|Interaction||Components & Design|
* There is no strategy score for Concept because, while you will have to think to play, it’s not thinking of the strategic kind
You probably know the party game Taboo? The game where you have to explain certain target words while not being allowed to use the most frequent and obvious associations and collocations? Right.
Concept, the new Repos game by Alain Rivollet and Gaetan Beaujannot, basically takes the Taboo game and puts it onto its head, adding a very nice piece of artwork in the process. And while Taboo completely relies on coming up with a number of good associations to allow your co-players to identify the target word, Concept requires a more analytic approach. And of course, while Taboo is primarily a game set on verbal exchange, Concept is primarily a game where meaning is construed on the game board. In the rights group, however, both games can be outright hilarious! But they’re not necessarily the same group.
What you get when you open the box is a pretty big game board covered in pictograms, as well as an assortment of plastic markers (one question mark and four exclamation marks) and a big pile of cubes in matching colors. Fortunately, there are also explanation cards for the icons on the board, scoring markers and – and here it must be said: sadly – a game manual.
Before we go into more detail about the markers and their use, let’s have a closer look at the game board. As indicated, the game board features a huge number of icons – 117 in all. Most of them display specific objects (e.g. the sun, a book, plants or a train rail – which obviously also have a more general meaning, like ‘heat/high temperature’, ‘title’, ‘fauna’ or ‘iron/metal’), others are straightforward abstract concepts (if there is anything that is simultaneously abstract and straightforward anywhere) – like ‘opposite’, ‘high’, ‘narrow’ – or simply various colors. All of these have specific meanings displayed on the explanation cards, but obviously the exact meanings of the icons are versatile, depending on the context and icons they are associated with.
And with that, we move on to the mechanics of the markers. The single question mark (in green) is used to indicate the main category, what it is all about eventually, be it an ‘object’, ‘film title’, ‘expression/phrase/proverb’ or ‘person’. The green cubes are then used to indicate aspects or characteristics which are elementary to the core concept.
The exclamation marks are then used to indicate different aspects or parts of the concept, which help your co-players understand what you are trying to tell them. Classic examples are the size, material, color and texture of objects, the origin, age and era of historical persons.
For a simple example take bee: An animal which is small, can fly, and has a a yellow-and-black color scheme should go a long way, but if that fails to elicit the correct answer, you can try to support this by finding and adding explanations for ‘honey’, ‘hive’, or the likes.
It gets particularly interesting with proverbs and phrases, where it is not one concept that needs expressing, but requires a full sentence to be rebuilt. What you learn quickly is that the sequence of placing markers and cubes can be crucial, especially for more complex phrases or terms – both for the way meaning is structured and conveyed, but primarily for facilitating the understanding and thought process of your co-players.
Also, the number of cubes put on one concept can be helpful, indicating that the target word is a building, in a ‘place/country’ that is red, a building which is grey, made of stone and very, very, very, very long might help your comrades identify that it is not the wall of gay pride in Moscow, but rather that long garden fence in China.
One of the most interesting aspects of Concept is how players, mostly unconsciously, learn how to structure their explanation. So don’t despair if the first few rounds are a bit rougher, you are bound to quickly get the hang of things once your co-players insist that the ‘battery’ you explained is an iPod, vibrator, or RFID chip.
At the same time Concept reveals how players have different strategies to ‘explain’, and how sometimes target words you think of hard to explain are guessed in literal seconds, while others take waaaaaaaaaay longer (and more nerves) than you ever thought possible.
As touched upon before, in the right group Concept is immense fun, and hours can disappear quickly while encoding and decoding ‘O brother, where art thou’, Margret Thatcher, the Bikini Atoll and yeast.
Sadly, there is one significant negative we cannot avoid to touch upon, which are the official game rules. For some reason, the creators of the game thought of ways to overcomplicate the rules to a degree where – if you strictly play by them – they take a significant part of the fun away from the game.
Firstly, players should explain the target words in pairs, which not only requires a lot of coordination (and secret chats) between them, but in our experience also takes a lot of the spontaneous nature out of the game, and players with different approaches to explanation will find it more difficult to synchronize, with one player usually dictating the eventual approach.
Obviously, scoring points on party games is generally not why you play these games. Yet, the game is at its funniest best when random guesses are thrown into the room all the time, but since points get scored only by the one who comes up with the right solution, technically the ‘better’ strategy is to keep this to yourself. Which is also why we decided to ditch any point scoring in Concept.
Overall, Concept is great fun, and while its analytical nature initially does not come as naturally as words-based games like Taboo, in the long run it beats its counterparts, also due to the nice pictograms and its potential to just add words as you go along – all you really need is pen and paper to write it down.