Application Crunch Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up
  • For 3 to 4 players
  • About 45 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • High School is coming to an end and you want to go to college – time to get your paperwork in order!


  • Game Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!


The last year of school before college is a fantastic time. It’s also when you need to start thinking about college, if you have not done so already. Simply thinking, “yeah, college sounds like fun” is not nearly enough to get you there. Nor are outstanding grades. There are admission forms to fill out, deadlines to make, and finances to get in order. It sounds like a lot to handle and it is if you do it late. But an individual who acts early will be able to get it all done in time and will make it a rewarding experience. This is especially true if they go about the tasks thinking of it as a game in which the end goal is the college of their choice and the future they want to explore.

Application Crunch is a card game that simulates the steps necessary in order to complete the admission process for universities and colleges, pursue service, academic, extracurricular, and work activities; and test of basic knowledge. Also included are Character and Family Finances cards that represent the player during the game and an additional challenge. For each player, there are 2 envelopes in which the players will be placing their cards and submitting them to different colleges, universities, and scholarships. All the components are very high quality and exceedingly well designed.

Not included in the game, and necessary to play, are small paperclips. In fact, you’ll be using a good number of paper clips, so bring a box if you have one.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first separate the cards into different decks and shuffle them. Create an Extracurriculars, Work, Question, Service, Academics, and Productivity decks. Once shuffled, place the decks face down, in two rows of three in the middle of the playing area as shown in the following illustrated example.

Take the 15 Timeline cards and stack the deck so the card numbers shown in the upper right hand corner of the card is showing and is in sequential order, with the lowest (number 1) on top and the highest (number 15) on the bottom. Then place the first four (Timeline cards 1 through 4) out on the table with Timeline card number 1 on the far right, with number 2 to its immediate left, and so on. The Timeline deck is the placed to the left of the 4th Timeline card.

Create decks for the Acceptance cards and the Strategy cards, placing them above the Timeline deck and to the left of the six decks placed earlier.

Give each player two envelopes making sure the text color is the same on both. Next, give each player a random Character and Family Finances card, as well as a College Account card. Each player should draw 1 card from the Academic deck and place a paper clip on the lowest  level of the Academic card drawn and another paperclip on the College Account card in the “zero” position.

You are now ready to play!

The Player’s Role

At the beginning of the game, the player is randomly given a Character and Family Finances card. The Character cards give each player a benefit and an advantage in a specific category, draw, or the ability to play more cards than normal. The Finances Cards might give the player a starting College Account value other than zero. These cards are meant to randomize each character’s starting position before the game beings. It also suggests what each player’s strengths and weaknesses are that they will need to leverage as well as overcome.

Playing the Game

On a player’s turn, they will first draw a Productivity card. This card will give the player a number of action points they can spend. The player spends these action points to do the following:

  • Move a paper clip up one level on a card owned by the player and not in their discard pile
  • Draw an Extracurriculars, Work, Service, or Academics card (no more than 5 cards at a time can be in front of the player and be available to be entered into an envelope)
  • Draw a Question card and ask the question immediately – the player who provides the best answer and the person who asked the question both receive a bonus “level up” on one Academic card
  • Put one card in an envelope
  • Place one envelope that contains cards above a Timeline card that is not in the Timeline deck or Timeline discard pile

Once the player has finished spending their actions or chooses to stop without spending all their actions, it is the next player’s turn. They draw a Productivity cards and spend their action points.

After everyone has had their turn, the round is over and the cards on the Timeline shift.

Time Management

The Timeline shifts to the right, meaning the Timeline card that is on the far right will be discarded at the end of the round. Once discarded, all the Timeline cards shift one position to the right, too. A new Timeline card is drawn to fill in the 4th position spot on the Timeline. In this way, the players are shown upcoming deadlines and what each Timeline card represents. The Timeline card can represent a university or college application deadline or a scholarship deadline. Each Timeline card also shows the requirements for whatever is being represented. Players meet these requirements by selecting Extracurricular, Work, Service, or Academic cards, leveling them, placing them in the envelope, and then attaching that envelope to a Timeline card.

Example of the Timeline and its movement at the end of the round

Time’s Up!

Once a Timeline card is shifted far enough to the right where it will be discarded, any envelopes that are attached to that card are opened and inspected to make certain the cards contained in the envelope meet the requirements. If they do, the player is awarded an Acceptance card that matches the Timeline card and the cards in the envelope are discarded, with the paper clips still on them, in a discard pile that only belongs to the player.

Some Timeline cards only allow a certain number of players to be accepted. If more players have met the requirements than can be accepted, the player with the highest level of cards (signifying more time and attention in that specific area) wins.

Continued Play and the Endgame

Play continues with each player taking their turn, spending action points, and the round eventually ending which results in the Timeline cards shifting. Players are welcome to apply for any and all universities, colleges, and scholarships, as well as drawing Extracurricular, Work, Service, or Academics card as long as they do not exceed the 5 card limit and they have a free envelope. Note that cards in the player’s discard pile do not count towards this limit.

The game ends when the last Timeline card is discarded (15 rounds in total). At that time, all the players need to do several things.

  • Pick one university or college they have been accepted to
  • The cost of the selected university or college must be lower or equal to the player’s College Account card value (i.e. they need to be able to afford the school they select)

The player than flips their selected and paid for Acceptance card over and reviews the Badges and Points table. Using the Extracurricular, Work, Service, and Academic cards, the players see how many Badges (based on the type of cards and their current level) can be earned. Each Badge is worth so many points. Total these points and the player with the most points wins the game. In the end, the winner of the game is not the one who goes to the best school, but the one who did the most work to be a well-rounded player.

To learn more about Application Crunch, see the game’s official web site.


Application Crunch honestly doesn’t look like much of a game when you first take it out of the box. There are a lot of cards and the instructions need some work. The general flow, as described by the instructions, doesn’t really come together. I had to put the game down in front of me and go through it several times to understand how all the cards were working and the important choices to make during a players turn before I felt comfortable presenting it to my little geeks, family, and friends.

Once you get through the initial confusion, lack of concrete examples in the instructions, and seeing the game come together while it is being played in front of you, it all makes sense. In fact, I rolled my eyes a number of times after playing the game because a number of game mechanisms just “made sense” one put in front of you. Of course, this is all based on hindsight.

While the game is obviously focused on gamification of the process that students need to complete in order to attend universities, colleges, technical schools, and be granted scholarships, there really is a game here to be played. I struggled a bit trying to find the right “hook” for my 7 and 4-year-old and decided to use their background in Pokemon. Now, let me just say right up front, Application Crunch is NOTHING like Pokemon, but comparing the two helped me explain card timing and “leveling up”. In fact, when I pitched the game to my little geeks, I used Pokemon game lingo and they caught right on.

My little geeks and I played several hands as examples and it really didn’t take long for them to get the basics, but the game’s learning curve is a suggested “Moderate” because there are a number of things the players have to juggle at once. There is the Timeline to consider, using the action points, and always keeping one eye fixed on the horizon and the other on your immediate cards and their levels. It is easy to miss opportunities and the player really needs a “plan” pretty early on in the game in order to do well.

After answering any and all questions my little geeks had, I set the game up for our first real play. My 4-year-old decided to team up with me because of the great deal of reading involved in the game and we found a third player to sit in. While I set up the game, I asked my little geeks their thoughts on the game so far.

“This game looks really neat. I like how the cards keep pushing you but you get to see what is coming up next.” ~Liam (age 7)

“I like how you can level your cards like action heroes.” ~ Nyhus (age 4)

Looks like we have a green light! Let’s play the game and see what comes of it.

Final Word

First off, wow. Wow, wow, wow. I never thought a game about filling out applications and chasing down financial aid could be entertaining. Application Crunch brings to the table some very interesting game play and some very unique (at least, I haven’t seen them yet) game mechanisms that work very, very well. The card leveling, random character creation, pushed endgame, and competitive nature of the game makes you quickly forget that the theme of this game is essentially paperwork. Very impressive.

For my little geeks, they enjoyed the game, but not as much as me. They enjoyed the game choices and the way the players interacted with the cards, but were completely lost when it came to context. This is where the game is really going to shine with the players. If they see the way the game takes the sometimes terribly painful process of application filing and fulfillment, and turns it into simplified and exciting actionable steps, the mind is going to start racing. The little geeks understood everything but the reason why they were doing any of it. Honestly, not important to the game, but there is level of appreciation they just could not grasp.

Parents, on the other hand, were very pleased with the game. Pleased and excited to get it in front of their teenagers. The game very clearly and intelligently demonstrates all the pieces that need to come together and the importance of achieving excellence in order to be accepted into a college or university. Personal finances, timing, activities, and everything else are streamlined and their impact is clear, but the weight of the impact is dependent on how the player leverages their action points and what areas they focus on. This makes for very interesting discussions around the table and shows that a well-rounded geek is a superior geek, but also, terribly busy.

Gamer Geeks were very impressed with the game mechanisms and the flow of play. They found it a worthwhile time, but when we played a second game, the level of enthusiasm and challenge quickly diminished. For the game elitist, they will clearly see the path of least resistance and be able to make choices up front that will maximize their score. While this in itself is not a terrible thing, the game fails to throw enough variety out on the table to keep the Gamer Geek from needing to ever adjust their strategy and tactics. The end result is a game that no longer provides a challenge.

My little geeks, showing off their applications and elite time management skills

Gamer Geeks, you have to recognize the interesting and intelligent way the game handles and balances the many little bits and pieces the theme attempts to capture. There are a number of fun game mechanisms that will intrigue you and the game itself is fun and challenging. What it lacks, however, is staying power. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Application Crunch is a “one-trick pony”, but you can pretty much figure out the limitations of the game after the first play. Once the “trick” of how to win is clear, it just becomes an exercise in card management and not much of a challenge.

Parent Geeks, Application Crunch is a game you’ll be enjoying with your family and an excellent tool to initiate and further strengthen conversations you will have with your little geeks about “getting their collective act together”. The beauty of the game, while focused on educating the individual on all the important choices they will need to make and the actions they need to take, doesn’t feel like a lecture. It feels like a game and a fun one at that. Primarily focused on the older geeks who will be graduating within 2 years or so, this is a game that can be played as early as grade school and only reinforces the importance of being well-rounded, doing well in school, and having goals.

Child Geeks, if only the process of applying for scholarships and college were as fun as this game makes it feel. You’ll be challenged and you will need to keep on top of your cards to ensure they continue to level up. But most importantly, you need a plan and the ability to be flexible. It might not make a lot of sense now, but when you play this game you are actually practicing everything you’ll need to do in the future.

I am very excited about Application Crunch (in case you couldn’t tell) and am simply astounded how well the game plays and flows. There are a lot of important real life steps that a person needs to accomplish in order to successfully be accepted at a school of their choice, important decisions to be made in regards to finances and activities, and keeping it all in order to meet deadlines. Application Crunch tackles all of these important points and does a terrific job of putting them all into play.

The game does have some soft points, however. The instructions really need some attention. They are, frankly speaking, a mess. If you read them, it becomes clear that they were written by an individual who knows the game very well, and as a result, some steps and important points that seem obvious to the veteran are completely missing for the new player. This makes the game automatically and unnecessarily more difficult to learn, which will, in turn, stumble new players and possibly turn them away. The other soft point are the Question cards. I don’t think they are necessary and they reduce the momentum of the game. While academic in nature and good to spark conversations, they seem almost like an afterthought and slightly unbalancing as two players get an action point, leaving one or two players behind. Luckily, the rules are nothing more than a minor hurdle and the Question cards can be removed from the game without consequence.

The end result is a surprisingly good game that is going to be a hit for parents and families, a surprise to game elitists who will gladly acknowledge its creativity, and a fun and worthwhile way to educate the next generation of college going geeks. Fun, interesting, engaging, and balanced, Application Crunch delivers an excellent lesson in personal time management, goal setting, and achievement wrapped up in an enjoyable game. Simply outstanding and very impressive.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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