Just One board game: A four-sided review

The Just One board game is a short, light, word guessing party game for three to seven players. While the box says 20 minutes, you can forgo the scoring and play as long – or short – as you like. The game was published in 2018, going on to win the coveted Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) Award in 2019.

Despite its small box, the contents still struggle to fill it. Along with the slim rulebook you’ll find seven dry-erase markers, seven Scrabble-style plastic component holders and a deck of 110 cards. But at less than £20, it’s still OK value.

The component quality is fine, if lacking in style. Unfortunately the publisher chose the ‘colourful yet bland’ style of party game design. But while uninspiring, it doesn’t detract from the fun. The card layout is simple and clear, which is the most important thing.

Teaching the Just One board game

The game’s so simple that, as long as one person has played before, you can simply start playing. You shuffle the deck the draw 13 cards (the rest won’t be needed). One player draws the top card and places it in their card holder so everyone but them can see it. On each card are five words, numbered one to five. The player who can’t see the card picks a number: that’s the word everyone else will try and describe.

Every other player now thinks of a single word – without conversing – to describe that word. Think quiz crossword clues. So the word can be pretty much anything, with a few small rules exceptions. In secret, each player writes their one word on the back of their scrabble holder. Once everyone is done, and without yet showing the words to the guesser, the other players show each other their words.

And so to the clever bit. Any duplicated words are discarded. Unique words are then turned around for the guesser, who has one guess at what their word is. If they get it right, you collectively get a point. If they get it wrong, that card – and one more from your stack – is discarded. You work your way through the 13 cards in this manner, giving you a final score somewhere between 13 (perfect!) and zero (try again…).

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Six of us played this late-night at a board game con. One clue was ‘climb’. Three of the five people choosing words wrote ‘Tichu’! Only gamers lol. Just one example of a memorable moment, clearly remembered six months on. And I expect most people who’ve played will be able to tell you a story about it. What more do you want from a party game?
  • The thinker: This clever game works incredibly well. Strangers may be a little more limited, as they won’t know their fellow players’ strengths. While mates should be able to do well thanks to that extra knowledge friendship brings. But either way, it’s a compelling exercise. My one suggestion would have been to grade the cards, making simple and advanced sets. I guess the inevitable expansions will be themed, so maybe they were waiting for that opportunity.
  • The trasher: While good fun, it’s a shame Just One only comes with just one rule set: co-op. BGG already has user-designed ‘variants’ including both competitive and traitor (?!). And there’s also ideas for teams, taking the player numbers well above the seven catered for in the box. Why be so limiting in the box, when the incredibly simple rules made it so simple to expand in this way? Very odd.
  • The dabbler: This is great fun! Simply sit down and begin, whether you’re with the kids or grandma – or both. But then gamers like it to, so win-win. Sure, the art is pretty dayglo ugly. But then it at least has a bit of colour and no stupid pasted on theme that would just put some non-gamer off. We had a few games that got a little ‘adult’ too, while others (with younger players) which almost felt educational. Not many games can be both filthy and educational!

Key observations

Just One is already ranked in the Top 10 party games on Board Game Geek, and is comfortably in its Top 500 games of all time. But yup, you guessed it – it’s not for everyone. The claim it’s “barely a game” and “a bit pointless” seem to miss the point. It is what it is and does what it set out to do. It’s fun. That’s all you can hope for.

I’ve already addressed the fact it’s only a co-op – a valid point, which seems an odd oversight from the publisher. And even this scoring feels bolted on and rushed. But who cares, really? The fun here is in the playing, not the ‘winning’. I can only presume ‘official’ sanctioned rules for other game settings (team, competitive etc) will come along in due course. I just hope the publisher doesn’t try to charge for them…

Player count is an interesting one. While definitely better with more people, it can still be fun with less. We played with just three people and if anything the tension is ramped-up. You know that if you go for the same word, that’s the end of it. Still fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re only ever likely to be playing with three (four is pretty good).

It is potentially a little pricey for what you get in the box – especially when most gamers could fashion a working copy out of word cards/dry erasers from other games. But the components seem durable and there are plenty of words to play through.

Conclusion: Just One board game

With Codenames taking the Spiel des Jahres just a few years previous, it was going to take a special word game to do it again. But it’s easy to see why Just One came along and did just that. I don’t see it as a controversial pick at all and I’ll certainly be keeping my copy for the foreseeable future. Yes, this is an incredibly light and simple game. But surely every game shelf needs a few of those?

* Thanks to Repos Production (via Asmodee UK) for providing a copy for review.

* Follow this link for 150+ more of my board game reviews.

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