An accident has occurred at the stock photo factory and they need your help recategorising the images back under the appropriate words. Can you beat your rival team to fulfilling your quota of images?
That's how Venn by USAopoly should probably be marketed, but instead the box says it's "a clever game where art and clues overlap". But is there any overlap with fun?
Players: 2+ Ages: 10+ Game Time: 20-40 mins
Venn is primarily played competitively between two teams, which can be of any size. Every round, each team picks a clue giver, who then draws a number card - this contains three numbers, which correspond to the word cards as they're laid out in the image above. The clue givers then have two minutes to place art cards in their venn diagrams, using each circle to represent a word. If a card could give a clue towards multiple words, the clue giver can put it in the respective overlapping section.
It might not always last the full two minutes - one team member might get confident, shout "VENN!", then both teams' clue givers must stop placing cards - but either way, the other members of the team have to guess what the three words are, with each team gaining a point per word. Then you reset your words, the next clue giver draws their number cards, and you play another round, until one team reaches 12 points and they've won the game.
It might bill itself as a "clever" game, but that's pretty much all there is to Venn. You might already be drawing some similarities to other games. To us, it was somewhere between Pictionary, except you're using predrawn art; Codenames, except you're using art rather than word association to guide players towards the answers; and Dixit, except you're trying to deduce multiple clues.
So that makes the art a key part of Venn. You'll definitely see some overlap with the absurdity of Dixit, but rather than being led by unique illustrations, much of the art in Venn is more realistic in style, and seems to have been constructed from cut out bits of stock photos. As a result, it loses some of the charm which helped Dixit become a hit.
Stock photo styling also gives all of the art cards in Venn a strange, uncanny valley* vibe. This isn't inherently a problem, until the word prompts you're trying to describe are words like 'plain' or 'ordinary'. Both are words on Venn's word cards that I found myself trying to use cards to describe, and unfortunately the closest card I could find, which pictured some potatoes rebelling against a bowl of mash, didn't help my teammates.
Not to be a sore loser, but this definitely felt easier than some of the other prompts, like 'pink' or 'blue', where clue givers were often overwhelmed with options. There's a certain luck of the draw in the words you get, but I'd appreciate an option where you get to choose easier or more advanced prompts, like in Wavelength, for example.
The art cards aren't the only component I found a bit lacking. Your venn diagrams are made from thin, translucent vinyl circles (one each of cyan, magenta, and yellow). When I first saw these circles, I thought this was potentially a very clever way to influence gameplay: you could move the circles around to make space for more cards in a section where you had more cards to place, perhaps? Yet the rules make it clear you're only allowed to place one card in each zone, and if you want to place a second card, you must cover up the previously placed card in that zone.
Those thin circles also don't stand up very well to being played with. I was sent this review copy of Venn new in shrinkwrap, and yet after only a few games, the edges of the circles have started to curl up in the heat of... England in mid-May.
The intended effect of these circles was probably to actually blend the colours as light passes through them. Sadly, this is an effect which only works if you have a bold black or white surface to play on. If you're playing on a coloured surface, that detracts from this effect, and if you're playing on a natural wooden table, you get cyan, magenta, and yellow okay; but the inner zones are mostly different shades of muddy brown.
Any rigorous playtesting with these components would have shown they're not really up to scratch, and they don't really add anything to the game. Since you can only place one card per zone anyway, it would make more sense to have a standard board per team, allowing you to print consistent, bold colours, and giving adequate space for teams to place one card in each zone (space does come at a premium in that central zone, if you dare to use it).
If the components were better, there are enough cards in the word deck you might be able to get a reasonable number of replays out of Venn. If you really enjoyed it, there'd be nothing stopping you from creating and adding your own word cards to get even more playthroughs out of the game.
Thoughts like that, though, got me considering you could replace almost all of the components of this game with homemade ones. The number cards could quite easily be replaced with a simple random number generator. You could draw the circles with some paper and a felt tip pen. You could use the art cards from Dixit to play a Venn-like game, or hey, it's 2023, you could use an AI art tool to generate some weird, otherworldly images.
It's also worth mentioning the co-operative 'variant' to Venn too. There isn't much variety to it - it has almost all the same rules as competitive Venn, but you're working as one team with a limited number of rounds to reach the 12 point limit. As a result, the co-operative game ends up being much shorter than even 20 minutes.
While I had fun playing Venn once or twice, it seems a bit of a disappointment to me. I love abstract games, but there's no innovation to Venn that would earn it a permanent space on my shelves, let alone make it to my game table.
I'd play Dixit if I wanted an art game, yet for Venn to play best, it demands a player count that is much more suited to a genuine party game like Codenames or Wavelength. It's technically a "clever" game, but most of its "overlapping" isn't in its eponymous diagrams, but overlapping with popular, critically acclaimed games that have more unique elements to offer.
*The uncanny valley phenomenon can be described as an eerie or unsettling feeling that some people experience in response to not-quite-human figures like humanoid robots and lifelike computer-generated characters.