Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: The Jackbox Party Pack


Having already released 3 Party Packs, and approaching the release of a fourth this year, the Jackbox Party Packs have been quite a success on multiple platforms, and now they’re finally on the Switch. Pioneering what is pretty well now the established norm for how best to implement local multiplayer party games the original Jackbox Party Pack has valuable roots, even if not all of the games it includes are as polished as some of their newer offerings. For those unfamiliar, in brief, as long as you have an internet connection for your Switch (without one you won’t be able to play anything other than single-player You Don’t Know Jack) you have everything you need to get a game going, even with a large group of people (most games cap out at 8 direct participants). The reason for this is that people will be able to use their smartphones, tablets, or even computers to connect to the Jackbox website, join a specific room, and then play the game with that device. Your Switch will still act as the central source of score keeping and entertaining commentary, but aside from navigating the main menu no controllers are needed.

Moving into the individual games we’ll start with the simplest in the pack that are also, generally, the weakest. First up is Word Spud, a game where someone will be given a partial prompt, like “strip____”, put in their answer, and then be evaluated by the other players on whether they like it or not. Depending on the answer, like “club” versus “ping out of my clothes” the next prompt will be derived from the previous answer and so on. This can lead to some laughs, certainly, but in terms of it being competitive since it is always clear who is providing the answer to be scored it can be easy for people to sway the outcome based on the person. 


Next would be Lie Swatter, which boils down to a true or false trivia game with each participant independently giving their answer and then scores being tallied based on who gets it right. There’s a bonus for deciding quickly as the first person with the correct answer will get extra points, but that’s really all there is to the game. Of everything offered this is, by far, the most scalable with this design. It says it can support up to 100 players, so that could be a plus. That said, otherwise, the game is ultimately just about trivia and there’s only a limited opportunity for laughs which is what I’m generally looking for from the Jackbox titles.

Smack in the middle of the road is the 2015 edition of the classic You Don’t Know Jack formula, complete with traditional featured modes like Dis or Dat and the always-entertaining commentary of Cookie Masterson. Keeping in mind the production values and care with presentation the drawback of these specific games is that once you’ve exhausted the questions you’ll be done with it but the ride is always an entertaining one and doing so would take a while. Topics are as varied and often unusual as ever to keep things from getting too predictable, and it is often the comments surrounding the questions and your answers that provide the most enjoyment. True to the original this can also be played solo if you’d just like to test your trivia knowledge, but it is a lot more fun to enjoy the comments and features like screwing one of your enemies over to give the game some extra flavor.


Moving to the games that are most successful in the Pack we’ll start with Fibbage XL. The premise here is that there’s a bizarre trivia question associated with a chosen topic. Each person playing will provide an answer but the focus isn’t necessarily to be right in this case but to deceive your friends into choosing your answer as the correct one. Points are awarded for how many friends you’re able to fool, but then also for the people who do manage to find the right answer among all of the fake ones. Due to this element, where people who know the answers are awarded points quite handsomely, once topics eventually begin to repeat (this would take quite a lot of playing, mind you) anyone who has seen the answer before would get a major advantage, but until that time there’s a lot of potential for fun and arguing over who had the best answer. 

Last, but not least, there’s Drawful, one of my favorite Jackbox titles (that has received a sequel as well) and capable of delivering significant laughs. The first advantage it has for fun is that it relies on people’s artistic skills (or lack thereof), the second is that you only have one color to work with and no eraser as you try to draw on your smartphone or tablet, and the last is that the prompts you get are often concepts or phrases that aren’t well-suited to being drawn in these conditions in only a few minutes. Each person gets their own prompt, draws their picture, and then everyone else gets to provide an answer for what they think the original prompt was. Again, the goal at this phase is less to be right than to concoct the most plausible answer to draw in the suckers, I mean your friends. Once all answers are in people will choose which they think is the real answer and points are awarded to those who have managed to lure people in, people who get it correct, and some are thrown in for the person drawing if people get it right. Overall, I’d consider this the stand-out of this Pack, though how much you or the people you play with may enjoy it will likely vary with the group.

Reviewing the original Jackbox Party Pack at this point, when the 2 later packs that were released are also available, is a bit of a challenge. My hope is that by going over each of the individual games in the pack, with their strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be able to determine for yourself which games may best suit the preferences you, or the people you’ll play with, may have. On the whole, of the three packs available I’d consider the original Party Pack the weakest of the bunch, but that’s also likely because I very heavily favor Quiplash as the best overall game Jackbox has made to date. That said, if you enjoyed the classic You Don’t Know Jack titles, have friends who will enjoy laughing at each other’s awful art skills, and dig the idea of creative fabrication there are still many hours of group fun to be had in this pack. 

Score: 8

Pro:
  • The art of deceiving others in Fibbage XL can be both very creative and entertaining as the real answers are often more strange than the ones you’ll make up
  • The limited time and tools to draw effectively in Drawful mixed with some very high-concept prompts make for some great pictures and matching conversations
  • For fans of You Don’t Know Jack the 2015 edition is a lot of fun and true to the series


Cons:
  • Word Spud, while it can entertain, isn’t well-structured to be competitive and may be too minimalist for its own good
  • Lie Swatter, compared to many of Jackbox’s games, has a pretty slight yes-or-no focus so there’s limited opportunity for greater fun
  • As the only available Pack lacking Quiplash I’d consider it currently the weakest overall

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