The Jackbox Party Pack 7 Review
We’re in a weird period of history where time appears to have no meaning. Days and weeks come and go with very few of the usual milestones we associate with the seasons, since holidays and term times have instead been replaced by incessant lockdown dates and government briefings.
Thank goodness, then, for the reliability of the Jackbox Party Pack, landing on all formats as inevitably as ever in October. We need as much social interaction as we can get our hands on right now, so the timing couldn’t prove any better — but after last year’s rather uneven pack, is this seventh title a lucky entry for the quirky co-op series? Grab a phone and some friends (unless you’re in the UK, in which case it will most likely be over Zoom) and let’s dive into the five included titles.
Does familiarity breed contempt? Perhaps, which might explain why the above launch trailer for this game is so indulgent. But Jackbox Games are usually savvy with the franchises they decide to make sequels for, and this year is no exception. Quiplash has always been one of the stronger games in the series which likely accounts for very little changing in this third iteration. You’re given a couple of fill-the-blank phrases to add your funniest lines to, before they are pitted against another player’s and voted on by the remainder of your group. If everyone votes for yours, you score bonus points.
It’s a simple premise, with only a slight tweak to the final round separating it from the previous two titles. Here, during Thriplash, players need to provide three answers to a given suggestion such as “This is what is stopping me from becoming president”, or “Words to describe both my bowel movements and my family members”. Otherwise, it’s the usual engaging format as before with a shiny coat of paint. A fourth bite of the apple in future would need to be significantly different to stop accusations of laziness, however.
Blather ‘Round is one of two co-op entries in this pack where verbal communication with the other players can prove a boon. One player picks a charades-like suggestion from a set of three options (for example, The Great Barrier Reef, The Ring, Wile E. Coyote), before trying to get other players to guess what it is. The twist is that the actor can only communicate using a series of limited verbs and adjective prompts on their phone. Road Runner’s nemesis might be described as a “furry villain” for instance, while the Sahara Desert may be a “sizzling environment”. More clue options become available to hand out as the time ticks down, for better or worse.
Other players can spam answers and talk between themselves to try and get inspiration, while the clue-giver can help out by responding that it’s “nothing like” or “a lot like” one of their suggestions (among other hints) to try and steer them in the right direction. Players who provided suggestions that help someone find the answer get bonus points, while the person who actually types the correct answer first gets the bulk of the reward. Despite its aim, the game is slightly skewed to keeping your ideas to yourself in order to rack up the win, but Blather ‘Round is still a fun take on charades and one with a decent amount of replay value.
Drawing games are generally a Jackbox highlight, even if nothing has managed to match the heights of the Pictionary-inspired Drawful from the first pack. In Champ’d Up you’re tasked with channelling your inner Stan Lee and drawing a superhero based on a computer prompt. Your doodle is sent to an opponent who then has to try and guess what your hero might be super powerful at, before drawing a hero of their own to counter them. The two then face off as the rest of the players decide which of your weird drawings matches the prompt the best.
It’s similar to Tee K.O. from pack three, but it feels a little more disjointed. The second round has you drawing a second hero for a similar battle, but it then gives you the option of tagging out one hero for another to try and more accurately fulfil a new prompt. The initial disconnect between what you’re drawing against is at least equal across the board (one of you gets to see the prompt, one gets to see the drawing), but something didn’t quite gel on initial playthroughs. This might be a grower though, especially in person when there’s a bit more of an atmosphere.
The Devils and the Details
Something that doesn’t work well on a video call is The Devils and the Details, a weird mash-up of Warioware-esque minigames which needs frantic shouting for assistance. You play as a group of suburban devils who have moved into a neighbourhood, like the product of a zany sitcom writer’s fever dream. To keep your cover you need to complete mundane tasks: doing homework, running errands, making specific recipes, and so on. Completing these may be a solo effort, or you may need assistance from other people — a bit like Bomb Corp, but with a little less tension. Each task will give you points, and if you manage to gain enough points to keep the family’s identity safe, you’ll advance to the next round. However, there are also selfish tasks which grant only you points. Other players can stop you from completing these, but that will be to the detriment of the family (since two of the players will essentially be blocking each other as the clock ticks down).
TDATD is therefore a balancing act of swiping, tapping, scheming and screaming; the last point is the main reason that it fails to work well on remote play when only one person on a call can speak at once. When we’re out of lockdown and able to play in the same room as other people it’ll definitely be worth revisiting. For now, this sits firmly at the bottom of the pack simply due to technical limitations.
Finally, there’s Talking Points, a presentation game where players provide a selection of different topics initially before they are then required to give a TED talk-inspired overview. By reading out the text on screen and frantically describing (and where appropriate, doodling on) the images that pop up, their job is to link them to the overall theme so it makes sense. The catch? The text and images are being cued up for the speaker by an “assistant” (another player). The assistant might try and be helpful and provide cues that are vaguely related to the topic, or they might go rogue and chuck a load of unrelated nonsense to the speaker to see what creative flights of fancy they can come up with. What follows is a manic game of improv in the same vein as — but a lot funnier than — Patently Stupid and akin to a digital game of Whose Line’s Infomercial.
Scoring is measured by other players tapping an approval button all the way through the presenter’s spiel, while the assistant will gain half the overall points which makes it in their interest not to steer things off course too much. The scoring system is the weak link here though, since it requires you to split your concentration between hammering your phone while still trying to keep focused on the hilarity (or not) of the presenter. The developer's decision to opt for this "focus group engagement" route rather than a traditional ranking or voting system in the end game certainly tallies with the game's format, but it is a clunky implementation. A "hold and release" button might have been a better fit instead. The overall success of this one will be dependent on the outgoing nature of the players; introverts may struggle, but if you embrace the madness and go for it, Talking Points has the potential to be one of the funniest games in the pack, even if it isn't fairly scored for participants.
It’s a shame that Party Pack 7 has come out during one of the most relentlessly uncertain times in recent history, especially as the series thrives on its social nature and couch co-op fun. That said, this is one of the strongest entries to be released for a couple of years and one of the best overall to date. Even with a couple of inclusions that would benefit far more from in-person gaming, remote play is still an option while you’re waiting to meet up and play in real life with your friends. Hopefully by this time next year we’ll be in a slightly saner world and can go back to ticking off hair appointments and holidays alongside Jackbox releases. Until then, fire up your sharing service of choice and enjoy some locked down goodness.
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