Part of the appeal of the Jackbox Party Packs is that they were the perfect tonic for people who didn’t play games: your parents, cousins, anyone with a general aversion to technology.
The latest Jackbox pack, released a couple of weeks ago, continues that trend. But it’s also the most complicated collection of Jackbox games.
In times past, Jackbox games have been a real simple affair. Here’s a bunch of trivia questions. Here’s a prompt. Answer it. Draw a picture based on it. Here’s two sounds. Put them together.
Jackbox has moved on from its simplistic beginnings.
If you’ve stuck with the Jackbox games since the first Party Pack was released a couple of years ago, you’ll notice the shift. Even the menus are a little more complex: none of the games – Fakin’ It, Guesspionage, Trivia Murder Party, Quiplash 2, or Tee K.O. – immediately launch into a multiplayer lobby anymore.
It’s a curious move. The weakest games in the previous Jackbox packs were the ones that required the most understanding, the ones that took the longest to get going. Bidiots suffered by overcomplicating the Drawful formula. Bomb Corp was fun – a poorer version of Spaceteam, with a splash of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – but the four player limit and the cut scenes didn’t help when you were playing with a large crowd (which often happens at game nights).
Moving from something like Fibbage to, say, Tee K.O. also reminds you how much tolerance gamers actually have for instructions. Almost every time a Jackbox game appears on the TV – whether it’s in the office for Friday night drinks, a game night at a friend’s place or at home with my unsuspecting family – there’s someone who doesn’t consider themselves a gamer, someone who doesn’t play games.
And that’s why the Jackbox games have been so great in the past. They’re easily understood. The phone-as-a-controller mechanic works brilliantly. And, for the most part, everyone is guaranteed to have a good time because the games rely on each other for the humour.
But the new Jackbox Pack requires a good deal more patience.
Take Tee K.O. Like most of the pack, it’s basically a mash-up of previous Jackbox mechanics (Drawful and Quiplash, in this case). Players are tasked with drawing three or four designs for t-shirts, and then given a short window to enter as many prompts as they can.
There’s a 90 second window for each shirt, and then another minute or so to enter in all the prompts. Most Jackbox games are halfway done at the five minute mark. Tee K.O. takes that long before anything actually happens.
And sometimes, it breaks completely. It actually took three different days before I got to play Tee K.O. The game lobby kept crashing right after everyone had entered their quips; the first time.
Not the kind of mood you want to set for a party.
Even games like Trivia Murder Party make things a little bit harder than they should. Each of the mini-games requires a quick explainer the first time around, but thanks to the garbled Saw-esque voiceover there’s always someone who ends up explaining it twice or three times. And then there’s the part where people automatically assume they’re out of the game once they become a ghost (because they can’t hear the VO).
Fakin’ It is much the same – you don’t get it until you’ve played at least a full game, and maybe two if you’re unfortunate with how things went.
But like Hayley kept saying, it’s worth it. Stay with it.
Trivia Murder Party is basically the direction You Don’t Know Jack needed to go. The previous Jackbox bundle felt a little empty without the inclusion of a straight trivia game, and having the mini-games uses not only other mechanics that fans are familiar with, but also eliminates the inevitable cringing at Cookie Masterson between questions.
Tee K.O. inevitably generates a few laughs, although it suffers from the Cards Against Humanity problem where you can get stuck with poor pairings of quotes and t-shirts. Guesspionage is the easiest understood and the simplest, but also the most Americanised (due to where all the statistics were drawn from).
Quiplash 2 is what you’d expect: a better version of Quiplash. The standard prompts seem a lot better off the bat, and there’s always the option to make your own episode (although the whole experience seems naturally funnier when you don’t what questions are going to appear).
Fakin’ It is also a bit of a surprise. The principle is that up to six people sit around facing each other acting out a prompt on their phone (which might be something like ‘Point at the person who farts the most’). One person doesn’t get the prompt, though, and has to pretend to blend it.
It results in some good laughs: sometimes the “Faker” ends up declaring something so obviously contrary to the prompt, or pointing to someone who clearly cannot fit the parameters given. And in that sense, they’re being screwed. But provided you’re not hyper-competitive – and Jackbox games aren’t designed for that – there’s never a concern that you’re sacrificing yourself to the RNG gods.
Of course, all of this doesn’t get around the fact that if you’re a fan of the Jackbox games you’ll have probably bought this pack already. Trivia Murder Party fits nicely in with a rotation of Fibbage, Quiplash and Drawful, and Fakin’ It works a treat with smaller parties.
But it’s also starting to get to the point where the Jackbox model is becoming impractical. If you want to go from Quiplash 2 to Fibbage, you have to quit the game and start a second application. Want to play Drawful 2 and then switch back over? You have to quit again, relaunch the application, pick the game of your choice, then start the game proper, and then everyone can join from the lobby code.
15 games have been released in the last three packs; 18 if you include Drawful 2, Fibbage XL and the original Quiplash. Streamlining all the games into a single launcher would help enormously, especially when technical difficulties arise.
It’s not a dealbreaker, of course. And the third Jackbox Party Pack also gives a view into where the Jackbox games might go, slower affairs reliant on more interaction between the players than the prompts themselves. Given how many of the new games reuse mechanics from previous packs, that’s not a bad thing, although Quiplash and its sequel will always have a place in my heart.