Jackbox, formerly Jellyvision, is best known for the You Don’t Know Jack series of pop culture – infused trivia games. And really, that’s about it. The series was a favorite in the 90’s, but faded away pretty quickly in the age of the web. Under its new name, Jackbox brought it back in 2011 with moderate success. But clearly, they felt they needed something more. Bring on The Jackbox Party Pack, a collection of five simple but fun party games.
All of the games use smartphones and tablets as controllers; players go to Jackbox’s site and enter a room code displayed in the game. This allows for more control options without needing peripherals, and it also lets players perform actions that the others can’t see. It’s key for most of the games, and overall it does its job quite well. Unfortunately, it also introduces the package’s biggest problem. Phones connect to the game via the internet, and that connection doesn’t always work. Even if your wifi is spot on, you’ll often lose your connection to the game and need to refresh the page. This is especially troubling in time sensitive activities (i.e. most of them), and if refreshing doesn’t work, you’re out of the game. But these technical hiccups are forgivable if the games are good enough, so let’s go through them one by one. I tested this game with fellow TVGB-ers Andrew, Cody, and Vince, so I’ll note their thoughts as well.
You Don’t Know Jack 2015 is probably the biggest game here, and it plays much like the 2011 version. Instead of randomized questions and chosen categories, the game is split into preset episodes. There are some serious benefits to this format, the biggest being that you won’t get the same questions over and over. Having them self-contained and in order allows for call backs, themed episodes, and progression as well. Beyond that, it’s the same as it always was. Each question uses pop culture references as a wrapper for real trivia questions. For example: “If Lady Gaga wanted to change her name to the most common first word of babies, what would she call herself?” Jokes and comments from host Cookie Masterson as well as different types of questions keep keep things interesting, though the jokes can be hit or miss. Like the 2011 game, it lacks some of the classic charm. I miss trappings of a TV show that the classic games had, as well as some of the more bizarre question types. Still, the game offers a lot, and if you like trivia games, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s silly, in a very good way, while still containing interesting trivia.
The next game is Fibbage XL. It’s an expanded version of Fibbage, and since we’ve already reviewed that, I’ll keep it brief. Basically, a trivia question comes up, and you need to enter an answer you think the other players will believe. These go up on screen along with the correct answer, and you need to guess which one is true. It’s a lot of fun to come up with lies, and since you get points when people pick your answer, you want to be tricky. If it sounds boring, that’s because it’s a simple game, but don’t be fooled. If you play with the right people, the fake answers will keep you both laughing and guessing. It always feels good to see one of your friends fall for your tricks, and the questions can be bizarre enough that the truth is even stranger than the lies. For example, did you know that there’s a cathedral with a gargoyle depicting a pop culture character?
The next three games are brand new to consoles, starting with Drawful. As the name suggests, this one is a twist on Pictionary. The game cleverly sets up a laugh right away, as it asks you to draw yourself. The people with whom I played went a bit crazy with this, and it set the mood. Suffice to say that none of us could draw, and even to the extent that we could, we didn’t draw ourselves. I drew one of the very few things I vaguely can, the Pokemon Seedot; that was about as serious as it got. Next, each player gets a phrase and a space to draw on their phone/tablet. The phrases tend to be pretty out there, such as “hippo with a bazooka” and “skunk exercises.” Even if you are a good artist, the small space and thick “ink” mean that it’s hard to draw anything, much less “skunk exercises.” From there, it’s just like Fibbage: each picture comes up, and you you enter an answer you think will trick the others. This was the surprise hit of the pack for us; the pictures and the guesses were hilarious, as was the reveal of what we were trying to draw. Basically, if you like Pictionary but wish it was sillier, this is your game.
Lie Swatter is the simplest piece here. A series of statements appear one by one, and each player has to guess whether it’s true or false. The categories can be quite interesting, including strange ones like “Condoms,” and both the true and false statements can be quite entertaining. However, at the end of the day, this game is basically Fibbage without the creativity. The statements may be more interesting, but you can only have so much fun with a true or false quiz. On the plus side, this one does support up to 100 players, so it’s great for big gatherings. Beyond that, though, I’d stick with Fibbage or Drawful.
Still, I’d take Lie Swatter over the collection’s last game any day. Word Spud is by far the worst part of the collection. It’s hard to describe, which is the first problem. Basically, a word starts falling down the screen towards a player’s name, and that player needs to enter a “related” word or phrase. That’s the second problem: the example given is not a related phrase, but a phrase that works as a continuation of the previous word (“butter and jelly” for “peanut.”) So which should it be? The answer is that it doesn’t matter, which leads us to the third problem: success is determined by the other players voting, which removes a lot of the challenge. The voting might make sense if the rules were clear, but as it stands, the game is directionless. Maybe that’s just us, but if a game needs a certain type of player for it to make sense, there’s a problem.
Outside of Word Spud, the entire collection is tons of fun. We spent a lot more time that we expected to on Fibbage and Drawful because they were so funny and engaging. You Don’t Know Jack and Lie Swatter, while less engaging, are still excellent games. But all of them are hindered by the same thing: the controller. Nothing ruins the fun of a great game like being forced to end it early due to bad technology. Still, with 4 of the 5 games being as good as they are, I know I’m willing to forgive the issues. We got a lot of laughs from these, and what started out as a quick play for this review turned into a high point of the day. The Jackbox Party Pack is a solid hit for parties and gatherings, so keep it in mind for any upcoming events.
A lot of party in a small pack
Gameplay - 8/10
Accessibility - 7/10
Design - 9/10
+ Excellent party games
– Phone controllers don’t always work