It might be safe to say that the folks at Jackbox Games have completely solidified the formula for their smart device-controlled party game compilations. What was once a collection with You Don’t Know Jack and some minor throwaway games has vastly improved with each iteration, with memorable titles like Drawful, Quiplash, and Fibbage. The Jackbox Party Packs at this point have their own quirky identity, their own attractive aesthetic, and their own selection of five truly unique, if but hit-or-miss, games.
With the fifth time, however, The Jackbox Party Pack 5 is a weaker bunch compared to the third and fourth compilations. While it carries out the now-established Jackbox formula quite admirably, I found that these particular five games made for a less compelling package. Despite the same, usually wonderful writing and voice acting, the game concepts and their execution were not as inviting for me to keep coming back to them. You’ll get your mileage out of them, but don’t be surprised if you end up falling back to the old standard familiars you already love.
Get used to seeing that weird, bald guy from all the Jackbox games sporting an astronaut helmet, because the aesthetic here is space. Jackbox 5 continues the path of The Jackbox Party Pack 4 in imagining these party games more as just board games, which the prior three had done in their menus. In 5, you have You Don’t Know Jack: Full Stream as a program on a fictional Netflix-like streaming service called “Binjpipe,” Split the Room as a Twilight Zone-esque show presented on an old-fashion television, Mad Verse City is presented as action figure packaging, Zeeple Dome resembling Atari box art, and Patently Stupid like a tear-off ad on a corkboard.
It all looks charming and quite promising, actually, but even the weaker games in the fourth game looked just as inviting. While none of these games particularly fall apart, some of them are not as sustainable as you’d like them to be, considering the creativity of some of these game concepts.
Perhaps this is blasphemy to say when reviewing a Jackbox game, but I was never particularly fond of You Don’t Know Jack in the first place. The so-called “irreverent” trivia game comes across more as obnoxious and confusing rather than compelling, thrilling, and competitive. One to eight players will be thrown various questions often presented in an off-color fashion, with various wrenches thrown in during gameplay. Perhaps a faltering player will be given the option to “screw” a fellow player during the next question, hampering their progress by say, making them scroll through a long and tedious terms-of-service agreement before they can respond to a trivia question. The new and amplified “Jack Attack” is where things go awry, making players choose one or several multiple choices for a prompt in a format that feels more baffling than tense and rewarding.
Call me a cynic for bashing Jackbox Games’ namesake, but You Don’t Know Jack feels archaic side by side to the more recent games that the studio has since created—even their own trivia game Murder Trivia Party from 3 has surpassed it at this point.
Split the Room fared slightly better, though more so than most other Jackbox games, the fun extracted from the game was a lot more situational. Each of the three to eight players will be given a prompt on their smart device, having to fill in the blank for an absurd scenario. For example, “ghosts will not hurt you, but will [blank] if you’re frightened; do you go on a date to watch a scary movie then?” The point being to “split the room” as best as you can, with more points awarded to players who get closer to 1:1 ratio. Think of Fakin’ It from Jackbox 3 or perhaps Bracketeering from Jackbox 4, both being games where the conversation in the physical space you’re in is where the main entertainment comes from as you debate each other over these off-the-wall situations.
Needless to say, Split the Room, therefore, is better with more people, and it definitely is less effective as a streaming game.
I fully expected Mad Verse City to be the marquee title of this compilation, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Three to eight players control what are basically Transformers competing in rap battles: you’ll be given a prompt to provide a single word, that word then being thrown into a rap lyric; it will then be up to you to write a second lyric that rhymes. The only one that could really mess you up is yourself if you write yourself into a corner with a challenging word. Players are opposed against each other one-on-one, with the others voting on which player had, ahem, the sickest and dopest rhymes. There isn’t too much to Mad Verse City, and frankly, it doesn’t need that much—it’s so easy to create something hilarious during every turn of this game. Plus, listening to the text-to-speech from these robots reciting your stupid verses is just objectively funny every time.
While Zeeple Dome is a largely experimental game for the series, it isn’t one that I’m particularly hoping to see repeated in future packs. It’s more action-oriented than any Jackbox game that I remember, depicting a dangerous, barbaric, and somehow adorable intergalactic competition. One to six players will control their own little alien using their smart device, pulling the center of a circle to control the trajectory to launch their little alien friend. Players will fling them towards enemy aliens, as they bounce around the stage like pinballs. It surprisingly works well using a smartphone as a controller, though like Split the Room, this is not very streamer-friendly. Ultimately, Zeeple Dome only seemed fun for those who revel in random chaos, as getting your alien where you want them to be is an unwieldy process.
The sleeper hit here is Patently Stupid, a drawing game that I didn’t quite expect to like so much. The three to eight players are all given fill-in-the-blank prompts to provide a stupid problem to “solve”—the other players can then choose from those filled-out prompts and will be told to create an invention to solve that “problem.” The process involves three components: a drawing of your master invention, a title for the invention, and a catchy tagline. At the end of rounds, players will be given the option to “pitch” their invention and receive “funding” through votes.
What makes Patently Stupid brilliant is how it allows players to choose how to make the pitch—the voice actors can do it in-character automatically, or the player can choose the order and timing for each of the three components. It fully embodies the spirit of Jackbox Party Packs that I appreciate—it’s a platform for friends to make each other laugh.
And I suppose that’s the ultimate point of the several games that Jackbox has produced over the years—to laugh and have a good time when around friends on some random weekend night. Perhaps it’s questionable to measure all of these games in terms of quality on a quantitative basis, as again, your mileage may vary. The parts of The Jackbox Party Pack 5 are all quite funny, and undeniably lovingly crafted. Even though I harp on You Don’t Know Jack, the fake commercials for the fictional Binjpipe shows are quite funny, for example.
When you look back at all of the previous compilations from Jackbox Games, each one probably has just two or three exceptional games that you keep going back to. My quarrel with The Jackbox Party Pack 5 is that from my experience, these games carried less of that Jackbox spirit that I mentioned. All of the concepts presented here are all exciting, but actually playing them produced mixed returns. Mad Verse City and Patently Stupid are both exceptional games, but I don’t think I would ever choose them over old standbys from previous packs like Fibbage and Quiplash. In a vacuum (fitting, seeing how this is space-themed), this fifth game may have fared better, but Jackbox just has too many good games before it.
With that, it could be time for Jackbox Games to slow down, just a little. I question the need for a new Pack every year, because the more games you throw at players, the more creative concepts go underplayed, because people will just keep going back to something like Drawful. I still think that every Jackbox compilation is a treat, especially now that the studio has perfected the visuals and presentation for their games—but they run the risk of turning their annual treat into a chore.