Let this serve as a reminder. A good portion of gamers will be stuck at homes — their parents' homes, typically — this Christmas. A good portion of you will be surrounded the never-ending noise of family, arguing over the same old meaningless rubbish that never seems to die.
Wouldn't it be good if you had something, besides alcohol and too much food, that could easily unify everyone while quelling their negativity for a short time? As it turns out, there is something. And it's launching next week.
One of the games I miss the most was Buzz!. It was a simple enough game that everyone could play. I didn't have to give everyone a tutorial on how to use the controllers — press the big red button. That's it. People weren't gutted that they were missing out because they didn't have years of experience with a controller, nor were those new to the game left out because they lacked experience with the game in general.
The Buzz! games and others have died off in the last few years, but that's OK — because something better, broader and more accessible has taken its place: the Jackbox Party Pack.
Being able to use your smartphone as a controller is one of the greatest technological changes over the last couple of years. It's the reason I'm so eagerly awaiting Space Dust Racers (the Aussie kart racer running on Unreal Engine 4 that supports up to 16 players) and it's part of the reason why games like Fibbage and You Don't Know Jack are so playable.
Everyone has a smartphone. Most people in Australia have more than one; some people actively use two because of work. Taking advantage of that in a video game makes the experience more social, more enjoyable and, ultimately, more ideal for awkward family gatherings.
It's the sequel to the Jackbox Party Pack, a US$25 offering launching on October 14 (Australian time) with five games that all use the same controller interface. Unlike the original Jackbox pack, there's no You Don't Know Jack, which is a bit of a shame, but its absence is more than covered by the presence of Fibbage 2, Quiplash XL and Bidiots, a game that blends the concept of an auction into the Pictionary-style mania of Drawful.
Quiplash, Fibbage 2 and Bidiots are already good enough to blow through a couple of hours with your family and it might be the case that most people end up playing only two or three games in the pack anyway. (That's been the case with me and my friends: we only ever play YDKJ, Fibbage and Drawful from the original pack, since we don't have enough to make Lie Swatter or Word Spud worthwhile.)
Whether Earwax and Bomb Corp. fall into that category is unknown. Earwax is a game that makes players, Cards Against Humanity-style, recreate a phrase by selecting two sound effects from a list. It's certainly a lot easier to grasp than Bomb Corp., which appears to be a co-operative experience where players try to stop bombs from going off while working as interns.
I suspect Fibbage 2 might be a little redundant when Quiplash is already in the mix, but then I always felt like the weak link in Fibbage was the fact that you were providing an actual answer, as opposed to the game revolving around the funniest answer (which is what Quiplash does).
I'd still like to see the final round of Quiplash expanded into an entire game, something that replicates the experience of hanging out in the #madlibs channel on Austnet many, many moons ago. Why on earth Jackbox didn't just make that into a game as-is confuses me, but a man can dream.
For everyone else, there's the Jackbox Party Pack 2. It's available on all major consoles, as well as Amazon Fire TV and Google Play — but not iOS, interestingly. I wonder what it'd be like on a phone or tablet (not just connecting to a browser, that is).