I’m not a big fan of most mass-market party games. Oh, you can get a little fun with the right group, but the games themselves tend to lack creativity. I mean, it makes sense – trivia games or apples-to-apples spinoffs lend themselves to easy rules and play with large groups, and they can be thrown together with little effort, packaged with a salable theme (read: branded with a popular TV show or movie), and produced for a song.
So perhaps because of the market it’s jumping into, Concept, a new party game from Repos Productions, is a breath of fresh air. It’s a real “party” game too – the sort that can easily be set up on a table during party, for people to join in and leave at will, to pay attention or not. It’s the sort of game in which the rules can be explained in 30 seconds, so even the most non-gaming person can play.
Only in this case, the game is actually fun. Read on so I might give you a concept of what this game is all about.
How It Plays
Concept is a party game somewhat akin to Charades, in that you’re trying to get people to guess a word or phrase by using visual clues.
However, in Concept you do not pantomime. Instead, you have a large board filled with icons and pictographs. These icons can represent any number of things – male or female, person, animal, object, historical, fictional, food, holiday, machinery, electronics, cold, hot, wet, orange, blue, in, out, growing, shrinking… okay, the list goes on.
Each icon has a few suggested meanings tagged along with it, but a player could choose to use an icon for any meaning they had in mind that makes sense – although it might be more difficult to get the guessers off the rails.
When giving clues, you have 5 colors – each represented by a Question mark or an Exclamation point, along with matching cubes – to place on the icons. The question mark is intended to represent the “main” concept, whereas the exclamation points can represent supporting or clarifying ideas. The cubes of each color are used to add details, and multiple cubes can be piled on to a single icon for emphasis.
Your mission is to get players to guess the answer based only on the icons you mark.
There are two ways of playing the game written in the rulebook: you can keep score, or just play for fun.
When keeping score, you take turns in teams of two – not set teams, you just rotate around the table with people taking turns partnering up with each other. Your team draws a card, chooses one of the words (there are 9 on each card – easy, medium, and hard words), and you work together without speaking – to give clues and get everyone else to guess. Whoever guesses your clue gets 2 points, and the clue-givers get 1 point each.
Or, you can simply just play for fun – take turns as one person at a time draws a card, gives their clues, and everyone tries to guess.
Let Me Give You A Clue
Concept is an instant hit with anyone I’ve introduced it to. It’s so simple, but so enjoyable, and quite the engaging challenge even for non-gamers.
First of all, it’s just a clever idea. Icons are (theoretically) universal but not necessarily immediately clear, which puts most people on an even footing. You never know when a series of images might just ‘click’ with someone. Inside jokes or personal references, which tend to exclude players that aren’t in the inner circle of a group, are much harder to sneak into this game since you have only the icons to work with. It’s just a challenge, but an accessible challenge – how can you represent an idea, an object, or even a popular phrase within the limits of the game?
Limits have been shown to boost our creativity – it’s built within us to find ways to accomplish our given tasks somehow. I think Concept unlocks this basic drive that exists in everyone, which is perhaps why everyone seems to find the game so enjoyable. Even when a solution is particularly difficult, it just becomes all the more fun to search for that one special combination of images that will trigger the right memory in someone’s brain.
In Charades, you can feel stupid when your act doesn’t get the point across. After all, you’re already standing up in front of everyone acting like a fool. Concept’s iconography takes the spotlight off of the self-conscious player.
Furthermore, it’s just as much fun to guess as it is to give clues. Especially with a particularly difficult answer, you’ll be wracking your brain for a connection. Sometimes, a clue clicks right away, while other rounds will have everyone scratching their noggins for 20 minutes until someone finally nails it, at which point everyone shouts “oh!” because all the clues finally make sense.
The included point system is bizarre, and feels extremely gimmicky. It’s odd, because with such a unique and clever gave, the scoring doesn’t need to be wonky. So far, I don’t know anyone who actually uses the written point system. Most people just play for fun, but I’ve seen a few reasonable scoring methods invented by competitive groups.
When I introduce the game to new players, it’s inevitable that they will ask how points are scored; some people need to have structure in a game. I just say that we mostly play for fun, but whoever guesses the answer gets the card, which counts as a point. It rarely matters, because people tend to quickly forget about the points and get absorbed in clue-giving and answer-guessing.
The flaws of this game are mostly player dependent. I’ve had a few games, especially with new players, that started to devolve into “20 questions.” Because you can answer “yes!” to questions from the guessers, they just started asking a dozen questions every time a cube was placed. This sorta goes against the spirit of the game, but it also distracts the clue-giver while they’re trying to think, and it slows the game down. I had to start gently encouraging players to shut their mouths.
I don’t know If this next thing is a flaw or not, but I noticed the difficulty rating of the answers is highly subjective. The cards are divided into levels. The easier answers tend to be simpler concepts like “Rain” or “Baseball” whereas the harder options might be a phrase like “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This usually does work-and it’s nice to have 9 options to work with-but sometimes the easier answers are quite difficult. In many cases, the difficult answers actually have very iconic visuals attributed to them, making it very easy to represent with icons. Example: Big Ben, a hard answer, was guessed after two clues-building, and time. What else would it be? Yet Waitress took us 20 minutes to guess because we were all trying to think of a specific person who worked with food, and it’s difficult to convey the thought that you’re looking for something more general.
My last complaint is about the components. While everything is made with high level of production value, some of the colors are hard to distinguish. Green, blue, and black cubes tend to blend right in with each other, which can cause confusion when you actually need to use the different colors.
Otherwise, the components are fantastic. The plastic is good, the board is large and cleanly designed to avoid distraction. The insert even comes with a removable dish for holding the cubes and passing them around the table during play. The cards are very thin, but you wont be handling them all that much, and the cheap plastic coating might be a protective measure against drink spills that might be inevitable in the environment this game is meant to be played.
It should be remembered that this is a party game, and it works great for parties. I won’t be playing it at my regular game nights too often, so as to not wear out its welcome. But I will definitely make sure to bring it with me to every party and family gathering, so there will always be a great game available that anyone can play.