How Apples to Apples Works

By: Dave Roos  | 
Apples to Apples is a popular -- and unpredictable -- party game.
Apples to Apples is a popular -- and unpredictable -- party game.
Courtesy of Mattel

Apples to Apples may be a wildly popular and relatively simple card-based party game -- the objective is to simply match nouns to adjectives -- but the results are often hilarious.

To play Apples to Apples, each player is dealt seven Red Apple Cards, each bearing the name of a celebrity, a historical figure, a place name, event or object. The dealer for each round is also the game's judge. The judge flips over a single Green Apple Card with an adjective written on it, like "popular," "timeless" or "zany." Each player submits what he or she believes to be the best noun in their hand that matches the adjective. The judge picks the best match and the winner keeps the Green Apple Card. The player who collects the most green cards wins the game.


The brilliance of Apples to Apples reveals itself when a player makes an unexpectedly appropriate (or inappropriate) match. For example, let's say the adjective is "senseless." A perfectly appropriate match might be "violence" or "war," but the winning card is almost certainly going to be "Hellen Keller" or "In a coma." Are you starting to get it?

The original or "basic" Apples to Apples box included 108 Green Apple Cards (adjectives) and 324 Red Apple Cards (nouns) [source: Munching Apples]. But since then, game publisher Out of the Box and new license owner Mattel have released several expansion packs and Party Box editions. The latest Party Box version of the game includes 249 Green Apple Cards and 749 Red Apple Cards, plus a few blank cards for writing in your own adjectives and nouns [source: Out of the Box].

In addition to the Party Box versions, there's a popular kids' spinoff called Apples to Apples Junior, a Disney version, travel version, and a version called Sour Apples to Apples that punishes the worst match with a spinning wheel of doom. Punishments vary.

Apples to Apples has received several major game awards, including Games magazine's "Party Game of the Year" in 2000, the Toy Industry Association's "Toy of the Year" in the game category in 2006, and it was chosen as a "Mensa Select" game in 1999 by Mensa International, the international club for brainiacs [source: Out of the Box].

On the next page, we'll run through the standard rules and game play for a rousing game of Apples to Apples.

How to Play Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples is best when played with four or more players over 12 years of age. Younger kids should stick with Apples to Apples Junior. The game is also great for large groups and parties, especially the Apples to Apples Party Box, which has hundreds and hundreds of cards.

To start the game, place a stack of Red Apple Cards and Green Apple Cards in the card tray and select who will be the first judge. It doesn't really matter who starts as the judge, since everyone will eventually get a turn. The judge then deals seven Red Apple Cards face down to all players, including him- or herself. Players should keep the content of their cards to themselves. The judge then takes a Green Apple Card from the top of the deck, turns it face up in the middle of the table and reads it aloud.


Once the card is read, all players should select a Red Apple Card from their hand that best matches the adjective on the Green Apple Card. This is the fun part. If you don't have an obvious match, be creative. Cater your choice to the judge. Remember that his or her opinion is all that matters. If the judge is obsessed with Star Wars, then it might be worth it to play your Darth Vader card. Players should try to select their red cards quickly to keep the game moving. A speedy version of the game disqualifies the slowest person to select a red card for that round. Red cards are placed face down on the table, so the judge doesn't know who submitted which card.

The judge collects the red cards, shuffles them slightly, then reminds everyone what the green card says. The judge then reads each of the red card submissions, and after some thought, chooses what he or she considers the best match. The winning player claims the prize of the Green Apple Card. The role of judge then shifts clockwise (to the left), at which point the new judge deals everyone another Red Apple Card to get each hand back to seven cards and flips over a new Green Apple Card. The game continues like this until you get tired of playing or an individual player collects a set amount of green cards. The official rules recommend eight green cards for a four-player game and as few as four for 10 players.

Apples to Apples is one of those games that begs for twists and variations on the standard rules. Head to the next page for some new ways to play.

Variations on the Apples to Apples Rules

As you can see from the random selection of cards shown here, the possibilities for matches are just about endless.
As you can see from the random selection of cards shown here, the possibilities for matches are just about endless.
Chanel Lee/HSW

Apples to Apples enthusiasts have come up with lots of creative twists and additions to the standard rules. The following variations were culled from the Out of the Box Web site and the official rule sheet for the Apples to Apples Party Box:

Apple Turnovers: Instead of dealing out Red Apple Cards to each player, deal out Green Apple Cards and flip a Red Apple Card for the clue.


Crab Apples: Instead of trying to find the best match, see who can choose the least appropriate match. Example: Appetizing = A can of worms.

Apple Traders: Refresh your hand and sabotage your neighbor by giving one card to the player to your left between each round.

Mr. Nobody: This is especially useful for small groups. When everybody lays down their Red Apple Card, the judge takes another Red Apple Card from the top of the deck and shuffles it into the submissions. You'd be amazed how many times that random card ends up winning the round!

2 for 1 Apples: Instead of turning over one Green Apple Card each round, the judge flips over two green cards. The players have to come up with Red Apple Card submissions that best match both adjectives.

Wild Apples: Insert a number of blank cards into both the Green Apple and Red Apple decks. If the judge flips a blank green card, he or she can write any adjective they want. If a player picks up a blank red card, that player can do the same. It's fun to leave the customized cards in the deck for future games.

Apple's Eye View: In a standard game, the judge is supposed to pick the best match based on his or her personal preference. And if a card reads "My hair" or "My love life," then it's assumed that the card refers to the judge's hair and love life. In this version of the game, the person to the judge's left gets to assign an alter ego to the judge. It can be a famous person or another person in the room. The judge must then assume that alter ego when deciding which card is the best match.

For lots more information on family entertainment, see the links on the next page.

Originally Published: Jul 21, 2011

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Munching Apples. "Apples to Apples — Basic Set" (Accessed August 24, 2011)
  • Out of the Box Publishing. "Apples to Apples Party Box: Official Rules" (Accessed August 24, 2011)
  • Out of the Box Publishing. "Apples to Apples Rules Variations" (Accessed August 24, 2011)
  • Out of the Box Publishing. "Awards and Reviews" (Accessed August 21, 2011)