We have been playing and reviewing the Jackbox games, formerly You Don’t Know Jack, and also formerly Jellyvision Games, for many years. In fact, the You Don’t Know Jack games have been a local party favorite going back decades. The snarky trivia and irreverent fun of this series is perfect for a gathering of friends, no matter how eclectic the group happens to be. Even the so called “Brainiac” of your group won’t be able to run away with victory every time because of the weirdness and variety of the questions.
The last game we reviewed in the series was the Jackbox Party Pack 5 last November. It offered a fairly traditional You Don’t Know Jack experience with a ten question trivia game followed by a bonus round where you have to answer multiple-choice type questions quickly. The longtime host, Cookie Masterson, was funny as always, teasing players just enough to be funny without it becoming hurtful. There were also several other games in the pack, some of which were good while others were less so. But taken as a whole, the last game pack was well done and really fun at parties. Read our full review if you want to know more.
This year, the newest entry is called, not surprisingly, The Jackbox Party Pack 6. What is surprising is that the format has been radically changed. I suppose Jackbox didn’t have too much choice. Had they released Party Pack 6 and it was just like Party Pack 5, people would wonder why they were paying money to get essentially the same game. Madden NFL can get away with it because their players change around, but Jackbox, probably not so much. So it makes sense that Party Pack 6 would be different. One possible problem is that Pack 6 takes the series into a somewhat darker place that is kind of interesting at first, but probably won’t appeal to as large an audience overall. It’s also is no longer family friendly, as the murder theme isn’t suitable for younger players.
Games this year include Trivia Murder Party 2, Role Models, Joke Boat, Dictionarium and Push the Button. It’s also worth noting that all of these games other than Trivia Murder Party 2 require at least three players, so if you don’t have access to a lot of friends who can gather around the television with you, or want to join via a live Twitch stream, then you can’t really play. Also, each player needs to have a smartphone or a tablet, just like in Pack 5. So even if you have a large family, everyone will still need a smartphone or other mobile device in order to participate.
The highlight of the pack is Trivia Murder Party 2, which is much more suitable as a Halloween game than a Christmas holiday one. In the game, players are guests at a hotel where a serial killer is pitting them against one another using trivia and mini-games. It’s pretty much like the movie SAW in that sense. Those who do well in the mini-games and answering questions (or at times just get lucky) get to stay alive, while everyone else is murdered. When you die you can keep playing, because if a living player gets a question wrong, then the dead folks can challenge them in a new mini-game and steal their lifeforce, which kills them but restores the winning dead person back to life.
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Oddly enough, you don’t even really know how long a game will last. Play goes on for three rounds, but the length of those rounds depends on the number of living and dead players. If everyone is still alive near the end, the game will ask you more questions until most everyone is dead. But if everyone is dead early, a game can last just four questions and then jump to the bonus round.
Really, everything leading up to the bonus round pretty much doesn’t even matter. In the final chase scene, the living player is given a head start trying to escape from the murder hotel, while the ghosted dead people start a few steps back. You move towards the exit by answering questions, and ghosts who catch a living player will kill them, switching places and stealing their lifeforce. Begin murdered in the bonus round also throws the formerly living player back a few steps.
The game can end when one player finally escapes the hotel. But the board itself is also disappearing, killing slow players who answer too few of the final questions. It’s possible (or even likely in our testing) that everyone will be killed and the game will have no winner, which is honestly not a lot of fun.
Playing with a large group of people, everyone thought the concept was kind of interesting at first. But Pack 6 lacks the humor of previous games. There is no Cookie Masterson, and the serial killer’s jokes almost always fall flat. Besides that, he is fairly cruel, celebrating when he kills yet another player because they didn’t know the answer to some random question, or some mini-game spinner landed on the wrong pie piece. After a while, test players said they felt either sad, angry, unfairly treated or simply bored by Trivia Murder Party 2. In the end, we had to load up the Jackbox Pack 5 to give everyone the humorous trivia experience they were expecting.
There are other games in Pack 6, and one activity. We won’t call Role Models a game since there is no competition. It’s more like an offbeat Myers-Briggs personally test involving a group of people. Topics like 1990’s movies come up and you assign them to your friends. So someone might be Pulp Fiction while another friend is Clueless. How you choose those roles is up to you. At the end, the game gives a description of each person based on everyone’s answers. So someone might be foolish, childish and scheming while another person is brave, extroverted and controlling. Surprisingly, all of the test players agreed that their personal assessments were pretty accurate. Of course, this requires that you actually know who you are playing with. It makes for a poor first-time mixer or ice-breaker type of activity.
Joke Boat is probably the weakest game in an overall weaker field this year. Clearly, Jackbox tried to make a game like Pack 5’s Mad Verse City, only with jokes instead of rapping. But Mad Verse gave you more freedom, and the rapping robots were hilarious. Joke Boat forces you to make jokes up about topics, and it’s not very easy to create something that is genuinely funny.
For example, you might get assigned the joke “Did you hear the one about the calendar?” Okay, now go write something funny for a punchline. You have one minute. Our group came up with “You take it day by day” and “You make every day a holiday.” Yes, you can hear pins dropping. Unless you have professional standups in your group of friends, expect this game to be pretty painful to play. It’s also worth noting that Joke Boat is also kind of dark, with the ship crashing at the end and players kind of drowning. I guess this is a kind of “dark humor” that some people might enjoy, but overall, it’s not a good look for a party game.
Dictionarium is basically the Balderdash board game with one exception: none of the words are real. So you are not trying to trick your friends into picking your definition of a word instead of the real one. You are trying to make them vote for your definition as the most clever description of a fake word.
Then you do the same for making up a synonym for the fake word, and finally using the fake word in a sentence. This game happens to be narrated very well, but sadly, that can’t really save the flawed concept. While we were playing this one, someone in the test group asked, “What is the point of this since there are no real answers?” And that sums up Dictionarium pretty perfectly.
The final game is called Push The Button. It’s honestly almost better than the flagship Trivia Murder Party 2 game. It’s very similar to games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Mafia or Trouble in Terrorist Town where some people are out to kill everyone else. In this case, the setting is a spaceship and shape-shifting aliens have taken over some of the passengers. The aliens pretend to be human long enough so that the other humans will accept them, whereupon they can win the game.
Each round a captain is chosen and they put other players to a test. Secretly, humans are given one task and the aliens are given a slightly different one. However, the aliens can hack the system to get the fully human instructions, or give humans the different alien prompt. The idea is to go through as many tests as possible to collect data as quickly as possible.
At any point during the game a player can press the button, stop the timer and choose which players they want to toss into the airlock. If everyone agrees that the aliens are all dead, the game is over. If only humans remain on the ship at that point, they win. But if even one alien is left on board the ship, the humans all lose. The way Push The Button works is kind of a known concept these days, but it’s very well-executed here and a great party game. It could almost be its own entry as a standalone title.
The Jackbox Party Pack 6 should improve most parties. It seems weaker overall than last year’s entry, with the exception of the Push the Button game. For the flagship trivia game, those who enjoy a more traditional trivia experience won’t like Trivia Murder Party 2 quite as much. But those who want to try something new, and don’t mind a little bit of darker humor, might find it a perfect centerpiece to their next, probably quite unique, holiday gathering.