Board Game Review: Just One

I like word games, it’s something built in to my slightly geeky nature that makes me really enjoy thinking about words and how to use them. Just one manages to do a really good job of appealing to that wordy side of me, with a game that’s fun to play with a decent group of people, but slightly flat with a smaller group.

The idea of Just One is to have a pile of 13 cards (which drove my superstitious wife crazy) and turn them over one by one. The player trying to guess places it where everyone can see it, except themselves, and picks a number from 1 to 5 to determine which word will need to be guessed. For the sake of an example, let’s use “Button” as the word randomly picked. The guesser needs to work out what the word is using the clues written by the other players, but here’s where things get a little more awkward, and where the game’s name comes into play: each player can only write one word. Just One, see? But still, with 6 people playing that’s 5 whole words you can use to guess. Maybe someone writes “Jenson”, and another writes “Moon”. You could probably figure that one out.

But Jenson Button is a bit obvious, and if two players write that clue – entirely possible considering they’re not allowed to communicate while thinking of their word – they have to eliminate that word from the round while the guessing player looks away or covers their eyes and everyone else compares their ideas. No more Jenson. So you’re left with “Moon”, and where do you start with that? Moon River? Moon Light? Full Moon? You’ve got two choices here: guess, or pass. If you take a guess and get it wrong, you lose that card and the point that goes with it. But you also lose the next card down as well, essentially killing off 2 points. If you pass you still lose the card, but can keep the next one down. Obviously, guessing carries the chance of getting the point, but also the risk of losing two. If the words are a bit vague, it’s a tough call.

After the 13 cards have been used up, you work out how many you guessed and that’s your score. There’s no competitiveness, no gotchas, no reason to try and make things harder to guess, this is a true co-op game where everyone’s on the same side, trying to win, trying to beat their previous best score. And it’s really good fun; trying to come up with a unique word to allow the guesser to have as many words as possible to help them is a real challenge, and it was always funny to find that everyone had either put the same obvious word or tried to go more obscure and ended up with a set of words that barely related to the one they were trying to guess. Getting the balance should’ve been easy, but we rarely managed it.

As a result of how this works, smaller groups won’t get the best out of this. Play with 4 or less and there’s far less fun to be had, this is better with a bigger group of players to give the guessers a slightly better chance of having something to work with, while still having the difficulty of thinking of a word that’s unique and won’t be taken out of the game straight away. Keeping a high score table of sorts is good fun too, letting you see who was the best at guessing, or which teams of people were the worst at coming up with good words.

And we’ve come back to this a few times too, which is always a good sign with a fairly hefty game collection. It’s really good fun, and with the family-filled festive season approaching this could well be one you dig out to have a few laughs when the wine starts kicking in!

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