Exactly two things got me through the darkest days of the pandemic. One was my family, and a careful consideration of hygiene and risks in equal measure. The other (without exaggeration) were the Jackbox Party Pack games.
Sure, I couldn’t go outside, or overseas, or even to the supermarket nearby – the latter because the shelves were more often than not bare – but I could extend my socialisation beyond my cats through countless games of Drawful, Fibbage, Tee KO and Quiplash, often in ways that would draw the ire of libel lawyers if they became public, and frequently featuring a character called “Spiderbunny” in a fictional theme park whose name I cannot mention in public, both for reasons of public decency and fear of the libel lawyers.
The Jackbox games grew out of the classic You Don’t Know Jack Trivia games and over the years the quality has definitely waxed and waned, so I approached Jackbox Party Pack 10 with a fair degree of trepidation. There are some great individual games in many packs… but also more than a few duds.
If you’re in no way familiar with the Jackbox Party Pack series (where have you been?), the idea is that they’re social group games that you play via one device each – a smartphone is best – while a central PC, PS5, Xbox or Switch runs the actual games that you play. Think old-school parlour games, but with an online twist.
A big part of the problem with reviewing a game (or, really, a collection of social mini-games) like Jackbox Party Pack 10 is that so much of the enjoyment comes from the social aspect rather than the specific games themselves. A good group can get through a mediocre game, but a bad group won’t even make the star games shine that brightly. As such, I’m going to rank each of the new games in Jackbox Party Pack 10 in reverse quality order based on my own testing with a couple of quite different groups while explaining them, which isn’t the usual DigitallyDownloaded.net style, I know. Still, it makes the most sense in working out whether it’s worth your while investing in them.
Hypnotorious is a social deduction/quiz game where the gimmick is that you’re given a character or item that fits into a category. You’re not meant to say what it is to the other players, but you are meant to hint so that you can then sort yourself into groups, bearing in mind that one player will be an outlier in a category by themselves. The idea is reasonable, but the implementation, clues and explanations are far from it; in more than a few games my review group worked out the details long before the game was up, robbing it of any real humour or fun. It’s easily the weakest game in Jackbox Party Pack 10.
Dodoremi is… well, it’s Guitar Hero with the serial numbers filed off and the rock instruments replaced with mostly wacky ones. This does get better once you get past the turgid tutorial, but it’s rather odd on its scoring and timing input lag issues can also leave some players frustrated. While some in my test group did really rather like the idea, it’s been done better elsewhere, I feel.
Time Jinx takes us out of the doldrum titles, thankfully, and into an area where Jackbox games have a lot of experience, namely trivia. The hook here is that most of the questions relate to a timeline; you’re given a historical event and have to pick the year it happened. The closest to that year gets the fewest points, and, like Uno, the objective is to be the player with the lowest score at the end. It’s very well implemented, but again, this is almost table stakes fare for Jackbox.
Most players are probably the most keen to get to grips with Tee K.O 2, because the original Tee K.O is such a standout game in the Jackbox series. This one tasks you with drawing designs and writing T-shirt logos, then designing shirts based on a random jumble of (mostly) your opponent’s drawings and logo ideas. The good news is that Tee K.O 2 is still a lot of fun, because that central idea can be downright hilarious, if a little on the filthy side with many groups.
Drawing talent is not a pre-requisite, and it’s often the really bad drawings that make the funniest T-shirts. Humour is required, because everyone votes on the best T-Shirts, and the easiest way to stand out is to make people laugh at their audacity. But then… all of that was in Tee K.O already. New in Tee K.O 2 is the ability to instead design hoodies or tank tops, not that this has that much impact that I could gauge in terms of final votes or appeal. Where the original allowed you to order and buy actual prints of your designs – at a pretty steep cost, but that’s print-on-demand for you – that seems to be missing in Tee K.O 2. You do get the Mr Squiggle ability to redraw over your pictures or those of others in later rounds, which is cute, but not that essential. Basically, while it’s still good, it feels more like Tee K.O 1.5 than Tee K.O 2 to me, and if you’ve got the original, you’ve got the essentials of what makes this particular game good.
The highlight game for my money is Fixy Text. This is a collaborative writing game where the idea is to finish texts around a scenario – usually a negative one – as a group. Except that you’re all typing at once, there’s no delete key and autocorrect does not exist. The end results can be brutally bad if you’re an English teacher obsessed with grammar, but they can also be downright hilarious, and a little mean too. I did notice that if you’re quick on your phone you can sometimes get away with deleting text, which you’re not meant to be able to do, but that might just be a bug in the early review code.
Taken as a whole, the Jackbox Party Pack 10 is one of the better entries in the series overall. No, it’s not 100% crammed with hit games, but then the appeal of these may vary by group, and after ten entries there’s not much in games that can be quickly explained to a party that the Jackbox folks haven’t tried.
I am hit by the realisation however that it feels long past the time where “packs” make much sense.
I’d kill for a Jackbox Party Pack launcher, from which I could launch whichever games in packs I already owned during gaming sessions, rather than having to both remember which pack they were in and then launch that pack’s interface. In fact, I’d pay for just that alone, Jackbox Games. How about it?