At a gathering five years ago I was first introduced to the idea of Jackbox: a series of mini party games where each contestant uses their personal smartphone to participate. It seemed like a neat idea, and (for obvious reasons) it reminded me of the You Don’t Know Jack demos I’d once played on PlayStation.
Instead of a passing fad, however, it’s become an annual release. This year’s offering, Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9, is not a reinvention of the series’ irreverent wheel, but it is a fresh instalment of bizarre scenarios to play out with friends.
First off is a new instalment of a returning franchise game: Fibbage 4. Once again players respond to prompts and try to trick the others into thinking their answer is the correct one. If you’ve played Fibbage before, you know what to expect, but two twists shake up the formula this time.
Multimedia clues have players respond to bizarre clips from old, niche movies. It’s a fun idea in theory. However, in execution, it can throw off the pacing, especially since the clip doesn’t replay and inattentive players are left wondering what they’re responding to and voting on.
“Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9’s weakest entry is also perhaps its most ambitious, Nonsensor…”
The better twist is the new final round format, which challenges players to give one response that could work with two separate prompts. Make a clever response that works for both, or invest in one great answer for one prompt and hope you hit a home run? This was a great closer for a familiar game.
Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9’s weakest entry is also perhaps its most ambitious, Nonsensor. In what seems like the standard drawing game of the pack, players are thrown into a science or psychology experiment. It takes the usual quirks of drawing games and ups the confusion ante by adding numerical qualifications with prompts like “draw something that’s 60% between ‘candlesticks’ and ‘martial arts.’”
I see what they’re going for, and in the right hands it could be a pretty fun game. In practice, though, it was one of the most head-scratching experiences I’ve ever had in the series. Communication breakdowns were plentiful, and we even discovered you can just… write the right answer in the drawing space. It’s akin to the board game Wavelength, but without rules for that exact exploit.
However, the remaining games of Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9 are hall of fame contenders. Quixort (“quick sort”) tasks players with sorting items in a category by time — for instance, listing the astrological signs from March to February, or the lyrics of the Friends theme song from first sung to last sung, or popular toys from oldest to newest.
“Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9, is not a reinvention of the series’ irreverent wheel, but it is a fresh instalment of bizarre scenarios to play out with friends.”
To this end players will choose teams, and take turns placing each item along a timeline in Tetris-like fashion. Each round further stimulates the exercise—the second round introduces fake answers that must be placed in a trash bin off-screen, and the final third round gives teams a chance to correct their mistakes.
Playing remotely or in-person, and even with strangers, Quixort inspires the best sort of Jackbox team banter. Teammates quibble, while the opposition either interjects wrong answers, gets compelled to help, or just watches the chaos. It’s one of the more novel trivia games in the series, as you don’t really realize you’re playing a trivia game.
Another of Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9’s great new games is Junktopia. I thought the theme would discombobulate players, who are thematically transformed into frogs by a wizard who then recruits them to find curious antiques and earn their freedom. (It’s hard to describe in a way that sounds rational, so bear with me.)
Beneath the odd trappings, Junktopia gives players images of bizarre items as prompts. You choose one, haggle for its price, name the item, and come up with two facts about it, then players vote on each others’ creations. Points are represented as dollars, with the goal being to “flip” your junk shop find for the most profit.
It may sound obtuse, but the images the development team unearthed can inspire some truly creative (and potentially horrifying) responses.
The final game, Roomerang, is my vote for the breakout hit of Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9. In this reality elimination show, players pick a role or personality trait, like “hates firefighters,” x or y. Each round players respond to questions about themselves or the other players, and vote for the best answer; lean into your role or just go full reality TV and lash out at each other.
The winner of these challenges wins a perk like immunity, the chance to eliminate someone else directly, or have their eliminate vote count double. In Big Brother fashion, a player is eliminated—only to return with one vowel in their name changed, a new accessory on their avatar, and a new role.
Roomerang blends many of the best parts of the Jackbox formula: creative input prompts, a bizarre yet immersive scenario, clever twists on each gameplay round, and friendly (potentially vulgar) competition. The elimination fakeouts were hilarious each time—like when I was eliminated as Chris, a guy who loves astrology, only to return as Chros, the player with a barbershop quartet hat.
Last year’s entry was a bit of a letdown, which led me to wish there was a central Jackbox launcher with Party Packs offered as DLC or expansion packs. Now with this return to form, I find that wish redoubled. Vol. 9 offers some truly hilarious new games, and game nights would be so much smoother if we could jump from Roomtopia to an older gem like Survive the Internet without swapping software.
That being said, Jackbox Party Pack Vol. 9 continues to improve the option toolset. The ability to filter out America-centric content is an asset for Canucks and others, while profanity filters let you customize just how far you want to descend into Cards Against Humanity-esque irreverence. Better still, these options are saved, retained as you swap mini-games and even when you relaunch the software altogether.