The You Don’t Know Jack series is about as classic as it gets in terms of computer trivia games. Many an evening would find my friends and I gathered around my old computer to play the original title. It was limited to four players I believe, and having everyone use the same keyboard was not at all convenient, but it was still a fun experience.
For those of you who don’t know, You Don’t Know Jack is a snarky trivia game set up like a game show. The host is a condescending individual named Cookie Masterson. He does tease you when you get a wrong answer, but it all comes off as good-natured fun.
In The Jackbox Party Pack 5, You Don’t Know Jack is only one of five games, though it’s clearly the star of the package. We will break down the others for you as well, but will start with the revamped classic.
The biggest evolution to the main game is that players use their smartphones as controllers now. In fact, you have to use one. Even though I was playing on the PlayStation 4, I could not use a PS4 controller to answer questions, only to page through the menus and start the games. How it works is that everyone who wants to play goes to Jackbox.tv on their phones. That page has a place where you can enter your user name and a unique four letter code to tie that session to the ongoing game. The number of players is still limited, though you can have up to eight. Other people who don’t have a player spot can become audience members (up to a whopping 10,000 of them) who can still answer questions and generally play along.
The smartphone as a controller idea is a good one because almost nobody is going to have eight PlayStation or Xbox controllers lying around. But almost everyone has a smartphone these days, so letting them jump right in is clever. There are a few annoying limitations however. The fact that you can’t use a controller is a little frustrating. Say a couple visiting your home shares a smartphone, or left one of their phones at home. Why not let them use the one or two controllers that you have right there attached to your console?
The other sad thing is that you can’t go online to find other players. Most multiplayer type games that we have reviewed in the past such as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy had the ability to find other players online to fill out games. You Don’t Know Jack would be perfect for this. You might even be able to link to other parties and have a party versus party type of situation. Sadly, this is not the case. Even if you could somehow get room codes to remote users so that they could join in, they would not be served the questions through their phones, just the possible answers with no context. So they can’t play unless they have access to your local television.
The Jackbox Games folks say that you can host multiple people, just like I describe above, but you have to stream the game to a service like Twitch and have the other players join through it. That might be okay for hardcore gamers, but that is not the target audience here. My guess is that the overwhelming majority of players are not going to be Twitch streamers. And while You Don’t Know Jack can be played alone or with one other person, three of the other games in the pack require three people or you can’t play. Unless you have at least two other dedicated local players, who also own smartphones, over half the content is going to be locked away from you.
Getting into the games themselves, You Don’t Know Jack has not changed very much from its original form years ago, not that it’s a bad thing. You still have a ton of clever questions delivered in a snarky, funny and generally cool and competitive environment. It’s quite a feast for those who enjoy trivia.
There are four other games in the pack. The first one is called Split the Room. This is the most cerebral of the group, and games are not always humorous. The game presents a hypothetical situation and players fill in the blank with a concept or object that some people will enjoy and others will hate. You win if you “split the room” by having half the people answer yes and the others say no.
For example, a question might say, you are floating in a tunnel to the afterlife and it splits two ways. Down one tube are dolphins singing your name. The other is filled with (blank). Do you swim to the dolphins anyway? Someone might fill in puppies or Atari games or pizza or whatever they think that some people will pick that others will detest. Personally, singing dolphins that know my name is pretty terrifying, so unless the other answer is razor blades or Cthulhu, I’m swimming away from them.
The next game is called Mad Verse City and it is a Mad Lib type rap battle. This one is extremely funny, assuming you have clever friends playing. You are asked to name a noun for example to start things off, and then shown a verse with that word in it. Then you need to craft a sentence to complete the rhyme while also being clever. You do this twice to setup a four verse rap that giant robots will recite using very bad computer voices with almost no inflection. I think they use Microsoft Voice actually.
But that is what makes it funny I suppose, hearing the robot try to be all gangster, or talking about how you are going to get scratched like a furry kitten. If you have an odd number of players, the game will add one more so that there can be a battle. But again, you need to have at least three players for that to happen. It wont spawn three other rappers if you are by yourself for example, so you better have local friends if you want to jump into this one.
Patently Stupid finds players trying to come up with bizarre inventions in order to solve impossible problems. This one is a bit of a balance between the highly cerebral Split the Room and the outright silly Mad Verse City. For example, the problem might be “I want to be the first person to (blank)!” My group picked fly to end the sentence, so players came up with whatever they thought would do that. In our test party, this included The Launch Ladder that people climbed up and jumped off, because falling is almost like flying. And the Wing and a Prayer gossamer fairy wings, with the disclaimer that it was much more prayer and less actual wing.
You come up with these inventions by sketching them on a napkin (done with a basic paint program on your smartphone controller) and then coming up with a name and slogan. You can let the computer (badly) pitch your invention to the group or do it yourself like a real PowerPoint type business presentation. The players vote on which ideas they want to invest in, which determines the winners. Patently Stupid also requires three players, though the game will spawn a fourth if needed who simply comes up with ideas that have no basis in the actual problem (because the game’s AI has no idea about the context of a creative activity).
The final game is called Zeeple Dome, and like You Don’t Know Jack, can be played with only one person or up to six. Zeeple Dome is an arcade game where you use your smartphone to slingshot little human astronauts into monsters in an attempt to damage and kill them. The monsters in turn shoot at you too, or try and punch you or activate several special attacks.
The game is cooperative, so everyone is working together, but is actually slightly more difficult with more people because the little player icons can bounce off of each other in the tight arena. If you don’t coordinate your assaults, it is going to be difficult to survive with everyone accidentally deflecting one another’s attacks. Appoint a general to command your group if you want to be successful with this one, or just play it alone.
The Jackbox Party Pack 5 is a ton of fun to play, as was most of the other games in this series. The addition of smartphones as controllers is brilliant for a party game too, and quickly made the Party Pack 5 a favorite group game in our test group – even more so than when we played instruments during the heady days of Rock Band. It’s disappointing that Jackbox didn’t additionally add a matchmaking function, as this would have propelled the trivia game into legendary status, and made some of the other games playable with smaller numbers of local players. Perhaps that is something they will consider for Jackbox Party Pack 6. Given the quality of the game, it’s a pretty safe bet that there will be yet another sequel. It deserves it.
The Jackbox Party Pack 5 earns 4 out of 5 GiN Gems. Pick it up for your next blowout. Trust us, it will make your party rock just a little bit harder.