Designer: Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter
Artist: Éric Azagury, Florian Poullet
Publisher: Repos Production
It never ceases to amaze me that a simple word game like Just One can win so many awards. Just One won the 2019 Spiel des Jahres and was at least nominated for 2 dozen other awards. I suppose one can easily imagine designing such a straightforward game, yet no one did until these two guys came along. Make no mistake, the simplicity of the game does not detract from the fun and laughter this game brings to the table, even for seasoned life style gamers. I think many of these word games also do a good job cutting across the different gaming populations. For some reason, word games must tap into something common with all walks of life. For fans of word games, I think Just One hits all the right notes. The game is billed as a co-op, but really the scoring just doesn’t matter – at least for us it doesn’t.
To be fair, I don’t think Just One is unique. In a way, it is the pen and pencil version of Taboo, the popular party game where players are guessing a word or phrase from clues provided by a designated clue-giver. The kicker is that in Taboo, the clue-giver has a list of banned words most commonly used to describe the word to be guessed. If at any time the banned words are uttered, the entire word is nullified. Just One shares a similar DNA with Taboo. Basically, players have one guesser and the rest of the players are clue-givers. Once a word is selected, all the clue-givers will write a one word answer on an erasable board and then compare their answers before passing along to the guesser. Here is the fun part: if the same clues are written, they cancel out each other and only the unique clues are passed along to the guesser. If the guesser succeeds, they will earn one point.
Since this is a cooperative game, the scores only matter if you are trying to batter your previous record. To begin the game, a fixed number of cards are selected and the players simply tabulate how many points they get for each correct answer while losing points and cards for incorrect guesses. The goal here is to improve scores between sessions. That’s it. Honestly, the scoring is quite forgettable (I barely remember how the scoring works) and should really be dispensed with. It is similar for many co-op games that insists on scoring – much like Hanabi, I guess you can chart how close you get to the perfect score. Most of the time for us, only a perfect victory matters. There are no moral victories in Just One. You just try to have fun and celebrate if you achieve the ultimate victory.
Just One is fun, period. The game provides some excellent moments whenever clues overlap and cancel out. There will be lots of groaning and moaning and what-could-have-beens. Words that seem unintuitive for one will be perfect for another and folks have successfully guessed a word based on only a handful of clues. Different folks also have complementary skills: I have seen great clue-givers but lousy guessers and vice-versa. Also people from different cultural background will have shockingly different interpretations of a word which is not surprising, I guess. The best games we have played includes having a child in the group. See my thoughts on playing the game with kids in the section below.
Word games seem to be gaining a resurgence off late thanks to popular games like Codenames. We are seeing a bunch of these light-weight family style word games such as Cross Clues, So Clover, Letter Jam, etc. appear in the market and getting some love. From my viewpoint as a gamer, these word games can help diversify a collection that comprise mainly of Euros or German classics. Sure, you may not be a fan of party games, but I wager you might be ok with a word game. Besides, most of these games are great for family style gaming especially if your kids can join in. So, I highly recommend Just One which plays well with you kid, and likely your grandparents too.
6 years 10 months: I wasn’t sure if my kid could participate in the game. I know she is a strong reader but probably average in spelling. So I thought we’d give it a go. I was surprised. Just One is wonderful and different experience with a 6 year old in the mix, and it is made even more charming because of a child’s naïveté. It’s not that her clues are far out, in fact quite the opposite. Their clues are quite complementary to the ones from adults, which can sometimes be a mess and prone to over analysis. For example, we had a word “crystal ball”. A lot of the adults gave clues that were tangentially related to the item like seer or fortune teller or some indirect description. My kid gave her clue – “shiny”. Without this clue, the guesser would not have thought it was an object because none of the adults thought it important to give clues indicating an object. It is also true that having a child clue-giver will also be challenging because as adults, one must deduce what type an answer a child would give as opposed to an adult. Age becomes another variable in selecting answers. Moreover, when it is the turn of the child to guess, the clues must be age-appropriate. I am telling you that you can be surprised by these answers. I think if your child has reached a vocabulary level that is sufficient to participate in Just One, throw them into the game and see what happens. I am glad we did. Loads of fun. Two thumbs up.
One last thing of note: I co-opted my set of word cards from another game called Word Blur. The cards lists a series of words and we always let the child choose the word to give clues. This helps since not all words on the list is suitable. This way, she gets the entire list of words to choose from.