Blott's Thoughts

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Does lack of replay-ability represent a flaw? (Plus a review of Crappy Birthday)

Ben Lott
United States
Mason
Michigan
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Awhile back I offered some assistance to Northstar Games in the development of their (at that point) yet to be released game Crappy Birthday.  Piles of image files like the one to the right were sent to my inbox and I got to rank them based on my desire to receive them as a gift.  This input was used in selecting which cards they would include in the box.  As a reward for all that not very hard work, they sent me a free copy of the game when it was published.

Now who wouldn't be delighted to receive a free copy of a game, especially one they helped create. Even better my name is listed in the Thank You section of the rulebook. I've shown it to some of my family and friends, and they always look surprised. It's the simple things in life you treasure. But I'm so amazingly off topic at this point. So lets move on, but before I do let me hit you up with a quick review.



Crappy Birthday Review
 
Inside the box is a pile of 200 cards similar to the one in that picture, and of course a rulebook.  Honestly it doesn’t even need to have a rulebook, a rulepage would have done the job just as well.  The game is extraordinarily simple.  Each player is dealt 5 cards, and then a judge for the first turn is chosen.  The other players give the judge a card from their hand that they think the judge would hate to receive as a gift.  (Note: the judge must imagine using the gift as described, there is no imaginary regifting in this game.)  The judge picks the worst of the cards he’s given, and the person who gave that gift gets a point.  The role of judge passes to the left, and you start again.  First player to 3 points wins.  To add a little something extra to the game, you can also play the Happy-Crappy variant where the judge selects a worst and a best gift.  You play to 5 points instead.  (This was voted the preferred method amongst my family members.)
 
Crappy Birthday has led to huge laughs for my family, my friends, and our youth group.  There are certain combinations of people and cards that seem to be perfect to elicit laughs.  Imagine the introvert getting personal paparazzi, or the teetotaler getting neon beer signs.  This is what makes this game so enjoyable, because it is all about the people at the table and the combination of personalities.  The downside, one could argue, is that a player who was less familiar with the other people in the group would not have the same chance to score points.  Of course that’s if you care who wins, and this game isn’t about winners and losers.  Similar to most party games, it’s all about the experience.  So you could almost classify this as a get-to-know-you game, because you might learn something about the other players while playing (even though you might lose because you don’t know them.) I do enjoy the game and the massive laughs it elicited the first several times we played.

 
Now that is all well and good, but there is one issue that I haven’t mentioned yet.  I only play this game sporadically now for one simple reason…because I’ve seen all the cards.  In fact, by the time we had played the game twice we had nearly worked our way through the whole deck already.  I’ve now played Crappy Birthday 8 times, and I've seen every single card hit the table at least twice.  While playing with different groups adds some new dynamics to the game, it almost seems unfair to play with my wife anymore because I know exactly which cards she will usually select.  And even with new groups I just find myself less entertained by the cards because I know all the awful stuff that can be given.
 
To their credit Northstar Games never shied away from this fact.  They even sell the game on its BGG page as a gift to be taken to a party in place of a bottle of wine or pack of beer.  They recognize that it might have limited replay value, but they set the price point low so that it is comparable to one-and-done entertainment options.  Yet we gamers are spoiled.  We are used to buying a game for $30 and getting 100 or more plays out of it.  I did the calculations so you can see them in the image to the left (you might have to click on the image to see the numbers full-sized.) As you can see, if I had paid the average cost of Crappy Birthday, my 8 plays of the game would have cost me approximately $1.47 apiece. I should note that my copy of this game has actually been played at least 2 more times than the plays I have logged because I haven't always been playing the game along with the youth group. Seems like less than a dollar and a half is a perfectly reasonable price for about a half hour of great entertainment for up to 8 people, and yet when I was writing up my review I kept listing the limited replay-ability as a flaw.

So where does the flaw lie? Is the game really flawed because I can't play it an infinite number of times and receive the same enjoyment? Or are my expectations flawed because I've become accustomed to a world of games that can be played indefinitely?  Is it a criticism when I say that I enjoyed a game so much that I wish I could continue enjoying it again and again?  How many hours of entertainment is reasonable to expect from each dollar spent?

I don't know the answers to these questions so that's why I pose them to you. I will say that many gamers make the comparison of the cost of gaming versus going to a movie. I'm a big movie-going fan and I just went to see the Hunger Games Saturday. It cost, at matinee pricing, $11 for my wife and I to see the movie. I'll ignore the cost of snacks because those are not a requirement, just like they're not a requirement at the game table. That works out to approximately $4.40 per hour of entertainment, and that's only for 2 people. If I wanted to take all 8 people that I can play the game with it would bump that up to $17.60 per hour! So no matter what you may think about the replayability of Crappy Birthday it's still got the movies beat by a long shot.

Your comments and answers to my questions are encouraged.
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