Another autumn, another installment in the Jackbox series from Jackbox Games. You’re probably familiar with the franchise by now: the studio behind hit PlayStation 1 trivia game You Don’t Know Jack! have created a variety of minigames suited for parties or streaming, with players using their smartphones to participate. The host system provides a room code, then participants log in and play along with the presentation on screen. This year’s offering, however, may stand out as one of the better collections.
The first game is Quiplash 3, an update of a classic previously featured in volumes 2 and 3, and as a standalone. Quiplash presents players with two secret prompts on their device; they submit their answers, and the collective votes for their favourite answers — more votes, more points. This time the final round is a Thriplash, requiring three answers per prompt: for example, “three signs you’re falling in love” or “honestly, the three greatest achievements of mankind have been (blank).” Quiplash is one of the most fun and accessible games in the series, and that remains true here.
Next is The Devil and the Details, a somewhat unique entry. Players assume roles in a family of devils acclimatizing to life in a suburban area, taking on domestic chores listed on their devices (“ie. mow the lawn, muck out the gutters, stand in the garage and sigh”). Tasks are performed by following prompts and touching their screens: tap or don’t tap the screen at a certain time, rotate an object, look up the phone number for a plumber in a phone book and dial it, etc. A handful of tasks must be completed to succeed each round. Completing tasks earns points toward the family score, and each individual player is also ranked for their contributions to the whole.
Some tasks are accomplished with teamwork; at one point I needed everyone else on the team to pitch in before we could pass a mandatory task. Other tasks are “selfish.” They award a lot of points toward one player’s total but don’t help the family’s overarching goal, and if too many are done, they can trigger a crisis for the entire team. The key is to complete goals as a whole while also competing to be the top scorer, and shutting down others’ selfish tasks.
This might have been the most fun game of the pack. The balance between team and selfish tasks, and the various tasks required, led to a lot of friendly shouting as players struggled to work together. It’s also the most video game-like experience in the franchise, at least since Volume 5’s ill-advised Zeeple Dome. Thirty different scenarios would keep it fresh on multiple replays, as well.
The third game is this year’s drawing game, Champ’d Up. Each contestant is given a prompt and must draw a fighter on their smartphone that suits it — for instance, “the champion of cool” or “the champion of needing to dial it down.” The drawing and its name, but not the prompt, are sent to another player, who has to draw an opponent to contend against them for the title, and the other players vote for their favourites. The process repeats in the second round, except players can substitute their creations from the first round during voting. As usual, the game is playable (if not better) even if the players are bad artists.
Game #4, Talking Points, is practically an improv game in its own right. First, each player completes three prompts for speech topics, like “why I deserve all of the (blank).” Players choose a topic from this list and take turns giving speeches to the others, with one other player serving as their Assistant, queuing up stock photos as visual aids. Jackbox has a set structure to help facilitate for those who are stumped or less inclined to public speaking: an introduction, a text slide, a photo slide, and so on. The result can be the strangest compilation of TED Talks imaginable.
Last, we have Blather ‘Round, a sort of text-based spin on charades with a pop culture lean. Players are given a secret prompt and must guide the others to guess what it is using lists of pre-generated words. For instance, my first prompt was “RuPaul,” so I chose the hints “They’re an (amazing) lady” and “They are renowned for the (lady).” As players type guesses, the available prompts change and include some of the guesses made, so I was able to tell my friends “They’re nothing like (Princess Diana)” and “She’s so (sparkly)!” This was a neat idea but perhaps the least entertaining of the batch.
Through all of the games runs the same peppy background muzak and witty banter from the in-game hosts, which players of previous installments will recognize. This time around these elements felt less obtrusive, less like they were trying too hard to be funny. And unlike other entries, I encountered no bugs.
There are extensive options by series standards, as well, like extended timers, subtitles, lobby security, and the option to start with the physical game controller. Some games offer customizable options as well, like the option to make your own episode of Quiplash prompts or ditch the preset structure for Talking Points. These are big improvements on previous installments. With all minigames save Blather Round accommodating 3-8 players plus audience, there’s little need to shuffle players when switching to a different activity.
Having played all of the previous packs, I think this one will go down as a favourite within my group of friends. Our enthusiasm only waned through Blather ‘Round, while the others kept us engaged with our own creativity and humour. Talking Points and Devil and the Details especially stand out.
However, individual mileage may vary. I streamed the game on my Switch, via a capture card, to my friends in Discord video chat, so everyone could be heard and seen. The experience would undoubtedly be better in person, if not for the pandemic; in a way, this pack is heavily dependent on being physically present with other players, or at least visible, which makes its release timing unfortunate. By the same token, I can see these games being almost impossible to enjoy via streaming, despite the series being built for that purpose, on top of the usual consequences of playing with unvetted randoms.
If you haven’t enjoyed previous Jackbox volumes, this one might win you back. It leaves most of the humour up to you and presents a well-rounded sampling of tasks. Just be sure you can enjoy the party safely.