The release of The Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 8 would normally have been an exciting occasion for me. Since the third or fourth instalment, the series has seen regular rotation in my group of gaming friends, a change of pace from the tabletop games we normally play. Closing out our annual charity game marathons with some rounds of its bizarre mini-games is a tradition.
Unfortunately, with this volume, the series’ most lacklustre offering in years, the enthusiasm fell flat. It’s rare to find a Jackbox volume where every single game is beloved by every player, but with Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 8, the inverse was true instead—it was harder to find any game that left anyone satisfied after the first playthrough.
In terms of gameplay, nothing is new here, not that the existing input format really required any changes. Aside from the host console, players only need their own smartphone, tablet, or computer to join the game lobby from the Jackbox.tv website. One nice thing to note is an expanded options menu, with more quality-of-life configurations.
The Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 8 begins with the standard “classic” title. Drawful, the series’ essential art game, returns in GIF form as Drawful Animate. Players are tasked with drawing two-frame animations from prompts, then guessing what the other players drew. The animation angle is enough to make the new offering feel fresh, but it could still benefit tremendously from an eraser feature. As always with these drawing games, tablet-and-stylus players have a huge advantage.
“Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 8 begins with the standard “classic” title. Drawful, the series’ essential art game, returns in GIF form as Drawful Animate.”
Job Job is the wordplay game this time, and is interesting enough. Players are vying for a hypothetical job interview and must freely answer interview questions. Those responses are then sent to the other players, who rearrange the words to make new responses, and then everyone votes for the best creations. What they sneakily hide from you for half your first game, however, is that any word that appears on your device can be used when you’re rearranging, effectively doubling your ability to respond aptly.
The Poll Mine is a team-based survey game with a dungeon-crawling motif. Everyone answers the same surveys, ranking their top choices. The survey options are then presented as a series of doors in a fantasy dungeon. Teams must guess which doors are the safest to open, depending on the round. In the first round, for example, the game wanted us to pick the top three responses; in the second round, it was the second through fourth responses; and in the final, we needed to find the bottom four responses in order.
Here is where the current state of life comes into play. Jackbox has been a great choice for online game nights during the pandemic, but some games simply work better in person. The Poll Mine needed teams to communicate amongst themselves, but there was no easy way to do that when everyone’s in the same Discord voice chat. As well, this was very much a “play it once to really understand it” sort of game.
“Jackbox has been a great choice for online game nights during the pandemic, but some games simply work better in person.”
At least by the end of one game, I had a handle on The Poll Mine; this was not the case for The Wheel of Enormous Proportions, the new trivia game. Jackbox Games started out by making the irreverent trivia game You Don’t Know Jack, and they’ve had several interesting variations over the years, but this is not one.
The conceit here depends on the eponymous Wheel, which asks players multiple-choice trivia questions. Answer correctly and swiftly, and you’ll earn more chances to claim spots on its Wheel of Fortune-esque face. After the trivia round, players spin the wheel and points are awarded depending on where it stops.
Jackbox trivia is always fun enough, but the Wheel thoroughly stole the spotlight. Even worse, it felt arbitrary. There’s some probability at play here, but with four players it felt like the spinner would almost certainly land on their own square every time. Actually partaking in the trivia was by far the smallest part of playing this mini-game.
“Jackbox trivia is always fun enough, but the Wheel thoroughly stole the spotlight. Even worse, it felt arbitrary.”
Last is the social deduction game Weapons Drawn, which tasks players with both solving murder mysteries and creating them. They must draw murder weapons on their devices and hide a letter from their name within its design. Everyone votes on which cases to investigate, and who to convict afterwards. It’s an interesting concept that proves a little obtuse—Jackbox games are usually best when they don’t get too complex.
As a whole, Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 8 is adequate. Like last year’s offering, the writing and humour are well-balanced and avoid most low-hanging fruit, knowing players will likely provide the dirty, over-the-top suggestions themselves. If you’ve enjoyed the presentation of any previous volumes, you’ll like this one well enough too.
But most of the game offerings are somewhat forgettable, or at least won’t see the same sort of replayability. Job Job and The Poll Mine are good additions, but Drawful Animate is familiar fare, and Wheel of Enormous Proportions and Weapons Drawn are polarizing. The “random” elements of Wheel overpower the actual game itself, and social deduction games leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths now, between pandemic isolation and the overbearing success of Among Us.
“…the writing and humour are well-balanced and avoid most low-hanging fruit, knowing players will likely provide the dirty, over-the-top suggestions themselves.”
I’d be more disappointed if the last several offerings weren’t so good, but considering that I haven’t been this let down with a new Jackbox since Volume 2, it’s forgivable. I can chalk it up to a year of growing pains, especially after the fantastic Volume 7.
With the wheels falling off this year, I’m beginning to realize that a change of format could be huge for the series, moving forward. Jackbox may be approaching critical mass, and it’s getting harder to track which pack has what games. Their current practice is commendable, offering discounts on older volumes if you own others, and selling certain core games as standalone titles. But eight compilations in, it would be advisable for Jackbox to swing in the other direction and create one software hub instead, with the volumes included as paid packs.
If that were the case, players would be more willing to revisit games that don’t grab them right away. It would be great to see all the iterations of classic games like Drawful and Fibbage side-by-side, or to have outliers like Job Job available without booting up a separate game. As it is, I expect these new games to fall by the wayside.