When I first heard about The T-shirt Game, I figured, “Oh, it’s just Apples to Apples with pictures.” How terribly wrong I was.
The basic mechanic of the game is fairly the same: an object is played (for Apples to Apples, an adjective; for The T-shirt Game, a T-shirt image) and then cards are played to match (nouns in Apples to Apples; slogans in The T-shirt Game). The person who played the object picks a winner, and the game continues on a points system. After the basics, though, The T-shirt Game takes off in a wild direction.
The T-shirt cards are a menagerie of images, most stimulating on their own, like a cartoon in a caption contest. They beg for something to push it to the next level. A man kicking through a brick wall, another man with a paint bucket stuck on his head and covered in blue, a bear armed with a rifle chasing a hunter, a cyclops with a club… things beyond clip art but still crying out for a resolution. The only real complaint I could come up with was that there should be more T-shirt cards.
The slogan cards, meanwhile, are over two hundred one-liners, many of them recognizable from sitcoms, movies, bumper stickers, or just daily life. “Don’t call me Shirley.” “Proud parent of an honor student.” “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” It’s a game for 3 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, and I agree with the older ages. While younger kids might find some of the sillier combinations funny, the great weight in the game is the shocking potential combining of a crying baby T-shirt with the slogan “Seriously?”
Hilarity is encouraged. To quote the rules sheet, the judge is to pick what is, in his or her opinion, the “funniest, craziest, or wackiest!” Some may choose house rules for sentimentality or an irony causing deep pondering, as I tried to do matching a T-shirt card bearing happy newlyweds with the slogan “They do exist!” Even in the face of the statistical disintegration of the nuclear family, there are true couples, a heartwarming thought. In reality, my card was quickly defeated by a video game reference, and merriment was had by all. It’s a party game, after all.
Once the judge chooses a winning card, rather than merely getting a “point” or the card as a trophy to add to a certain victory number, the winner draws a “Hot or Not” card that explains the impact of such a T-shirt on the world. Each card has a points value, some more than others. For example, “Celebrity pukes on shirt. Sells on eBay for millions!” is worth 500 points. “Your shirt pops up in an MC Hammer music video. Wait, he still makes videos?” is worth 50 points. The game is played to 3000 points, and it can be clear who is in the lead, but victory is never guaranteed by a string of good plays.
A side-note, but one of the most ingenious parts of the game, is the Booyah Bonus Cards out of the Hot or Not deck. On its own, it’s worth 400 points. But, if the player chooses, he or she may discard it and steal a points card from another player. The victim’s cards are shuffled, then one is chosen at random. It’s a gamble, since it may be a 10 point card or a 1500 point card. Just another level of merry tension and provocation to spice up the game.
Really, The T-shirt Game is all about spice, something interesting to do while hanging out at a party. The minute-long “How to Play” video at Buffalo Games shows the players just playing. Real game play becomes much more uproarious as the party gets going, provided you’ve got the right people to play. Loosen up a bit and go nuts with it.
For the numbers geeks out there, with 70 T-shirts and 209 slogans, that’s 14,630 combinations. It would take hundreds, if not thousands, of games to guarantee a repeat. Sounds like a challenge to me.