This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
According to our Twitter feed, Just One is the new hotness for casual “game-y” games, so I decided to give it a try this year as my family and group tend to enjoy a good word game. Were the Tweeters right? Those fine people could never lead my wrong, could they?
The concept is fairly simple; all players work together in a cooperative fashion attempting to get one player to correctly guess a hidden word that the hot-seat player randomly chooses from a drawn card. This is done by each player writing Just One word on their easel to use as a clue. Once all players are done, they compare their responses amongst each other. If there are any duplicates, those words are removed and the hot-seat player doesn’t get to see them. Any remaining words are presented and the player must try to piece together the clues and conjure a single guess as to the mystery word.
As a quick example, the keyword might be “garden.” The clue-givers might write something like “hose” or “olive” on their easels. If there were three clue-givers and two wrote “hose”, those clues would get removed and the only clue the hot-seat player would see would be “olive.” If you saw “hose” and “olive” then garden is probably an easy guess, but “olive” on its own is far from obvious. (For any readers not in the US, I realize I’ve made a terrible choice of example, but Olive Garden is a huge chain restaurant here).
The game has some rules about what the larger game should look like. To start, draw 13 cards. The player in the hot-seat takes the top card and blindly picks a number to select the clue for the round. Should the clue be correctly guessed, that counts as a point and the next player takes their turn as normal. Should the clue be incorrectly guessed, no point is awarded and the next card on the stack is to be discarded immediately. The hot-seat player may also choose not to guess, which results in no points, but doesn’t result in the next card being discarded. At the end of the game you compare your point total to that in the rulebook to see how you did. Personally, we skip this format and simply grab a handful of cards and take turns playing. Earning a score from a rulebook is fine if you need a metric for how well you did, but my groups have found more fun in the journey and less in being congratulated or scolded by a rulebook scoring table. One of the great advantages of a physical game over a digital one is the ability to play how you wish.
I’m going to go on a bit of a sidebar here...I’ll be honest, I don’t really get what qualifies games like this to receive the stamp of approval from board gamers. I’ve played probably two dozen word games over the years (they were always a big hit in my family) and I can’t really separate this one much from many of the others. It is fun, but so were many others that never achieved any sort of critical praise. To this point, Just One actually reimplements a game from 2017 called We Are The Word. That game received all of 24 ratings and zero reviews on BoardGameGeek while Just One (a mid/late 2018 release) already has near 700 ratings and video reviews from many big name reviewers/sites. I guess the publisher has enough cache to bring attention to the game? It’s a funny little quirk of the hobby where sometimes just having the right people talk about a game is enough to get it over a barrier that it otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to cross. None of this is to discount Just One, which you will read shortly I quite enjoyed, but just an oddity I’ve observed over the years.
Anyway, onto the game: it’s fun! As you play, people will get paranoid about not having duplicate answers so they try to get creative, which is when the game really hits its stride. This also inevitably leads to the most obvious clues often being not written at all because nobody wants to duplicate. Going back to the previous example, after a few rounds it’s very likely that nobody would write the clue “hose” for “garden” out of fear of it being a duplicate. The clues might morph into “gnome,” “sheers” or something more obscure. In my experience, if 4 or 5+ clues get through, the word is usually guessed correctly, but the fun amplifies when there are duplicate clues which inevitably lead to some very strange clue/keyword combinations.
The game produces many laugh out loud moments which is a great goal for any family/casual game. As players try to get more creative, the clues get weirder and weirder which is always good for a game like this.
On the downside, the game does have the potential to get stale. Compared to, say Codenames, where I could play for hours with the right group, Just One doesn’t really have that staying power. The peak moments of Just One are when clues get cancelled and wacky clues show up, this isn’t guaranteed to happen every round. Just One is always a hit the first few times around the table, but it usually gets put away after that as we move onto another game.
I’d love a competitive version of this, and you can easily turn it into one by having two teams take turns and compare scores, but the game clearly gets better with more players as the chances for repeat clues increases, so you would need closer to ten to make a competitive session work.
Overall, Just One is a fun, casual, word game. It doesn’t shatter new ground the casual/family/word game category by any means, but it does provide healthy doses of fun. It may not necessarily be something you want to play over and over again in one sitting, but it always seems to be a hit for a few rounds before the easels are returned to the box.