The Jackbox Party Pack 10 Review
You know the drill by now. October rolls around, and Jackbox Games churns out five more reasons for you to get your friends over and ply them with booze. This year’s Party Pack marks the tenth such invitation, and I was hoping for an absolute doozy. After all, Saw X is getting rave reviews so it seems like the tenth time’s the charm this year, right? Well… not quite. The pack is as accessible as ever (all you need is a smartphone or connected device) but for the first time it feels like the ideas well is running dry.
Tee K.O. 2 is a good example of this. The original game came out in the third pack, and it was (and still remains) one of the best party games in the series. You create a few doodles, then enter a series of captions or slogans without any context — they can be as obscure as you like. Each player then has to create a tee-shirt by combining one of the doodles and a player-generated caption for maximum hilarity. Players then vote on their favourite tee. That was the game seven years ago… and very little has changed here. Sure, there are vests and hoodies now (which feels more like a way for Jackbox to amp up the merch factor), and you can also edit another player’s drawing in later rounds for some fun callbacks. But with the amount of time that’s passed, I’m disappointed that more wasn’t done to improve on the original. It’s still fun, but if you already have the first Tee K.O. you’re going to feel a little short-changed.
FixyText is next up, and is likely to prove divisive. You receive a text message on screen, and then have to reply to it, as a team, in real time. Oh, and you can’t delete anything you type. It doesn’t take long to see the problem here. If everyone is adding words to a message at the same time, you will overwrite each other, insert words into each other's sentences rendering them meaningless, or worse, just end up with an entire screen of nonsense. Perhaps that was the idea. There were plenty of laughs in the first couple of rounds — mostly from people who had chosen rude words, since the entire message is read out by a robot at the end. You get to pick the words or phrases that you think are the “best” from each message, and the player who wrote them scores points. But it’s all so utterly arbitrary that any kind of direction falls by the wayside. You are given an instruction (for instance, “respond in the manner of a haunted doll”) but these will almost always be ignored by players. So what remains is anarchy, and a game that no-one had any inclination to return to after the final round. In many ways FixyText is reminiscent of Word Spud from the first pack, which in my mind remains one of the worst games in the series. This isn’t quite that bad, but for my money it’s by far the worst game here. Your mileage may vary.
Timejinx is the shot in the arm that Party Pack 10 needed. It’s a time-travelling trivia game where you’re asked to work out the year a certain thing happened. The closer you are to the right year, the fewer points you get — the player with the fewest points at the end wins. As well as the “guess the right year” tasks, there are some general knowledge questions thrown in for good measure too. There’s something extremely satisfying about nailing the year for — for instance — the first time a person went into space, and you’ll find out a lot about the esoteric interests of your party friends along the way. While not quite as fun as the ordering game Quixort from the previous pack, it’s hands down the most enjoyable new addition here and one that I would happily return to. UK players should turn off US-centric questions from the settings though, unless you want some very American trivia popping up.
Hypnotorious is this year’s stab at a social deduction game. It plays a little bit like the superb bluffing board game Chameleon, but with a twist. You are grouped into teams and given an identity, and must answer prompts in the style of that identity. You have to try and work out who is a member of your group based on the answers they give, but there’s one player who doesn’t fit into any group… and they are in the dark about it too. Points are assigned for correctly pairing yourself with people who share your category or working out the outlier. The breadth of the categories and the different ways these might be interpreted by players adds complexity, but a bit too much. In the end, because the outlier doesn’t know they are the outlier until late on in the game, the reveal of who belongs to each team (or not) is not very satisfying. The other issue is its length: we thought we’d finished the game after the identity of everyone was revealed… and then the game rolled into another round, which induced groans from most players. Not the greatest endorsement. Personally, I think with the right group of focused people Hypnotorious could be fun, but it’s a time and complexity commitment that doesn’t really sit well alongside the casual nature of Jackbox.
Dodo Re Mi is this year’s departure from the “normal” kind of Jackbox experience, given it’s the developer’s first stab at a rhythm game, and it’s actually pretty good. Think Guitar Hero, except you’re using an array of weird instruments and noises like an oboe and… umm… screams. You then play a rhythm game, tapping your phone to match the beats on the song thread. At the end, your song gets played back by a chorus of birds trying to stop themselves being eaten by a carnivorous plant. There are plenty of settings to fiddle with to make the experience as engaging for players as possible — such as reducing the amount of lanes each player has to keep an eye on. While initially fun, there are couple of underlying issues with this. If you’re all in the same room, it works well, but if you’re playing over the internet any sort of connection lag can capsize your song immediately. Furthermore, hearing your song back again becomes a little tedious after the first couple of play throughs. Unless you’ve utterly ballsed it up, it sounds a bit like a school music practice at times. That might be the point, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t grate after a while. Even so, it’s nice to see Jackbox trying something a bit different.
Overall then, Party Pack 10 feels like a step back after a good few years. With one standout game, a decent sequel, a couple of average titles and one that’s basically a dud, this tenth anniversary is as polished as ever but the content simply doesn’t compare to previous packs.
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