Jackbox Games has a great thing going with its Party Packs. It’s way easier to get people to play a game if they already have the equipment, nearly everyone carries a smartphone around these days. I’ve found that it’s far less intimidating to get a group together to play Jackbox games than it is to pass out complicated controllers and explain button configurations. Since all that’s required is a touchscreen and internet access, you don’t even need a smartphone to join in. At my house, we’ve lent people who don’t have their phones a Kindle tablet or a Wii U GamePad, and they were able to play along just fine.
Ease of access is just part of the formula though, and it wouldn’t mean much if the games you were trying to share with your friends weren’t any good. Fortunately, The Jackbox Party Pack 3 more than delivers on the promise of quality made by its predecessors. This year’s installment continues to demonstrate that no one (no, not even them) makes a better party game. Each of the Jackbox games vary slightly in quality and complication, but all of them are simple enough that everyone can play. More importantly, they’re enough fun to keep people coming back. It’s a party in a box, just like it says on the label.
Jackbox Party Pack 3 (PC [reviewed], Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV)
Developer: Jackbox Games Inc.
Publisher: Jackbox Games Inc.
Released: October 18, 2016 (PS4, PC, Mac, Fire TV), October 21, 2016 (Xbox One)
Unlike previous installments in the Jackbox series, none of the games here have been available before now. Sorry to those who were waiting to grab the likes of Drawful 2 as part of a pack. That’s okay though, as the games you do get in the bundle more than make up for it.
There are five games in Party Pack 3, and I’ll discuss each of them in turn: Quiplash 2, Trivia Murder Party, Guesspionage, Fakin’ It, and Tee K.O. There really aren’t any clunkers in the bunch, and the group I played with enjoyed each of these games on their own merits.
The first game is also the most familiar — Quiplash 2, an upgraded version of the breakaway hit from last year’s Party Pack. The original Quiplash came into being as a Kickstarted effort, and was popular enough to make it into The Jackbox Party Pack 2 as Quiplash XL last October. Since you play remotely over the internet, you don’t necessarily need to be in the same room to join a game. This makes it a perfect fit for streamers, and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve gone looking for games to join on Twitch when I can’t get a group of friends together.
For those who aren’t familiar with Quiplash, here’s how it works: Each player is provided the setup to two jokes, and has 90 seconds to answer both of those prompts with the funniest line they can think of. The players who didn’t answer a prompt will then vote on which answer they like best, with the winner receiving more points. If the vote is unanimous, the winner gets a Quiplash and a sizable score bonus. Up to eight people can play, and any overflow can still participate by voting from the audience. Audience members’ votes aren’t weighted as importantly as those of the participants, but they can still swing the outcome of a close matchup or provide extra points to their favorite.
As I mentioned, Quiplash is pretty popular on Twitch, and many of the new features are intended to help make things easier for people who want to stream the games in Party Pack 3. The audience now supports up to 10,000 participants at once. You can require people who join your games to have a Twitch ID, making them slightly more accountable and slightly less random. You can also hide the room code that allows access to your game until all of your friends are in, preventing strangers from joining early and pushing your friends into the audience. There’s a toggle that allows the first player in to censor player’s answers, and perhaps most useful, you can extend the timers for streamed games to compensate for the 12 to 20 second delay Twitch viewers contend with.
Apart from the streaming features, Quiplash 2′s biggest draw is the welcomed ability to create your own prompts; you can even make an entire themed episode if you want. You can open up the creation process to your friends just before you play, or build the whole thing yourself before they come over. Either way, you can save prompts or episodes to play later. You can choose to keep the prompts secret as they’re being written, or make it public to make sure that nothing is repeated. It’s important to make sure that everyone understands the format before you open it up to others, or some of your custom prompts may not play very well. If everyone’s on the same page though, this feature has the potential to become the best part of the game, with group in-jokes and collective memories adding serious replay value to a game that already had loads of it.
One unavoidable downside is that the announcer (understandably) won’t read your custom prompts out loud. If you have an odd number of custom prompts or run out midway through a game, that’s not a problem, as the built-in prompts will take over seamlessly. The ability to create your own game is a simple addition, but once you’ve tried it, you’ll always want the option there.
I invited a large group over so that we could check out some of the audience features, and these have also been improved since Quiplash XL. Audience members now have the option to answer prompts alongside the players, though audience answers are never seen in the live game. Once a game is completed, both audience members and participants can click on the “Gallery” button to revisit every answer provided during a match. Both of these are small things, but they do help keep the audience engaged while waiting for the players to provide their answers, time they’d otherwise just be sitting idle.
The second game is called Trivia Murder Party, and it’s a perfect fit for all those Halloween parties that are just around the corner. This is the only game in the bunch that doesn’t have a family-friendly mode, and I’d recommend not letting kids or grandma near this one, as some of the imagery is disturbing. That being said, it’s clear that this is what the development team spent the most time with, and of the four brand new games, this is the one my group enjoyed playing the most.
Trivia Murder Party is what might happen if the You Don’t Know Jack host became obsessed with the Saw movies and set up a torture dungeon in his basement. You play as cute little Sackboy-esque voodoo dolls, and the goal of this one is to escape a haunted house by answering a serial killer’s trivia challenges and performing mini-games better than the other contestants. The trivia questions are considerably tougher than you might find on a YDKJ episode, and for every one you answer wrong, you’re pitted against the other players who goofed up in various challenges. If you’re the only player who answered incorrectly, you might have to “cut off a finger,” meaning one of the four choices to answer a question will be inaccessible to you for the rest of the game.
If multiple living players answer incorrectly, they’ll have to participate in a variety of mini-games, from seeing who can answer simple math questions fastest to drawing something intangible like “the future” or “moral ambiguity,” and waiting for the other players to vote for their least favorite. There’s a great variety of these, and some bring to mind the classic prisoner’s dilemma or the Holy Grail sequence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The loser(s) of these challenges are destroyed rather gruesomely, continuing to play as ghosts.
Ghost players are treated a little differently than those who haven’t been murdered yet. If all living players answer a question correctly, no mini-game is triggered, even if ghosts answer the question wrong. Ghosts can vote on some of the challenges that living players are thrown into, and are still allowed to answer trivia and earn cash for every correct answer. As the announcer/murderer tells you, though, “Don’t get too obsessed with the scores, it’s mostly about the killing.”
Play continues until only one player is left alive. At the end of ten rounds or whenever only one player is still in possession of a corporeal form, it’s time for the final escape sequence. If the last two living players die at the same time, one is chosen based on their score to lead the escape. During the final round, each player is asked the same questions, and moves closer to the exit for each correct multiple-choice answer. However, the living player is at a distinct disadvantage. Multiple answers can be correct, and while the living player has two options to choose from, each of the ghost players has three.
If a ghost manages to catch up to the living player during the escape sequence, they’ll steal the body. This makes it possible for a dead player to steal the victory, but they’ll have the same disadvantage if there’s still space and questions to answer between them and the door. This leads to some great back and forth jockeying for position at the end of a match, and my group all particularly enjoyed how intense this final round felt.
We did have a couple of minor issues with this mode, mostly relating to the audio. The announcer/murderer uses a voice deepening vocoder to hide his identity, and the instructions he gives can be difficult to understand if there’s any background noise or side conversations. (At one point during our session, the vocoder stopped working, revealing the killer’s identity in a well-done audio joke.) Similarly, the audio levels seemed inconsistent, with the jarring noise used to indicate that a player has selected an answer being much louder than the announcer’s instructions. This didn’t take anything away from the experience though, and I think my group will be returning to this mode for years to come.
Guesspionage, the third game in the bundle, is the one we spent the least time with. That’s not to say it’s bad, but we did enjoy the other offerings more. Guesspionage plays a bit like Family Feud, in that all of the questions are based on surveys conducted by Jackbox Games. Each player chooses an agent as their avatar, then takes a turn answering what percentage of the population surveyed answered a binary question using a sliding percentage scale. When they’re done, the rest of the players and the audience decide whether they think the first player was too high or too low.
Points are awarded based on how close the primary player was to the correct percentage, and those who are second-guessing the primary get points only if they correctly guess whether the percentage should be higher or lower. If the primary player gets the percentage exactly right, they get all the points for that round and the second-guessers get nothing.
Play continues like this until every player has chosen at least one percentage. In large games, if they think the primary player was way off (by 15 percent or more), they can indicate as much on their device. If they’re right, their points are doubled for that question, but if they’re wrong they get nothing. In smaller games, this feature is disabled until the second round of play.
The final round shows a grid of nine answers, and each player is given three guesses to determine which of these was the most popular to the question provided. More points are given for selecting the most popular answers.
As previously mentioned, my group enjoyed this game, but it’s easily the one we spent the least time with. Some of the surveillance jokes fell a little flat, and the backgrounds and graphics were a sometimes distracting and unrelated to the topic (a man loading clothes into a dryer, or someone pulling toilet paper off a roll, for example). The game itself is fun and well-made, but I can’t help but feel that more attention was given to the other games in the pack.
The next game is called Fakin’ It, and it’s the one that’ll probably need the most explanation. It’s basically a technology-enhanced, streamlined version of Werewolf, with one player designated as the Faker, and the other players trying to identify and catch the Faker before three rounds have passed. Unlike the other games in the pack, this one only supports up to six players at a time, down from eight.
Fakin’ It is probably the game that will get the least amount of love on streams, but that’s because it pretty much requires all of the players to be in the same room with one another. Players are asked to raise their hands, point at one another, make faces, hold up a certain number of fingers, and other physical activities to indicate the answers to questions sent to their device. Every player but the Faker receives the same question, and the Faker is just told to blend in as best they can.
This is a great example of how much fun asymmetric gameplay can be, and Fakin’ It is one of the best use cases for Jackbox Games’ phone-as-a-controller technology. You have to keep up a steady poker face if your phone tells you that you’re the Faker, and it’s hilarious trying to interpret your friends’ actions to determine if they’re the chosen one. This game plays best in small groups of four to six; three seems like too few, though the game compensates by removing one round to assist the Faker. It also helps if all the players know each other fairly well, so you can pick up on unspoken dialogue and facial expressions. We brought a new player into our group, and since he didn’t know anyone, he was at a huge disadvantage trying to figure out who was fibbing.
At the end of a round, all players are asked to vote for who they think the Faker is. If they vote unanimously and correctly, the Faker is caught and play moves on to the next round. Audience members can vote too, but their votes aren’t counted. The percentage of audience members who correctly identified the Faker is shown on-screen though, so it can help the players determine which of them is faking. Communication between players is encouraged, though it might have been nice to have just a little more time between rounds to discuss what had been learned from the previous question. If the Faker manages to evade capture for three rounds, they escape. Points are awarded based on how long the Faker avoided capture, and whether anyone voted for them while they were lying.
The final round changes up the rules, and each player is given a couple of questions to write down the answers to. This is very well done, as the Faker’s questions are related to the rest of the groups, but probably won’t match up exactly. For example, during one round the main group was asked to write something good about themselves, while the Faker was told to write down something they look for in a mate. Writing “Looks” or “Personality” would allow you to blend in, but typing “Giant knockers” would get you caught in a hurry.
Fakin’ It has the highest learning curve of all the games in Party Pack 3, but it has the potential to be the most rewarding. My group liked the retro-sixties, Spy vs. Spy aesthetic of this activity, and this is the only game in the bunch that’s hosted by fan favorite Cookie Masterson (Tom Gottlieb). The tutorial recommends using real names and sitting in a semicircle around the TV so that everyone can see anyone else, and my group ignored this advice at our peril. Our first game didn’t go very well, and the people I played with agreed that a practice round before the game started would have been appreciated. Once we had the hang of it though, Fakin’ It turned out to be a lot of fun.
The final game in the pack is Tee K.O., and it’s the artistic game in the bundle, the spiritual successor to Drawful and Bidiots from earlier Jackbox Party Packs. In this game, players are encouraged to create pictures and slogans that will be combined to create a t-shirt, and the rest of the players vote on which design they like best. While drawing on your phone is never easy, Tee K.O. removes some of the frustration by allowing you to undo a mistake and choose between several colors to create your masterpiece, so it’s much more forgiving than those prior games.
In the first section, each player must draw two pictures of anything they like within 90 seconds. The second section encourages them to write as many slogans or phrases as they can. The third section shuffles these slogans and drawings so that everyone gets a few that they didn’t make themselves. At that point, they’ll need to choose the picture and phrase that they think will make the best, funniest t-shirt design. Everyone will get three pictures to choose from, and depending on how many slogans your fellow players created, you’ll get three or more to match up with these drawings.
Each t-shirt is matched up against someone else’s design in a head-to-head battle, and both players and audience members can vote on which design they like best. Unlike some of the other games in the pack, audience member votes carry equal weight, so your design might be the favorite in the room and still lose the battle. The winner of a round faces the next design until all the T-shirts have been displayed, and there are bonuses if your shirt survives for several rounds or comes out as the winner in this head-to-head section.
The aesthetics in this game are worth mentioning; everything is vivid and colorful, and my group noticed that the backgrounds made even the crappiest line drawings on the shirts look like works of art. There are cute mascots for every player, and the announcer’s British accent means he says “drawrings” fairly frequently. If a shirt design gets 100 percent of the vote, a deep voice will announce “SHIRTALITY!” in a nod to the Mortal Kombat series, before the losing shirt is burned and crumbles into ash.
After the first head-to-head section is complete, each player creates one more drawing and adds as many slogans as they can think of, then there’s another round of t-shirt creation and battle. Any pictures or slogans that weren’t used in the first round are added to the pool for the second, so players may have a few more slogan options in the second round.
As you might imagine, there can be a long time between rounds as everyone is finalizing their drawings and selecting the wittiest slogans to match them. There’s a toggle that allows audience members to submit suggestions which will appear on the main screen, though they can’t draw or submit slogan ideas unless they’re actually playing. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this toggle until after we had shed players and didn’t have an audience, so our audience was stuck doing nothing for long sections while others were working on their shirts.
We did notice that the later a design appeared in the battle phase, the more likely it was to win the tournament. A repeated joke is only funny a few times, so the novelty a new shirt has gives it the advantage in the battle sections.
Tee K.O. has some additional features included that are pretty neat. After a game is completed, you can check out a gallery of all the designs created. You can tweet a design if you like, and you also have the option to custom-print and order a shirt created using the game’s interface. Transactions are handled through Paypal; it costs $16 with free shipping in the US, and there are a variety of men’s and women’s sizes available. I can’t see myself ordering shirts this way, but it’s really cool that they made it an option. My friends and I did have some trouble going through the ordering process, but that may be because the game hadn’t officially released yet.
— Qalamari (@Qalamari) October 17, 2016
There were a few other technical glitches with Tee K.O. as well. Near the end of the first section, two of the announcer’s audio tracks triggered at the same time. This happened in every game we played, so there’s probably an errant line of code causing the overlap. We weren’t able to access the gallery consistently either, with some players getting stuck on a loading screen until they gave up. Some players had difficulty choosing slogans based on where the buttons showed up on their device, and at one point I got locked out of the shirt creation process and had to forfeit that round. While annoying, none of this was game-breaking, and we all had a blast pitting our tees against one another.
So, let’s sum up. Quiplash 2‘s new prompt creation gives it near infinite replayability, though your experience will vary based on who you’re playing with. Trivia Murder Party is a bloody, comic horror take on You Don’t Know Jack, and it might just be my favorite of the bunch. Guesspionage is a perfectly fine game, but doesn’t reach the heights of some of the others in the pack. Fakin’ It works best with a slightly smaller group, and is loads of fun if you can get a group of old friends together. Finally, Tee K.O. combines artwork and silly phrases well, though it may bore your audience in between battle sections.
There’s a lot of value here for the price, and even if you could buy each of these games separately for five bucks apiece, I’d still recommend picking up all of them. You’ll need to invite at least three friends over to get the most out of these games, but if you have the means and the opportunity, you’ll get way more than your money’s worth out of The Jackbox Party Pack 3.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]