Nathan Beeler: Review of Just One

Just One

 

  • Designers: Ludovic Roudy & Bruno Sautter
  • Publisher: Repos Productions
  • Players: 3-7
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 20 minutes

 

Just One Cover posted by LELODEY JEAN-LUC (jlele) on BGG
Just One Cover posted by LELODEY JEAN-LUC (jlele) on BGG

There’s a scene in the movie Blow-Up that I often think of when I play party GAMES. It takes place in the middle of the swinging 60s, when the lead, Thomas the fashion photographer (played by David Hemmings), wanders into the middle of a crazy happening: the up-and-coming band, the Yardbirds, are playing their rock show to a full audience that is completely motionless, emotionless. Guitarist Jeff Beck, reacting to some static in his equipment, starts banging on an amp to try to get the noise to stop. A tech runs on the stage and twiddles some knobs. It doesn’t stop. Finally, in frustration Beck smashes his guitar on the stage. The young guitar god then tosses the remnants into the tranquil sea of youth, inciting mayhem. Everyone springs to life. There is a mad scramble to retrieve the ruined instrument’s neck. After fighting tooth and nail to claim his prize, the movie’s protagonist is chased by a mob through the venue, out into the halls. Finally, with his last pursuer bent over double to catch his breath, Thomas escapes to the outside world, free, into a busy city that is oblivious to the scene that just took place.

Without the context of the band and the music and the collective focussed pursuit, our hero sees the detritus in his hand for what it really is: a worthless piece of junk. He tosses it on the otherwise CLEAN sidewalk and walks away to find the next scene. As if to prove the point, the camera lingers as a passer-by picks up the remnant, looks it over, and then immediately drops it again. It has no inherent value.

Smashing guitar in Blow-Up
Blow-Up’s Beck blows up on his guitar

For me, this scene is the embodiment of scoring and even winning in most games, but especially in party games. A game is most ENJOYABLE when everyone is trying their hardest to achieve a stated goal, even if that goal is forgotten as soon as it is reached. There’s only drama if there are perceived stakes of some kind.

<Cue Transition Sound>

The alleged goal of Just One, a party game by Repos, is to get the group of up to seven players collectively to succeed at getting someone to guess as many of thirteen hidden words as they can. It is one of the slightly unusual co-operative party games, a genre I first encountered with Cranium’s Hoopla. Get a total of eight correct guesses and the game asks you “You’re in the average. Can you do better?” Bag all thirteen and it asks a different question: “Perfect score! Can you do it again?” Right there is the moment where I normally THINK of the scene in Blow-Up, look down at the pile of scoring cards, and toss them back onto the deck. For me, the scoring has no inherent value during the game. Winning a single round is just as important to me with or without those silly meta-goals. Unless you consider the nearly impossible task of getting all thirteen points to be winning, then there really is no game winning condition, just those style points.

That kind of goal is hard to for me to get too worked up over. In the moment of play, a good and fair scoring system will compel me to scrape and claw for the most points possible — in order to ultimately win. As a person who fears public speaking more than death, I have stood in front of large gatherings and without a second thought sung loudly, mimed an orgasm, flipped up my kilt exposing me undies, POKED a pencil into someone’s hand just as they did the same to me, and even acted on a stage, all for the sake of trying to win in silly party games. I can forget that I am shy in the moment. “Anything for a point” becomes my motto. Instant MERRIMENT! But then, nearly immediately after the game ends, I forget the score and move on to something else. If I remember anything, it is some exciting moment of play that was inspired by the urge to get those meaningless points and win: grabbing the guitar, not having it.

Just One, as a co-operative game based on style points instead of a win/loss condition, SIMPLY doesn’t inspire that compulsion in me. I can’t help but think, “who cares if the group gets 10, 11, 12, or 13 of the guesses correct?” No one, in any of the games I’ve played, anyway. Conversely, everyone seems to naturally care if we succeed with the one card currently in front of us.

Does this mean the game isn’t good? Does this mean it should be hacked to apply a competitive scoring system, as I’ve seen some people try? Is this a recommendation to avoid playing the game altogether? Not in the slightest. The game is a hoot! It’s a BARREL full of monkeys. If you’re paying close attention to some of my called out verbiage, then you probably already know what I think about the game (or you will when you find out what to do with those words). Instead, my winding intro is merely a way of saying the scoring system is more pointless than usual for party games, but that it doesn’t matter. I’ve now played Just One a bunch of times in a variety of settings, and I’ve had a great time each time. However, after giving it a fair due, I don’t think I’ll ever use the scoring system as printed again. This game is entirely about the activity.

“Activity? What activity?” I hear you asking. “How have you gone this far without explaining how the game works?” Alright, settle down. First off, I’ve already covered that in my Amazon Game Day Part II article. But I’m getting to it here, as well. I’ve mentioned that the game would have you play to thirteen points. This is set up when you MAKE a deck of thirteen cards, each of which has five words on it. For each round, one guesser puts a card on their easel, facing away from themselves. Then they pick a number from one to five, so that the other players will know which word on the card to try to get them to say.

Just One sample card text
Sample Card posted on BGG by W Eric Martin

Here is where the game gets interesting. Privately, each other player writes one clue word on their easel, which is also a dry erase board. Once everyone indicates that they have written a clue word down (we have done this by giving a thumbs up or by placing the easel face-down on the table), then all the clue givers show each other their written clues. Most important here is that they do not show the guesser yet, who either averts their eyes, turns around, or even leaves the room. They must also not discuss what is written down, other than to say things like “it looks like we matched”, lest the guesser should hear something that could help them.

At this point, any clues that are the same or similar enough are erased from all boards. If the answer is “blonde” and two people have “hair” on their board, then they both erase that and the guesser will never know that “hair” was ever written on anyone’s board. Finally, once all matches are removed, the guesser is allowed to see the remaining unique clue words and try to guess the answer as it appears on their card. It’s unclear what to do if there are no clues left, but we have gotten down to the titular just one clue in a full game. We didn’t win that point.

I find that the answer words vary in quality and difficulty, and that the best ones have one or two bingo clues that could get the guesser home immediately, with handfuls of other potential clues that are more tangential. Then the activity becomes one of DOUBLE think — will you be the one to write down “yellow” for “blonde”, or do you leave it to someone else, so that you don’t cancel each other out? Can the guesser get there if you write “platinum”? Maybe not by itself, but if there are enough other clues that go with it, that clue could help.

In that very situation I once wrote “concrete”. I was sure that it wouldn’t help in isolation, but I was just as sure that it wouldn’t get cancelled out by anyone else. Given the guesser’s age and level of pop-culture knowledge, I was certain they knew the band name. Plus, I figured it would be just weird enough to let them know it was intentional. If they made the connection they would 100% know they were correct and could rule out other synonyms for “blonde”. In retrospect, it was probably a weak clue because it may have confused them and didn’t help get them to the end goal. But then I’ve never claimed to be good at party games, just passionate about them.

And that’s Just One. From what I’ve experienced it’s as close to a sure-fire can’t miss as you can get in party gaming. It has the nice feature that people can come and go as they please, which makes it ideal for real parties. It also could theoretically play beyond the stated seven people, as long as everyone had something to write on. I haven’t tried this, but if someone has please comment about your experience. And while I have suggested that everyone toss the scoring system aside because of a lack of a win condition and just treat individual rounds as individual games, I know there are others who will really get into the quest for perfection (you may hear from some below). Good for them! For me, the activity is so solid that even a scoring system numbing enough to leave me feeling like an audience member at a Yardbirds show doesn’t detract from the game itself, which I clearly think is fun.

 

Comments from the Other Opinionated Gamers:

Dale Y:  Like Nate, I have really enjoyed playing Just One – but as a party activity and not as a game. I guess that the scoring system gives you a way to judge your overall performance – if that’s something that you’re interested in doing – but we’ve had a great time just playing the game. The double-think part of coming up with clues can be quite challenging, and I have found that to be the best part of the game. We did have a round once where “UMBRELLA” was the target word, and everybody wrote “Rhianna” as their clue. That was hilariously awesome, and one of those things that we’ll be joking about for years to come. This is a for-sure keeper in my game collection, and one that will get pulled out at parties and get togethers for awhile.

Jonathan F.: Like the others, we have really enjoyed the game.  It works well multigenerationally, as a good clue for one person is terrible for another one.  The challenge for the designers is in the word list. Some words have so many good possibilities that they are quite easy.  I wish those had been culled, or that the words on the cards had been sorted to create an ascending order of complexity. As it is, they feel fairly random and therefore often less of a challenge than we hoped for.

James Nathan: This is a game I assumed I would be buying as soon as I could when it was released this year, but I’m currently in the Not For Me camp. I had Goldilocks struggles with the provided answers being too easy or too difficult and not enough that were just right.

Patrick Brennan: It’s more a co-op activity than a game, but at least it’s a fun one where people can be clever. The guesser reveals a word to the other players, but doesn’t see it themselves. Everyone writes a one-word clue to that word. Before they’re revealed, all identical clues nullify each other. If everyone goes for obvious clues, those obvious clues aren’t going to be revealed. But if no one goes for obvious clues, the guesser might not guess the word! We collectively want it guessed as the aim is to get 13 correct guesses in the 13 rounds (or otherwise the best you can). There’s definitely reward for cleverness – with enough clever clues, the word is guessed and everyone feels good about themselves. While not much of a “game”, it’s something nice to pass the time with as an opener, taking up to 7 players as it does, and where people can join in at any time.

Jeff Allers: I had many of the same thoughts as Nathan immediately after playing one round: Why the scoring system? It also made me question the need for competitive party games at all. After all, I could just as easily play Just One with two teams competing against each other, as most party games seem to do. But treating the game as a cooperative activity is actually what all those previous games want to be. At least it seems that way to me, in these divisive times…

Alan How: As soon as I had played it, we played again, but with seven people not four. The other three heard our laughter and wanted to join in. Two of our group did not have English as their first language, so we had to whisper a couple of words to them to tell them what they meant. Everyone did well though and we laughed a lot more. I rarely play any game twice in a row. Admittedly this is a quick game, but it was such fun! It’s really good to see how people create clues that help and where they link to the target word and at the same time do the second guessing that everyone else has commented on. Super fun. Oh and there’s a scoring system too.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

  • I love it! Nathan Beeler, Eric M, Alan H
  • I like it. Dale, John P, Patrick Brennan, Jeff A
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me… James Nathan

About nathanbeeler

Nathan has decided never to grow up.
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3 Responses to Nathan Beeler: Review of Just One

  1. dugsteen says:

    Got it. That is, I got the answer and I’m gonna get the game. Great review! =)

  2. Pingback: Congratulations to the 2019 Spiel des Jahres nominees! | The Opinionated Gamers

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