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Review: Just One

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It is debatable that we are living in a golden age of board games. What is less debatable is that we are living in a golden age of party games. Codenames, Spyfall, Werewords–is there room for one more…even if it’s Just One?

How It Works

Just One is a cooperative party game for three to seven players. Players take turns trying to guess a one-word answer based on clues from their teammates. Players play until their stack of cards runs out and count their score.

Just One set up for five players. Easy peasy.

To begin, each player receives a dry erase easel and a marker. Thirteen word cards are dealt out face-down. Play begins with one player chosen as the guesser.

In a round, the guesser, places a face-down card on the lip of their easel, facing toward the other players, and chooses a number 1-5. The other players look at the word and then write a single-word clue on their own easels as a clue for the guesser.

Clue words are not allowed to be a form of the word to be guessed, nor are they allowed to be the word in translation, but onomatopoeia and acronyms are acceptable.

Once all players have written their clue words, the guesser closes their eyes, and the other players show each other their easels. Only unique clues are allowed to be shown to the guesser, so if two or more clues are identical (and forms of the same word–e.g., “prince” and “princess”–are considered identical), they are put away before the guesser can see them. The guesser then opens their eyes, looks at the clues, and can guess. If the guesser gets it right, the card is placed face-up in a points pile. If the guesser gets it wrong, that card and another from the stack are thrown out of the game. The guesser also has the option to pass, in which case only the card for this round is thrown out. Play passes to the next guesser.

The scoring table. The best I’ve done is 12, and my teams have gotten a whole lot of average.

The game ends when there are no more face-down cards to guess. Players count the number of face-up cards they claimed and compare their score to the table on the rules to see how they did.

Just One (More)

Just One is the kind of party game that feels more discovered than designed–which, as I always say, means it is very well designed indeed. In fact, it is largely this “discovered” quality that has made Just One ascend the ranks to become one of my favorite party games.

What I mean by “discovered” is that Just One feels like the kind of game that, even though it hasn’t always existed, is pure enough that it feels like it has always been around. The rules are simple and disappear almost instantly, leaving players to enjoy the company of the group. And the cooperative play is so natural that it made me question why more party games aren’t cooperative.

The rules for Just One. See? Simple.

The title “Just One” illustrates the elegant design decisions that permeate the game and serve as a constant rules reminder. Every answer that players are trying to guess is just one word. Every clue that players devise has to be just one word as well. What clues the guesser is allowed to see are–you guessed it–unique: there can be just one of each clue shown. Even though the game is essentially themeless (it lacks even the spy veneer atop Codenames), the simplicity and pervasiveness of the concept helps keep the game on point without any extraneous fluff.

I’ll admit that as I wrote out the “how it works” section above, I almost bored myself. Really? That’s all there is to it? Surely this isn’t as fun as I remember. But Just One has consistently been a catalyst for enjoyable moments–because of either cleverness and creativity or a lack thereof.

The guesser is trying to guess the word “Troy.”

What makes Just One compelling is the same idea that is at the heart of so many modern party games: you want to be clear in your clue, but also obscure. If you’re too clear, someone else has probably already thought of your clue, and they’ll both cancel out. But if you’re too obscure, your clue could mislead the guesser toward a different word. So players are trying to thread the needle between their clues being clear (helpful but potentially thrown out) and obscure (likely to remain but potentially misleading). The trick here is that players aren’t allowed to discuss befor