Who doesn’t love a good party game? When my wife and I have friends over, we like to dish out classics like Cards Against Humanity, Settlers of Catan, and Mexican Train Dominoes (sometimes we play for money!) and play long into the night. Since being introduced to Jackbox Games’ Party Pack collections, I’ve added them to the rotation and they are always a big hit. Just when we were getting used to the likes of Fibbage, Drawful, and Tee KO, Jackbox Games is back with a new collection of group activities, one of which is the grand return of my favorite trivia game show, You Don’t Know Jack. Party Pack 5 offers five unique and quirky party games that are sure to heighten any social gathering. And the best part? They can still be played from the comfort of people’s own phones (let’s face it, your guests are going to be on them anyway, why not take advantage of it?). For this review, my wife and I invited two of our friends over for pizza and played our way through each of the games in the collection.
You Don’t Know Jack
At long last, the classic trivia game show has returned! Since its debut in 1995, You Don’t Know Jack has provided hours of irreverent and quirky humor to the masses. The game hasn’t graced a party pack since the first in 2015 and I’m so happy to have it back. In this 2018 edition, you’ll find all the same offbeat trivia questions and game types that award cash for right answers and takes it away for every one answered wrong—and game show host Cookie Masterson isn’t afraid to humiliate you in front of the group. Split into three rounds, you’ll answer an assortment of random, somewhat illogical answers that require a little thinking outside the box. Classic game types like “Dis or Dat” and the “Jack Attack” offer chances for quick money (or painful losses) while poor performing players can use any earned Screws to make things difficult for other players, like darkening their phone screens or making the text appear really small. I’m grossly biased in favor of You Don’t Know Jack though i was delighted that the rest of the group also enjoyed it. We played it twice, so as to get ourselves in the special mindset needed for such kookie questions, but also because we had so much fun with it.
Split The Room
Split The Room plays a little bit like Fibbage but without the inherent silliness of trying to fool people into selecting the best wrong answer. This game was easily our group’s least favorite of the bunch. The concept is that each player is presented with a verbose hypothetical situation and fill in the blank with a concept that gives the rest of the group something to vote “yes” or “no” on. It’s kind of like a play on the classic “Would You Rather…” game. The “splitting the room” portion of the activity happens as the rest of the group (and audience) needs to decide which side they want to choose and the longer it takes for them to make a decisions, the player whose question is being debated gets more points.
It feels like an evolution of Fibbage but without the fun of trying to deliberately mislead the group. Having it as a follow up to You Don’t Know Jack certainly didn’t help, either. Split The Room strikes a fairly serious tone despite the presented by a talking cat doing a middling Rod Serling impression. It pales in comparison to the comedy deeply ingrained with the former trivia game as well as the tone of the other games in the collection. When we started with Party Pack 5, we all agreed to play through each game twice but after one session of Split The Room, we were more than ready to move on.
Mad Verse City
Who doesn’t likes giant robots? How about giant robots that fight not with eye lasers or rocket powered fists but through piercing rhymes and rap battles? If so, Mad Verse City is going to be this winter’s hottest jam. Set within a city ravaged by the sickest of burns, an army of giant mechas compete to see who can drop the best, most crippling raps against their fellow mechanized giants. Mad Verse City is an expression of creative writing that uses Mad Libs-style prompts (adjectives, nouns, and the like) and then typing out a sentence that rhymes with the word or phrase you chose. Since there is a lot of down time in between battles, as players work to come up with funny and amusing words and phrases, players can pass the time by interacting with city to trigger different effects, like running a news ticker, blowing up buildings, and running a news ticker.
The battles themselves pit players against each other as computerized voices read off the words you typed in. This is funny already because the machine reads your text as is, like a first generation Siri, often mispronouncing words or sounding them out differently in the event you accidentally leave out an apostrophe (and also seems unable to differentiate the “jo” in words like “Navajo,” pronouncing it as “Nava-joe”). The rest of the party can spam reaction buttons to give the player with the best rap a cheer bonus, netting them extra cash. Unlike Split The Room, Mad Verse City brought energy back to the room because we were allowed to get really silly. That said, Mad Verse City is a bit of a one trick pony that doesn’t offer much variation on its central mechanic. It was still really fun, though, and became another group favorite.
Jackbox gets into the arcade business with Zeeple Dome, a sort of gladiatorial arena-based action game where players try to destroy aliens in what can best be described as an intergalactic game show. I’ve done trivia, drawing games, and fill in the blank stuff in previous Jackbox Party Packs and none of them surprised me as much as Zeeple Dome. Players use their phones to slingshot their characters around an arena populated with platforms, bumpers, and deadly aliens. What’s really cool about the game is how the aliens periodically change color, rendering them invulnerable to everyone except the player whose avatar matches its color. Only when they are it do they become susceptible to damage by the entire group before they revert to a different color. Power-ups and health items behave the same way making this a fantastic and frantically fun game that keeps everyone on their toes.
Each player’s phone tracks their character’s health and gives you direct control of their trajectory by tapping and holding down the avatar icon and dragging it in the direction you want them to go. If someone’s character dies, they’ll float around the screen until someone bumps into them, bringing them back into the game with half health. My wife and our two friends don’t play video games much but easily grasped the concept and quickly settled into a good rhythm of teamwork. The battles don’t have a time limit, allowing everyone to be as methodical and precise as they want to be (though be careful, other characters can bump into you and knock you off your intended path). What really impressed me was how well the game kept up with everyone playing on their phones instead of a controller or some other direct input. There was some minor lag but not enough to ruin the game or make people feel like they were cheated out of a good attack or killed by a cheap hit. Another group favorite!
I had high hopes for this one. Of all the Jackbox games, I really like the ones that have a drawing element. Tee KO is a personal favorite and one of the prized shirts in my wardrobe is one that I made in the game. Patently Stupid is kind of like Drawful if it were a weekend get-rich-quick seminar held inside a modest but dumpy La Quinta Inn located near an interstate off-ramp. The idea is simple: the group is presented with a fill in the blank “problem,” like “My coworkers simply can’t <blank>!” or “How am I supposed to do <blank>?!” Each player must come up with an invention to solve that problem and draw it on a cocktail napkin while also giving it a catchy name and a marketable catch phrase. Everyone then votes on the best invention using finance tokens but only those that earn over $1,000 win the round. Everyone can pitch their own ideas or let the game do it for you--and as someone who finds comedy really hard to do, I was content with letting the near passive-aggressive game hosts do it for me (I bet a group of quick witted and savvy people could launch some really great pitches that’d make Billy Mayes weep). After everyone has had a turn to pitch their ideas to the group, the game mixes it up by forcing all the players to come up with an invention for a new lifestyle problem. The only thing we didn’t like about the game was the inability to skip past the lengthy scripted preamble spoken by the in-game hosts for each player’s invention. As there were four of us, that meant we had to listen to the exact same speech four times which caused everyone to stop paying attention and lose focus on the activity.
The activities in The Jackbox Party Pack 5 can be hit or miss but the hits are really strong. My wife and friends responded really well to You Don’t Know Jack, Mad Verse City, and Zeeple Dome once we settled into a groove with each. I wanted to love Patently Stupid (the idea is great and I love drawing games) but it needs to be a little snappier and better focused on its gameplay rather than playing up the seminar angle. Split the Room was our least favorite activity and we thought placing it after You Don’t Know Jack really hurt it because it makes a dramatic shift in comedic tone and we struggled to find humor in it when it comes so naturally to others. Thanks to the randomness ingrained with the other games that ensues no two sessions are alike, we could easily stick to the games we liked and still feel like The Jackbox Party Pack 5 was a great way to spend an evening with friends.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.