While other people were out playing worker placement, and abstract games, I was going through a party game phase; deducing who was the murderer in Deception or acting out a scene in Monikers. Whenever I ran into my Mum, she would sigh and say: why can’t you be normal like the other kids. To which I’d reply: damnit Mum, this isn’t a phase, it’s my life! Turns out it was a phase, and one of the games that kicked it off was Concept. This is one of the more recognised party games, and was nominated for both a Spiel Des Jahres, and a Golden Geek. It was designed by Gaëtan Beaujannot, and Alain Rivollet, published by Repos Production, and reviewed by me, Dave Norris.
How to Play
Unload the game board in the middle of the table and then place the five sets of pawns and cubes, as well as the victory point tokens in reach of all players. Shuffle the deck of concept cards – these have nine phrases on them, three of each difficulty: easy, hard, and challenging.
Randomly select one victim around the table, they and their neighbour become the clue giving team. Their job is to draw the top card of the concept deck, pick an answer from the card, and then lead the rest of the table to this answer by planting question and exclamation markers, as well as coloured cubes on different pictures on the board. The kicker is, they’re not allowed to talk, with the exception pf saying ‘yes’ if people are on the right track.
For example, if the clue was The Bee Movie: You might place green markers on wildlife, black and yellow icons to represent an animal that is black and yellow. Then you might place your red markers on the movie camera, and the sad face emoji to represent what a turgid piece of crap that movie was.
While the clue givers are trying to break down the answer into it’s component ideas as though they’re some sort of conceptual chemists, the rest of the table are a pack of starved hyenas trying to guess the answer like it’s the last zebra in Africa.
If someone guesses the answer correctly, then they get 2 points, and the team of questioners get 1 point each. After which, the next neighbouring couple become a the pair of clue givers. The game ends when one player reaches 12 points, coincidentally that person is also declared the winner.
The idea of this game is what makes it unique and interesting. How do you break up a phrase into concepts? More importantly, how do you break an answer into concepts that people around the table will be able guess? When this mechanic works, it works very well. It allows for creativity and expression of self, while still constraining players to the boundaries of the board. You’ll often find that you have the perfect word for a concept but since you’re not allowed to talk, and the perfect word isn’t on the board, it makes you think creatively to come up with a solution.
This game shines in its simplicity, it allows for players to duck in and out as they please, but more importantly it allows for a huge amount of variation – and house rules – in how it is played. For gamers, Concept is more framework than game, the best time I’ve had with this game is playing non-standard and adding teams and timers. Having someone try to decomp a concept within two minutes usually ends up as a rort as what clue givers think is obvious, obviously isn’t. So while they get more and more furious with their movements and gesticulation, you can’t help but think: thank goodness it isn’t my turn.
One issue that Concept deals with well is the pressure of clue giving, because there’s always two people acting as concept conduits. No one is left stranded, this can be a huge issues with party games, especially words games with players whose first language isn’t English. This is a clever addition to the game, and something other games should take note of.
The graphic design of this game is on point, I’m a fan of the clean white style. It’s minimalistic in a way, they don’t add anything unnecessary allowing for a lot of uncluttered white space. Not only does this make the board and box feel clean, it also enhances the spurts of colour, really making them pop.
Surprisingly, the worst thing about this game isn’t the game itself but the years and years of experience playing charades. No one I’ve played with has played Concept around ideas, but rather they play it as they would charades, and this corruption ruins the game. For instance, if the answer is Man of Steel, they would pick the icons movie, man, and then the metal. That’s not identifying the concepts behind the movie, instead it’s breaking the movie’s title into literal, bite-sized clues.
In terms of difficulty, it’s is all over the place, this is because this game relies on pop culture references and figures of speech. Some of these are archaic while others are known only to small audiences due to culture differences and geographical locale. For instance, one clue is Laughing Cow cheese, and another is Ennio Morricone. These are sprinkled throughout each of the difficulties, and groups I’ve played with have been flabbergasted at the ease of some of the challenging concepts, likewise the difficulty of some of the easy concepts.
Then the pace of the game is quite slow for a party game. Breaking down concepts into understandable morsels is a cerebral challenge, and if you’re not the one doing the thinking, you’re stuck on the sidelines watching someone else do it. This can lead to a lot of frustration as you’re rearing to get going and yell out answers, whereas the persons in the hot seat are constantly second guessing themselves and the clues they’ve given out.
Because of this it doesn’t elicit the highs and lows of other party games, it’s for the more relaxed crowd, but even then, you’d have your limits. I suggest adding some additional rules to spice the game up to match your own flavour.
Concept is an interesting game to look at because it’s the kind of game that bridges older board games to newer ones. It feels dated, but it’s only been four years since its release, which is crazy to think that the hobby has developed so much in such a short time. If nothing else, it is a testament to board game designers everywhere.
Getting back to Concept, it’s a good game for a family’s first board game and would do well as an introduction to the wonderful world of board games. However, in my mind, there are better games out there. Unfortunately, while the concept of the game is sound, it does become charades with a board. While I enjoyed it when we mixed up the rules, in its original flavour it’s lacklustre. Therefore, I’m not recommending Concept.
Going to be real with you guys, I ran out of space for all my board games so I’m in the middle of a board game purge. Concept is a game that’s near the top of my to sell list, but I figured I’d make the most of it by reviewing it before it goes out the door. Have you sold any games? How’d it go?