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Review: The Jackbox Party Pack 4

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Fourth time, less charm

I'm not sure how to classify the games Jackbox has been putting out for the past few years, but the company sort of invented a new genre. The Party Packs' casual games turn any device with a touchscreen and an internet connection into a controller, so the barrier to entry is nearly nonexistent. They're great to play even with friends or family who don't consider themselves gamers, and the experience is usually fun enough people are willing to come back again and again.

Last year, The Jackbox Party Pack 3 was one of my favorite releases. I wrote way too much about the game, justifying it to myself by reasoning that I was really doing five reviews all at once. I promised Chris I wouldn't do that this time, so let's get to it.

The Jackbox Party Pack 4 (PC [reviewed], Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, 4th Generation Apple TV, Nvidia Shield)
Developer: Jackbox Games Inc.
Publisher: Jackbox Games Inc.
MSRP: $24.99
Released: October 17, 2017 (PS4), October 18, 2017 (Apple TV) October 19, 2017 (Switch, PC, Mac, Android TV, Fire TV, Shield), October 20, 2017 (Xbox One)

Like all previous Party Packs, The Jackbox Party Pack 4 includes five games you can play with a bunch of your friends together in the same room, or stream on services like Twitch and let your audience play along. This year's pack includes the upgrades introduced last year to make things easier on streamers, allowing hosts to hide the room code until all their friends have gotten slots, for example.

Those who can't get in to play can still participate as audience members, and several of this packs' new features allow the audience to engage in more meaningful ways than just voting for their favorite contestant. For example, audience members can add to the lies in Fibbage 3, and the audience as a collective becomes one of the players in Monster Seeking Monster.

With the exception of Fibbage 3, each game needs at least three players, though you can mix and match live players with people from the internet. Even though you can play online, I've always felt these games work best when you can see and interact with the people you're playing with. I invited a bunch of folks over to try out the pack, and we managed to get a full group for a couple rounds of each game. Unfortunately, the five games in this year's pack didn't seem to be up to quite the same standard as last year's offerings.

Let's start with the first game listed, Fibbage 3. This is essentially the same as Fibbage and Fibbage 2 from the first and second Party Packs, with updated prompts provided by fan favorite host Cookie Masterson. He'll read a fill-in-the-blank question and every player tries to provide a plausible lie as an answer. If people choose your lie you get points, and you can get even more for choosing the correct answer from among the fibs.

Fibbage 3 is just as entertaining as its predecessors, and the late '60s ambiance helps make it feel like a cheesy retro game show. Stick around for the credits because the theme song has lyrics, and you'll get entertaining statistics from your last match that make fun of players in the room.

New to this version is an actual use for the "likes" players and audience members can award to answers they enjoy; each is worth a small amount of points, which can help swing close games. Fibbage 3 will also now warn you when the lie you've entered is close to the correct answer instead of requiring an exact match to trigger the warning. 

This year's pack is advertised as having "Five and a half" games, and the half game is a new way to play Fibbage. Called Fibbage: Enough About You, this version doesn't test your trivia and weird news knowledge, instead seeing how well you know your friends. It plays a lot like Sony's That's You, but doesn't lean on sharing photos, and also has the advantage of not requiring a separate app download to play. You'll write lies about one of the other people playing, or might need to write one truth and one lie about yourself to see if you can fake out the other players. My group particularly enjoyed this mode, though it might be less entertaining with a bunch of strangers on Twitch.

Fibbage seems like it might be the direct evolution of You Don't Know Jack, allowing more than four players to test their knowledge of strange facts and bizarre news stories. While it's fun to try and fool your friends, I slightly prefer Quiplash since the answers you input don't have to be plausible to win votes, just funny.

The second game listed is Survive the Internet, and it's all about twisting your friends' words and making them look silly. Each player is provided a prompt and told to answer honestly- in the example above, I was asked what I thought of Wonder Woman. Another player is then given your answer and told to make up a different prompt which will make the first player look foolish. At the end of a round, everyone votes on which combination they enjoyed most, with points going to the person who crafted the best burn and some pity points for their victim.

The low-poly, mid '90s aesthetic brought me right back to my first Gateway PC, and humorous popup ads and a parody of Microsoft's Clippy pop up before answer time to entertain the audience. We had fun with this game, though the prompts were slightly too situational for my group's tastes. The final round is always a photo round, using stock pictures and encouraging each player to make up an embarrassing instagram caption. My group didn't care for this mode since most of the pictures were a little too bland to be funny. We all agreed this had been handled better in Use Your Words, with silly photos that better lent themselves to cracking jokes.

Third on the list is Bracketeering, surprisingly not about taking March Madness bets for the mob. Instead, it's a game about pitting your answer against other players' in a head-to-head battle, with one response emerging as the absolute best in the room. Everyone votes on their favorite answer, and you can change your mind at any time as long as time hasn't run out. You can also win extra points by predicting the outcome of one of the matches beforehand. This one supports up to 16 players simultaneously and also allows an audience, so I suspect it'll be the standout title for streamers.

If the premise sounds sort of bland, well, it kinda is. Bracketeering has the same problem we first noticed in last year's Tee K.O. where a joke gets less funny the more times you see it. Fortunately, the final round switches things up by changing the prompt instead of the answers, giving them a different context. The prompt above, for example, began as "Things people do that annoy you." My group agreed this mode was much more fun than the main game, and that Bracketeering would have been better if this concept had been applied to every question instead of just the final round.

Next up is Monster Seeking Monster, a supernatural dating game that's sort of like Werewolf meets Mystery Date. The object is to collect more hearts than the other players by going on the most successful dates. Players can send text messages through their device to gauge the interest of other players, making it more likely they'll find someone who wants to date them back. The twist is that each player starts with a human persona, but everyone is secretly a monster with a power that'll affect how hearts are distributed at the end of the game. Monsters who do especially well during the first couple of rounds have their powers revealed to the group early, letting other players know what to watch out for.

Unfortunately, I ran into some tech issues with this game. For some reason, the user interface wouldn't load on my phone (a Samsung Galaxy Avant), displaying a blank white screen whenever it was time to send texts to other players or choose a potential partner. Bizarrely, no one else in the room had the same issue. I tried rebooting the phone and using a Kindle Fire instead, but got the same result. The screen continued to change between rounds and my wife has the exact same phone, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't the device's fault. I'm still not sure what the problem was, but was disappointed to have to sit this one out.

Putting aside the technical issues, this game wasn't a favorite in my group. In my experience dating is always awkward, and gamifying it doesn't change that very much. Texts sent between players are shown on the main screen between rounds and you're always shown who wants to date who. My group was made up of primarily married couples, and most found it uncomfortable flirting with someone else's spouse, even in a supernatural context. On the other hand, there's nothing to prevent already established couples from hooking up repeatedly and dominating the other players. This is a case where a little more anonymity might have helped to improve the social aspects of the game.

My group also didn't care for the ratcheting sound effect the timer made, though they enjoyed the horror disco theme of the graphics and music and the Elvira soundalike host. They told me having a suggestion for conversations to get things started between players would have helped ease some of the awkwardness they felt. This game might be more fun for a bunch of strangers, but the complicated rules mean you'll have to have a like-minded group of players to get the most out of Monster Seeking Monster

The last game in the pack is Civic Doodle, and it's the artsy contribution to this year's pack. While other games like Drawful and Tee K.O. have tended to emphasize an individual's artistic ability, Civic Doodle is more collaborative. Two players are given a small line drawing to add to, something simple like a spiral or an arrow. They have a short time to add to this drawing, like turning the spiral into a snail or the center of a sunflower. The room votes on which drawing they like better, and then the next two players face off, continuing to add to the drawing the first winner created. If the snail were chosen in the first round, the next two players might decide whether to draw a foot about to squash it, or a lady snail and a heart. 

Drawings show up in real time on the main screen, which I believe is a first for the series. If it's not your turn to draw, you can tap emojis on your phone to react to the drawings you're seeing as they're being created. Sometimes these emojis are worth extra points at the end of a round, though this seemed to be fairly random. Our group had a lot of fun abusing the poop and barf emojis, and it was nice to have something to do when it wasn't your turn.

The final round pits all players against one another, drawing parts of a face or something similar. At the end of each round the room votes on which eyes, ears, hair, etc. they like best, and the collaborative drawing shows up on the side of a building, with the player who contributed the most artwork getting the most points. This game was more entertaining for the group than most of the others in the pack, and it's probably the one we'll come back to most frequently.

While my group and I enjoyed trying out this year's Party Pack, it's fair to say it didn't live up to my expectations. It's still a lot of fun, and there were frequent outbursts of laughter in my living room. But there really wasn't a standout title here, nothing to recommend this year's pack over previous entries in the series. It felt like all the games here would've benefited from a little more playtesting, a little more polish. I think it's telling that at the end of the night, we ended by loading up The Jackbox Party Pack 3 and playing a couple rounds of last year's Trivia Murder Party. You'll get your money's worth out of The Jackbox Party Pack 4, but you might have a better time with one of its predecessors.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]


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The Jackbox Party Pack 4 reviewed by Kevin McClusky

7

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Kevin McClusky
Kevin McCluskyContributor   gamer profile

I'm a longtime member of Destructoid, and you may have known me in a prior life as Qalamari. ... more + disclosures


 



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