Disclosure: I’ve never won Apples to Apples. And I don’t really love Cards Against Humanity, either. It’s a game that once included the charming card “Passable Transvestites,” and gives sometimes-terrible people the delusion that they’re funny. I remember once losing a game to an annoying guy whose personality could be best described as “Office Max File Cabinet.” “Neneer-neneer-neneer,” he gloated to me afterwards, a grown man of 35. All this is to say: I was terrified of playing The Metagame, a game whose structure is fundamentally similar to ‘Cards,’ and then overjoyed to find its brain and its bones, fundamentally better.
The Metagame, which was released on Amazon and for free download about a month ago, was designed by Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, and Eric Zimmerman, founders of a Brooklyn-based game collective called Local No. 12. The prominent game designers describe their creation, which came to life after two Kickstarter campaigns, as a “social card game about art, design, entertainment and culture.” Because talking about rules for games has always been boring, I’ll keep my explanation short. Metagame gives you two sets of cards: opinion cards and culture cards. Opinion cards range take the form of big questions—“Which gets more action?”—to bizarre fill-in-the-blanks: “If this were an animal, it would be a ____.” Similar to Apples, the game is opinion-based. Though there are a dozen different ways to play The Metagame (more on that later), each version is similar: pick the culture card that best matches the opinion card, and let your dumb friends be the judge.
The key difference with The Metagame is that is actually encourages debate. In one version, it’s not just picking the right card that matters—you actually have to defend your choice. Depending on your crowd, this could be outrageously fun (yes, we LOL’d), or an opportunity for disaster. One question, “Which is a sign of the apocalypse?,” I played while with a group of beautiful social workers. What followed was a serious debate about what was worse for our country, industrialized food or escalating rents. People shared personal stories, before everyone agreed that “both sides had something important to say” and “we all win.” Poignant stuff, but not exactly game material. Advice: if you plan to play Metagame, I strongly encourage you to invite at least one friendly douchebag to steer the conversation away from social justice and back toward sporks and labradoodles.
What I loved about The Metagame was its love for words, and its smart, wicked humor. Its description of Doc Martens: “What well-dressed skinheads, grunge rockers, and postal workers have in common.” Heinz ketchup: “Condiment with a bottle exit speed of 0.0125 miles per second.” Clever and neatly composed, I’d like to think it’s a game built for people similar to me: smart-enough humans with rat-sized attention spans.
Still, The Metagame’s intelligence is also its downfall. There are at least six different versions of the game–along with the official variations, players are also encouraged to come up with their own. Some versions, including “The Debate/Massive Multiplayer Version,” were much stronger and livelier than others, though the instructions overall felt clunky and overwhelming. I can’t imagine that so many versions/so many instructions/so much text will help it go viral (yes, going viral is important). Then again, it wasn’t too long ago that AN ENDLESS BOARD GAME about TRADING SHEEP AND BRICKS took over our lives, so: Who knows how humanity wants to waste its time?
There are also some kinks to this game that I can’t quite understand, and should probably be taken out, or clarified. The opinion cards that include fill-in-the-blanks feel vague, and stopped gameplay. “Sparks___amongst friends,” read one, and I couldn’t find a card that was funny, let alone made sense. Sparks “brunch?” “Sparks “NASA?” Sparks “Big Macs?” What? It’s totally possible that there’s something I missed, but either way I need help (or two bricks). Perhaps a visit to one of Metagame’s regular meetups–held on the first Monday of every month at a rotating selection of Brooklyn bars–would benefit players like me. (Or, read my addendum below)**
Not too long ago, I went to a party where everyone brought Molly and I brought Taboo. I was ashamed and a little bit sad: an adult looking for a board game that could bring people together. Turns out Molly already does a great job of that, but a game like Metagame could have helped bridge that gap (and made for way better conversations). It’s a funny premise with a good heart. The creators may need to strengthen their rules, streamline their versions, and minimize those fill-in-the-blanks,** but The Metagame stands a meta-chance.
Or does it? What do you think? Viral masterpiece or one-hit wonder? Defend your answer in under a minute. Use your words. Let your friends judge. There are wrong answers. But it’s only a game.
**Surprise! I did miss something. It appears that I misread a rule. The instructions do encourage players to pass on cards that included blanks, but we read them as blank cards, not cards with a fill-in-the-blank. Slightly more specific language would probably help, although that definitely solves the problem, and makes for much better game play.
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