The Jackbox Party Pack 9 Review
It’s incredible to think that Jackbox now has more instalments than the “main” series of a stalwart franchise like Resident Evil. But even though it comes out just before Halloween as regular as clockwork, the ninth Party Pack is anything but a horror show.
As ever, there are five games included which are all played with a connected device — tablet, phone, PC, and so on — and while a couple can be played with 1 or 2 players, most need a minimum of 3-4 and we’d recommend that some would benefit from far more to get the best out of them.
So what’s new this year? Four brand new games and a fourth iteration of a classic, that’s what. JDR plied a few friends with booze to help lubricate proceedings, and then dove into the madness.
First up: Roomerang (4-9 players). In the age of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and endless reinventions of reality TV, this one pokes gentle fun at an often hollow premise by making players the star of their own show. You’ll choose a personality type or quirk such as “Mean Butcher” or “Really Into Suspension Bridges” and will then be given prompts that let you play up to that persona… or not. For instance, one of our group was a barista and when asked who their favourite celebrity was, answered “Nero”. Genius.
Each person votes on who has the funniest or most appropriate answer, and the winner gets a bonus — this might be protection from elimination, the ability to cancel the vote of another player, and so on. Everyone then votes on who they want to be kicked out of the house. The unfortunate ejectee will lose some points, the winners gain some, and then the evicted person returns (hence the game title) with a slightly altered name and a new personality before the next round starts.
With five rounds in total, there are plenty of options to get points and you won’t know who has the most points until the very end of the game. It is a fun premise that would definitely benefit from more than the suggested four-person minimum. It’s a fairly throwaway concept as you don’t HAVE to answer based on your personality trait, but it is in keeping with the spirit of the game to do so. The more you get involved in the role-playing aspect, the more fun you will have — Roomerang has enough going for it to return to if you have enough close friends who are up for it and/or drunk.
Next we have Fibbage 4 (2-8 players), a return to a fan favourite in the series. While it would have been easy for Jackbox Games to have copied and pasted the template of the excellent third game, they haven’t. There are still two options — the standard Fibbage, and Enough About You which is aimed at a room of people who know each other well — but the format of the original game has been shaken up. As before, you’re given a scenario and asked to come up with a lie to fill in the blank, something that would fool the other players into thinking it is real, accompanied in our case by screaming “HAAAAHHHHHH!” at whoever fell for your lie. Finally, you have to guess what the actual true answer is from all the submitted prompts.
It’s a simple but surefire format that didn’t need much tweaking, but we’re glad of the new additions here. There are fan questions where you’re prompted to guess the weird answer from a video message recorded by actual humans. The artwork has been updated to a more surreal vibe which fits perfectly with some of the questions. There are video clips of bizarre old movies. And the final Fibbage question now asks you to link two different questions with a single lie, which is a real head-scratcher but ultimately satisfying. All told, it’s a wonderful update of an already stellar game.
Improvisers and extroverts will get a kick out of Junktopia (3-8 players), where you have to choose an item to buy from a crappy antique store, then give it a name and a fake backstory containing two “facts” before “selling” it to the rest of the players. The more expensive an item is, the easier it might be to market. But the item’s cost is taken off the money you receive from players’ votes. There’s also the option to try and haggle your purchase down or plump for a mystery item if you don’t fancy the look of what’s on offer. If you want a hand, the game offers starting points for your backstory facts - such as “The creator of the item later went on to…”. Or you can go full improv and make up the facts entirely unassisted.
Judging is done by comparing participants’ items against each other, based on how well you think each player presented their junk. After two items have been presented and voted on, you then have to come up with a “set” name to link the two together. Given the randomness of the objects, it helps to have a fast and loose sense of humour, and the more creative and funny you can be, the more likely you are to win. This is one of those games that people will either embrace or hate — it’s a bit like Bargain Hunt meets Talking Points from Party Pack 7. The main drawback is that the replay value is low. The format is stripped back too much to make it any more interesting than “think of something funny about this image”, while the money element is a mere distraction. If you have funny friends, it’ll be a blast for a game or two, but it felt like the weakest game in the pack. Given the overall quality of the five titles though, that’s not a big mark against it.
While we’re patiently waiting for a drawing game that can match the incredible Drawful (and the Animate version included in Party Pack 8 was creative but not as much fun), it’s worth having a look at Nonsensory (3-8 players). Players are given a text-based or drawing-based prompt, and then asked to choose an answer on a scale of 1 to 10, which the other players then have to try and predict. For instance, you might be asked to draw a 3/10 face, or come up with the name of a perfume that Chewbacca would “70% like”.
It sounds interesting in theory, but the percentages are incredibly tough to get your head around. In the perfume example, for instance, there is only so much you can do with simple words to lower or raise the likelihood of something being true. What would have been better in this case, is to just come up with a funny perfume name rather than doing that and then having to tailor it on a sliding scale of relevance. Interestingly, the practice prompt went down the best with the reviewing team: to pick a film title that one player would consider giving a 9/10 score. Review scores, as with Jump Dash Roll, are something that people understand and feel tangible. But when you’re asked to draw a cross between a farmer and a spy which is 70% more spy than farmer, it feels unnecessarily complicated.
It’s a shame, as there are some real laughs to be had here. Perhaps after playing a few more rounds with the same group of people, the format might start to embed itself. It feels like it has a lot of layers — perhaps too many — but the mash-up of drawing and text questions is a welcome one. The jury’s out on whether this is a great game or a merely OK one, but it’s definitely one to return to.
Finally, and most surprisingly, the highlight of the pack is Quixort (1-10 players). Surprising, because it’s the most straightforward game in the selection: you are given a category such as “Food in > Poop out” and then have to sort 9 answers into order, in a Tetris style format. If you know where your oesophagus sits in relation to your colon, you’ll know you need to pop the former block to the left of the latter. Later rounds include junk answers to throw you off, which you’ll need to trash. The final round lets you have a second attempt, where any correct answers you have linked together in order are merged into a single tetris block, making it easier to work out where to place other blocks to the left or right of it.
Quixort’s simplicity is the key to its enjoyment, as well as its humour. Picking a category might not land you with what you’re expecting, and taking a punt on a mystery category could prove to be a disaster. You might end up with something simple such as ordering the planets in distance from the sun, or far tougher, like charting Iceland’s main historical events from earliest to latest. Regardless, it’s great fun. It’s also the only team game in the pack, so you’ll be buddying up with up to four other players, and play passes between each teammate in turn so talking and working together are critical. However, it’s also hilarious when your companions don’t have the foggiest idea and engage in heated debate as the answer slowly descends down and you’re screaming about whether Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released before or after Thor: The Dark World.
As with every instalment, people are going to have their favourite titles. Party Pack 9 definitely has far more hits than misses though; even the less fun games draw you in for a few goes to see if they can win you over. On top of which, there are noticeable interface improvements such as being able to login to a room with a QR code, flick between clean and adult versions of games with a simple toggle, and the option to turn off US-centric questions. It’s a shame this last point isn’t more obvious from the outset — especially for Quixort — as answering a question about the US version of Monopoly was hilarious for non-participants but not so fun for the people tasked with working out where the Boardwalk square sits in relation to Go.
So, another enjoyable offering from a developer who has nailed the party genre but still isn’t afraid to try out new things. 2023 will bring the tenth pack to the table and we’re expecting something very special indeed. For now though, there are now 45 other games to choose from in their catalogue, and the five in Party Pack 9 are worthy of anyone’s time.
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