Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Use Your Words


The moment I saw info about Use Your Words, as a huge fan of the Jackbox party games, I was curious about how it would handle things and differentiate itself. While certainly not every game in the Party Packs has been a massive hit with at least 2 titles per pack they’ve made heavy contact and usually one stands out as brilliant. For me the best title they’ve made is Quiplash (and its sequel) and my family and friends have spent a lot of time playing it and enjoying it immensely. I relate this because it paints the picture of where I saw the bar in this party game genre being very high and I wasn’t sure how this new kid on the block would set itself apart and offer something new. I’m pleased to say that while Use Your Words hardly reinvents what works it does an excellent job of creating new variations on a theme that my family and I found entertaining and compelling, and we’ll gladly add this to our regular rotation on game nights.


For those unfamiliar with how these games work what you’re really buying into is the hub for the game and once everything has been set in motion it will be controlled from each player’s smartphone, tablet, or even a computer with a web browser. Everyone will log into a site, register with a specific code, and then be hooked into the same game session. The audio and visuals for the overall flow come through the console but all interaction for collecting answers, etc is handled through each person’s device. It is a very versatile, easy, and incredibly scalable way to set these games up and in general it works very well.

In terms of what Use Your Words is shooting to do differently it all comes down to the various modes you’ll enjoy over the course of a game with between 2 and 5 of your friends (not including the provision for spectators). My favorite flavor offered is probably Sub The Title, which will show a relatively brief video clip with just a little bit of context and then the challenge is for people to suggest what the subtitle should be for the scene. The clips we’ve seen so far have been varied and have prompted some strange and funny responses. Another similarly original mode is called EXTRA, EXTRA! It will prompt everyone with some sort of unusual picture, calling on you to come up with a headline. Again, this has played out quite positively with silly and unexpected pictures that have forced people to use their creativity.


The last two modes, Blank-o-Matic and Survey Says, use much more traditional text prompts that are very similar to the likes of Quiplash. In the case of Blank-O-Matic you’ll be asked to fill in the blank for a provided prompt. Survey Says comes up at the end for the game’s lightning round finale but generally provides a prompt for you to come up with your funniest response for within 60 second. In the case of these two modes the laughs are still very much there, they just do less to differentiate themselves from what’s already out there.


Going over the high level details the presentation is clean, smart, and generally fun with running commentary to keep things moving and entertaining. Configuration is vital, and there are a number of options that I’d consider important. Of most interest is the fact that you can put it in “Family mode” to remove some prompts that would make multi-generational play a little more awkward. Another feature that can be toggled off, and that is unique to this game, is “House Answers”. If you leave them in this feature will always include one stock/pre-made answer in with the choices. If anyone chooses this answer they will incur a penalty. While this can keep people a bit on their toes nobody seemed to like it and it had a negative effect on people’s thinking in some cases since if there was one answer they were sure was from a human they’d tend to just pick that one just to avoid a risk of losing points.

The first key to this game being worthwhile will be access to more than one other person. In general I’d say the minimum number of people you need to make something like this fun is 4, though you could play with 3. The cap is apparently 6 for active players and then additional people can watch and enjoy the fun as spectators. The next key to enjoyment is people with a sense of humor. Not everyone “gets” this type of game and aside from enjoying straight answers for their potential ironic properties things can only be fun as what the participants are willing (and capable) of putting in. Each prompt represents an opportunity for fun and laughs, it is on you and your friends to take it over the finish line. The last key is often that you’ll want to play it in bursts and not too much continuously, at least not with the same people. Too much repetition tends to cause peoples’ answers to become more predictable and patterned, or people will just tend to burn out of ideas. Two or three rounds with the same people will hit a sweet spot and then return to it later so the enjoyment won’t wane.


While Use Your Words is very much a copy of an established (and very effective) format credit is due for the new twists it brings to the party. The MST3K-esque potential in the Sub the Title mode, specifically, is huge and opens the door to some very different opportunities for people to exercise their funny-making chops on. The pacing can tend to be a little slow because of the use of video clips (though they are very short) but I think the developers have tried to find a balance in reminding people of the context (which can be vital) and keeping things moving. I like the idea of the “House Answers” feature, it’s a great stab at adding an extra challenge, but in our playthroughs my family found it changed the answering strategy too much within our group so we were glad to have an option to disable it. If you’re looking for some fun and have access to a group of people on a somewhat regular basis Use Your Words will provide a few evenings of entertainment and engagement for everyone.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • The Sub the Title mode is a great idea and stood out as my family’s favorite
  • The scalability where you can have 6 people playing without needing controllers for them is terrific
  • Configuration options to help tune things for your audience


Cons:
  • Some of what it brings to the table has already been done
  • This type of game is only as fun as the people playing it will make it
  • To play you absolutely must have an internet connection and at least 3 people


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