Pickle Party!

14 01 2009

Board games are interesting animals, with “categories” that span such breadth as to make the statement: “Let’s play a boardgame” have the potential to start a positive row at a given family gathering. Trivial Pursuit players rarely overlap with Risk players, and it’s no fun playing Scrabble with Scrabble players if you’re not one. Finding a game to play for a group which was not brought together specifically to play a given game can be a significant challenge. This is where a good party game can come in handy. Visiting with the family this past Christmas, we frequently found ourselves in this position. Fortunately, we were gifted with In A Pickle on Christmas morning.

In A Pickle seems much like Apples To Apples at first glance, and holds up this impression as it proves to be a great party game. The mechanics are very simple, with only one basic rule, and only one type of playing piece: a deck of 320 cards, each with a single noun written on them, such as “Top Hat,” “Garbage,” “Magazine,” and “Universe.”

The play is simple: On their turn, players place a card from their hand of five on one of four columns of cards on the table, such that their card either goes “inside” or “outside” of the other cards in that column. For example, say there’s a column on the table made up of the cards “Bowl” and “Soup.” Hence, the soup is inside the bowl. Say you’ve got the card “Fly,” which you can clearly play inside the soup. It can’t be played outside the soup because to play a card on the outside of a column, that card must be able to “contain” all the other cards in that column. And a fly can’t have a bowl of soup inside it, (unless you want to start a good argument- see below.) That’s pretty much the long and short of it, aside from a few other rules which allow players to win a column of cards by trying to place the largest item on the outside of that column, in so-called “Pickle Rounds.” But the real fun of the game is not in the details of the rules, but in the silliness of creating an arbitrary narrative wherein you end up with a bacteria in a fly in the soup in the bowl in the jacuzzi in the jail in Paris in the solar system. Especially fun is playing rather abstract cards outside of all this, such as when you might play “magazine” on top, justifying it by suggesting that all of this odd soup service is described in a magazine article. Imprecise? Yes. But goofy fun? Very much so.

As you might imagine, a game of this nature invariably results in frequent calls of “foul” when players try to justify completely absurd notions. My brother-in-law likes to call it the B.S. Rule. Semantics aside, it’s a great way to let a bunch of close family and friends have an accepted reason to yell at each other for a few minutes until the group votes that No, it can’t be a really small elephant inside of the refrigerator, now pass your turn and let’s move on. At best, everyone laughs and you do move on; at worst, well, the game’s SILLY- no one can stay mad for long.

I highly recommend pulling this game out for disparate groups of people. A game only lasts about 20-30 minutes. You should be able to find a copy for about $15. In A Pickle is suggested for ages 10 and up, and for 2-6 players, though you can play with any reasonably sized group, easily letting people play on “teams” together.

In A Pickle is published by Gamewright.

What I’ve played recently:
In A Pickle
Ticket To Ride
What I want to play soon: