dorn, best known for Traders of Genoa and Gargon (Winter 2002 GA REPORT), has outdone himself with his latest offering: Goa. Subtitled "Destination: Spice Islands", Dorn puts players into the roles of Portuguese merchants who must grow their businesses to become the most successfulmerchant of them ...
Read More
Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser (Mayfair Games/Kosmos, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, about 30 minutes; $36) I must admit that I wasn’t very enamored by designer Martin Wallace’s early efforts. Games such as Mordred, Sixteen Thirty Something and Der Weisse Lotus didn’t do much for me. Over the past few years, however, I’ve become increasingly appreciative of his efforts, with Libertè, Volldampf, Age of ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Phalanx Games/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 12 and up, about 90 minutes; $44.95) Maharaja, marketed as Raja in Europe, is the latest game from the design team of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling who gave us Tikal (Spring 1999 GA REPORT) and Torres (Fall 1999 GA REPORT) to name a few. In this offering, K&K take you to 16th Century ...
Read More
Reviewed by Frank Branham (Days of Wonder; 2 players, ages 8 and up, 30-60 minutes; $49.95) Many years ago, Richard Borg had an idea to create a very unique simple wargaming system called Command and Colors. A few of us very lucky folks got to play the original game for a year or two before Hasbro/Avalon Hill published the civil war game as Battle Cry ...
Read More
PARTY HEARTY! by Herb Levy [Getting together with friends is a great way to spend some time. And a good party game can be the catalyst in making a good time great! What works best can vary from group to group, from eye strain to brain strain to stunts and more. So, here are a few party games for your consideration as we cover a ...
Read More
[In this issue of GA REPORT, we welcome another new voice: Mark Delano. Mark is no stranger to the gaming scene as he tells us in his bio: Descended from a long line of cardplayers, I've been playing games as long as I can remember. Introduced to wargames and rpgs by my older brothers, I went to college an avid player of both. There I ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Clementoni/Überplay, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, about 60 minutes; $39.95) Sunken City, the second game from the Wolfgang Kramer/Michael Kiesling design team to grace this issue, allows players to go treasure hunting in an ancient submerged city while trying to avoid the wrath of Neptune. The large box of Sunken City holds a large game board, 12 plastic buildings (numbered ...
Read More
Reviewed by Larry Levy (Hangman Games, 3-4 players, 3 hours; $29) You would think, with the Internet and the current massive coverage of games, that the days of the sleeper hit would be over. But games are coming from more and more varied places these days, so it's still possible to be caught unawares. Sure enough, at this year's Gathering of Friends, there was a ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Eurogames/Descartes Editeur, 2 players, ages 12 and up, about 30 minutes; $34.95) I have a certain fondness for election games. Tyrus, the new release from Eurogames, combines an election theme concerning two warring factions competing for control of an ancient city with the simple mechanics of "rock-paper-scissors" to create an intriguing game of bluff and counterbluff. Tyrus is the creation of ...
Read More

If you enjoy games, then Gamers Alliance is right for you!