Six is a robot
Jackbox Party Packs have turned into something of a Halloween tradition since the first one came out in 2014. Every year since then, you’ve pretty much been able to count on a new collection of five casual-friendly party games coming out in mid-October. Jackbox’s best innovation was to take the electronic device everyone carries around with them anyway and turn it into a game controller. This lowers the barrier of entry to practically nothing, and loading up one of these games at a social gathering tends to draw in people who would never think of themselves as gamers.
Each previous Party Pack has been tons of fun, and one of the better ways to make staring down at your phone into a social activity. This year’s collection leans into the idea that its games might be used to liven up a Halloween party or two. Let’s take a look at what’s included in The Jackbox Party Pack 6.
The Jackbox Party Pack 6 (PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Amazon Fire TV, iPad, Apple TV, Nvidia TV, Comcast Xfinity)
Developer: Jackbox Games Inc.
Publisher: Jackbox Games Inc.
Released: October 17, 2019
As always, this year’s Party Pack contains five new games you can play with a local group or share with the world via Twitch, Mixer, or whatever other streaming platform you prefer. The now-expected streaming features let the host allow additional time to answer questions, filter people who want to join the game, and toggle family-friendly questions (with the exception of Trivia Murder Party 2). All of the games in this year’s Pack can be played remotely, though my group found that at least two of them feel better when everyone is in the same room.
Most games need at least three human players to get started, and Push the Button requires four or more. The only game in the pack which can be played solo is Trivia Murder Party 2, but it’s a lot less fun this way. Fortunately, any internet-enabled touchscreen device can be used as a controller, so it’s usually pretty easy to find a few friends and get a game started.
As always, the writing is the star here, and most people will end up laughing at least a few times during every round. We’ll take a look at each game in turn, starting with…
Trivia Murder Party 2
This year’s featured game is a sequel to one of my favorites from The Jackbox Party Pack 3. Basically You Don’t Know Jack with darker theming and more varied gameplay, this game show makes contestants fight for their lives by answering trivia questions and avoiding deadly traps set by the host. This time, players take on the role of a guest at a “murder hotel” inspired by The Shining.
It’s pretty clear this game is where the developers budgeted most of their time, as it’s easily the most polished in this year’s Pack. Many new minigames and deathtraps have been added since 2016, and the variety to the gameplay on display is impressive. During one game my character had a time bomb placed around its neck which limited how long I had to answer trivia questions. When I made it outside the hotel, I had a final challenge to disarm the bomb before I was allowed to leave the premises. During another match, the murderous host made the group play a quick round of Quiplash in the middle of a killing room. There’s tons of different ways to die, and the finale is as nerve-wracking as ever.
There’s a lot more interaction between players in Trivia Murder Party 2, with players encouraged to help the host slay their fellow victims. You might be asked to place poison in a goblet, or stab a sword through a box one of your fellow players is hiding in. You can even place bets during some of the minigames, predicting who will live and who won’t make it. This sort of interpersonal conflict adds some extra stakes to the proceedings and helps ramp up the tension. My group all agreed this game was the highlight of this year’s Pack, and it’ll definitely be featured at our Halloween party this weekend.
We did have one minor complaint about one of the questions asked. During the final round, each player is asked to categorize three things and confirm whether they belong to the group listed at the top. One question asked us to categorize “Disney Villains” and the three answers provided were Ursula, Hades, and Don Karnage. Our group selected all three, but were disappointed to find that the game didn’t consider Don Karnage (leader of the evil air pirates in Disney’s Tale Spin) a viable answer. It’s a minor complaint, but sucked a little bit of air out of our proceedings. (Now, if it had asked for Disney Movie Villains, we wouldn’t have this problem.) Fortunately, errors like this seem to be few and far between. Let’s move on to…
Role Models supports the least maximum number of players in this year’s Pack, but that’s all right since you probably won’t want to play this game with strangers. It tests how well you know the people you’re playing with. The idea is to categorize your fellow players using a variety of different criteria. As an example, you might be asked which players match up best with the titles of broadway musicals, or Monopoly cards. This tends to be much more difficult if you’re unfamiliar with the other players or the subject matter.
Everyone assigns a role to all players including themselves, and points are awarded based on how close you come to a consensus. You can also double down if you think an answer is certain to end up matching one of the players. If there’s a tie, the two contestants face off in a head-to-head challenge intended to split them up and place each into a separate category.
My group found this game entertaining, but a little disorganized since it bounces frequently from the categorization games to the face-off challenges. Whenever there’s a head-to-head challenge, other players don’t really have much to do and just sort of have to wait until it’s over. If you do end up with an audience, they likewise won’t have anything to do while the game is going on. It’s a little disappointing since so many of the other Party Packs have made an effort to include everyone in the proceedings, even when they aren’t playing.
The good news is the categorizations you end up with by the end of the game tend to be either spot-on, incredibly entertaining, or both. This game doesn’t work well if your group doesn’t know each other, but if they do it’s a lot of fun. Next on the list…
I’m not sure it’s fair to rate this one as highly as I’d like to since I write words for a living, but my group assured me this game was entertaining even though they all come from different backgrounds. Dictionarium is one of the simpler games in this year’s Pack, tasking the players with creating new words and definitions to generate a new entry in the dictionary. Everyone writes a definition for the prompt, a synonym to the word, and then must use the synonym in a sentence. Votes take place between rounds with the highest-voted words receiving the most points.
This game is short and sweet, with little downtime since everyone plays at the same time. Unlike Role Models, it doesn’t require any prior knowledge, so it’s appropriate for all ages. It takes the least time to play of any game in the Pack, so it can be played with a smaller group while you’re waiting for people to grab snacks or make a beer run. It works great as a palette cleanser or filler between the longer games. Each game makes up a single word, so it’s easy and quick to play more than one round if desired.
My group especially enjoyed the hostess for this game, a friendly-sounding Latina played by Olivia Nielsen. It’s worth sticking around after the game’s over, because Ms. Nielsen sings a song all about the game you just played. I don’t think I’d recommend taking her advice about drinking barium, though.
While my group enjoyed most of the other games in this year’s Pack, Joke Boat was the game we had the least fun with. It seems to have been partially inspired by Party Pack 3‘s Tee K. O., but instead of creating a T-shirt, you’re using other players’ prompts to write a new joke. It sounds fun in theory, but in practice we found the comedy was a bit strained.
While the animation is nice, the visuals of a sinking ship felt a little too close to how my group ended up feeling about this game. During the first round you’re asked to write the answers to simple prompts, sort of like filling in a Mad Libs sheet. During the second round, you use one of these words with a prompt provided by the game to stitch together a joke setup, and you write a punchline based on the setup. It’s a lot more complicated than it needs to be, and we found it comedically inferior to Quiplash. Joke Boat isn’t terrible, it’s just not as good as some of the other games in the pack.
Your mileage may vary with this one, but if your friends aren’t funny this game won’t be much fun for anyone involved. Even if they are, there’s lots of downtime as players compose their jokes and punchlines. There are three rounds to play with two jokes per person per round, so Joke Boat takes a while to complete if you have a large group playing. I also wouldn’t have minded the ability to choose my avatar… more often than not, people in my group ended up represented by a dummy of a different gender, and it got a little confusing.
There were some good points. You can re-roll your prompt and topic once per round if you can’t think of anything to joke about, or you can have the computer put something together for you for half the points. We did enjoy the final round, which challenges players to take another person’s joke and re-write the punchline. It’s possible Joke Boat might be more fun with a very large group, and the game seems like it’d play better with a streamer’s audience than some of the other offerings in this year’s Pack. Unfortunately, my group found it underwhelming.
Push the Button
The final game in this year’s Pack should be familiar to anyone who’s played a social game such as Werewolf or Mafia. Push the Button requires at least four players and can support up to ten, making it one of the largest Jackbox games available. The goal here is to determine which of your friends are secretly working to sabotage the rest of the group, then fling them out the airlock.
While most players are legitimately human, there will always be at least one alien shapeshifter in the group. Each participant takes turns as the captain of the starship, and can select two other players for testing via art or basic morality questions. Aliens receive slightly different prompts to their questions, and savvy players can use the strange answers to try and see if the aliens give themselves away.
Unlike most other Jackbox games, Push the Button has a strict time limit which is always displayed on-screen. If the aliens remain undiscovered at the end of the time bank, they win, so it’s in their best interest to stall. Every player can push a button on their phone to reduce the amount of time dedicated to testing and hurry things along, and each can also hold down a red button to initiate a vote on who they think the aliens hiding among the crew might be. Votes must be unanimous before anyone can be jettisoned into space, and each player only gets to push the red button once per game. As such, it’s in the humans’ best interest to be certain of their convictions before starting a vote.
This is a much more elaborate take on a classic social game, and one Jackbox has already attempted with Fakin’ It. The presentation on Push the Button is far superior, however. One of my players said he doesn’t generally like this sort of game, but that this was the best version he’d ever played. My group agreed that it took a round to understand everything that was going on, but once they had the hang of it everyone was interested in playing again.
As a social game, Push the Button requires a lot of give-and-take from players, and this can be difficult to manage remotely. I think it works best when everyone is in the same room and can read others’ facial expressions, so trying to play this one through a streaming service adds a significant handicap. It’s far more complex than some of the other games Jackbox has released, but once you get the hang of it it’s quite entertaining.
Let’s sum up. While Trivia Murder Party 2’s comedy horror is undoubtedly the star of the show, there’s a lot to like from Dictionarium, Push the Button, and Role Models. Joke Boat fell flat for my group, but the rest of the games more than made up for it. Keep in mind that Role Models and Push the Button work better if you’re playing with a live room, so if you plan to play this Party Pack primarily through a streaming service, you may not have the best experience with these two games.
The Jackbox Party Pack 6 continues Jackbox’s streak of funny, low-key party games without deviating much from their established formula. If you’re looking for something fun to do with a group for a couple of hours, you can’t go wrong with one of the Jackbox Party Packs. There aren’t really any experimental games like Zeeple Dome from last year’s collection, but there’s plenty worth playing in this year’s Pack.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]