Judge-oriented party games like Apples 2 Apples and even Cards Against Humanity are a strong gaming genre that is open to just about any player old enough to piece together grammar. While it is always a good time, the games are rarely suited toward younger players. North Star Games takes the time-tested mechanic in the new game Happy Birthday and makes it appeal to just about anyone of any age.
What separated Happy Birthday from the rest is the innovative use of pictures rather than just descriptive print. Rather than leaving “Socks & Shoes” to the imagination, a colorful image shows custom-painted shoes with stars, a snake, and an eyeball, and socks based on Piet Mondrian’s colored squares. Simply looking through the deck of 150 cards is a lot of fun, taking a visual stroll through hedge mazes, shoe-shaped houses, and elephant taxi rides.
Players each get five of the image-popping cards. A Birthday Judge is chosen, and the other players offer up a card face-down as the Gift Givers. The game-mechanics of Happy Birthday feature another innovation established by North Star’s previous more grown-up game, Crappy Birthday. Each round has two winners: the one to give the best gift and the one to give the worst. While maintaining the competition to deliver up awesomeness with the best gift, installing a second winner with the worst gift gives ample opportunity for laughs. The combination of winning conditions allows for maximum enjoyment by both players who love to be best and the ones who would rather see the Birthday Judge hilariously wince.
With its gasp-inspiring images and solid gameplay, Happy Birthday is recommended as not just a game but as a party activity. Planning for birthdays or other parties is difficult enough with food, presents, and games, so North Star suggests combining those last two. Whether as hosts or as guests, once Happy Birthday is opened, everyone can be invited to play. The rules have the game go until one player collects five victories for best or worst card, but the number can be adapted to suit however long people need to set up the cake. Each round only takes a minute, and players could work on a time-limit rather than a number-goal, adding a new element of working to slow down play or hurrying to attempt to beat someone’s number.
Happy Birthday is a party game for three to eight players aged six and up. It is suitable for all members of the family, and everyone will enjoy just looking at the pictures. With its dual winning-conditions, it has something for everyone, whether a pet pig or a tube of dehydrated astronaut food.
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