Emma’s back, this time taking a look at Repos Production’s curious release from Essen 2013, Concept. When I played it, it felt less like a game and more a collaborative exercise in shouting and wondering why no-one understood what everyone else was on about, but how did it go down in the Laslett household?
Concept is a flat-rectangular-hard-paper-lots-of-happy-people-hobby-thing, and if you could follow that that was a needlessly obtuse way of saying ‘board game’, it might just be the flat rectangular thing for you. The…well, the concept of it is basically like Pictionary/Articulate/whatever game you prefer involving conveying ideas to your bewildered friends in unconventional ways, but instead of drawing pictures/screaming incoherent half-phrases, you place question marks, exclamation marks and colour-coded cubes on a board of pictures representing various abstract ideas. Now, this might sound easy, but when you’re under pressure to describe ‘sleep’ and can’t come up with anything more than ‘night-eye-thing’, it really isn’t.
And that’s where Concept really shines, in getting you to think about ordinary things in a really strange, abstracted way, and the game will ensure that you get to hear your friends’ thought processes in all their bizarre glory. Sure, when you’re doing the simpler clues, these trains of thought are pretty simple: “It’s a fish. And a star. Starfish?” But when you start doing the harder clues, usually either proper nouns or sayings, the whole game just turns into some kind of beat poetry festival – games with me have produced such gems as “Rich man. Sad man. Red, white, and blue man.” and “A place. And a building. Long ago there was power. But inside there is only sadness.” (That one was the Forbidden City, by the way). Sure, you’ll lose friends playing this when it turns out their brains don’t work along the same lines as yours – the phrase ‘double-edged sword’ is still a touchy subject in this house – but isn’t that half the fun?
Gameplay aside, the components are great – the pieces look nice (and come in what was immediately christened the ‘little plastic dog bowl’ for easy access), and the board does a great job of distilling some fifty abstracts into succinct icons, even if it can take people a while to get used to what they all mean. Luckily, the game comes with a couple of player aid sheets with an explanation of all of the pictures, and new players will probably want to spend some time looking through those before playing the game, or you’ll hear the phrase “Ohhhh, I didn’t know there was a thing for that” a lot.
Now, nothing’s perfect, and the rules do let Concept down a bit, to the point where the game I’ve been describing thus far is very much a house rule version, rather than the actual rules of the game as it comes. The game doesn’t come with a timer, instead basically implying that people should keep working on their concepts until they give up, which just makes the game drag like crazy, so we’ve implemented a house rule of using my phone to time two minutes for easy clues, two and a half for medium, and three for hard. Now, this might sound like a lot, but it feels like a surprisingly short hundred and eighty seconds when you’re trying to describe “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” through abstract semantics.
The game has kind of a hazy grasp of this difficulty mechanic as well – each card of concepts has nine choices on it in three difficulty levels, but no hard rules on how to choose a level. In fact, the rulebook says people should pretty much just choose any of the nine, but this leads to massive balance issues when people jut choose the easiest ones all the time, so we just choose a difficulty and stick to it for the entire game now.
Finally, the game is convinced it should be played in teams, and I have genuinely no idea why. The individual-player game is great fun, but playing in teams just leads to the teams spending their entire turn arguing on how to say things and nobody scoring points – imagine trying to play collaborative Pictionary, and you’ll see the issue. However, don’t let any of these rules issues bother you too much – sure, Concept is confused and not quite sure what kind of game it wants to be, but there’s a brilliant family game to be found in there if you just find the way you want to play it, and you’ll never have so much fun trying to teach your friends and family to speak English.
Concept was designed by Gaetan Beaujannot and Alain Rivollet and was released at Essen 2013 by Repos Production. Between four and twelve people can play with games hitting that family level sweet spot of about 30-40 minutes. Copies are hard to come by at the moment, but check your favourite online retail sites and you should be able to find one (or at least have one ordered on your behalf). Don’t forget to follow Emma on Twitter – you can find her as @Waruce!