There is no one perfect party game, which is why Jackbox Party Packs give you five of them at a time. In the case of Jackbox Party Pack 6, at least two of those five games are great enough to make it worth the price of adding it to your game night rotation no matter how big your party may be.
Truly great party games are an illusive prize for a lot of reasons. Whether it’s a video game, board game, or charades, the two biggest issues with any party game are repetition and scale. How many people does it take for the game to run perfectly, and what happens if you add or remove three people from that total, or play it six times in a row?
For Jackbox Games, the solution has been to define basic party game archetypes and deliver them in bulk, trying to cover all the bases with a variety of easily digestible games. Each pack usually has a game with trivia, a drawing game, a deception game, and some type of write-in joke game. Played using your smartphone, the local multiplayer games are wildly fun with the right group and a great way to laugh over some drinks on a night in.
Some are tougher to play in bigger groups, however, and many are completely useless in small ones. Other factors are at play here, too, including how funny your friends are and how well they follow directions. But the reason it all generally works is because the games are reliable and follow a consistent pattern. And Jackbox Party Pack 6 — out on basically every console and gaming platform earlier this October — is no exception, though some of those basic models are switched up for the better.
The best example of this is the main reason to get the pack: Joke Boat. Set up as nightly entertainment for a cruise ship (the whole pack has an aquatic/bathroom theme), the game has players come up with various nouns and adjectives that are used to make jokes using conventional punch line structures. There’s a lot of freedom here and the point is to go head-to-head and get the most votes, but unlike Quiplash, where the joke just pops up on screen and players vote, the game asks you to actually deliver the joke out loud.
This is a format introduced in Party Pack 5’s excellent Patently Stupid, where players draw something that fixes a self-created problem and give a presentation to “investors” about the device. That concept is back here with Joke Boat, but it’s not necessary to be good at drawing or even funny to make it great. Because the format is preset, even dad jokes or bad jokes can be well-received and get votes over well-crafted or topical humor. Oftentimes it all depends on how bad or awkward the delivery was. Things get silly and oddly supportive fast, and it helps that after your joke it also makes you say an extremely dumb “catch phrase,” which you came up with before you started playing. (“Uh, YEAH, I’m a three-ring binder”) Over time, it all becomes funnier, even if it’s not.
The final stage of the game has you re-write the punch line to someone else’s joke, which means if you think you can do better, you get rewarded with praise. Overall, it’s the game that seems to scale the best, works with any combination of players and was as tame and/or risqué as the crowd deemed necessary. Even shy players enjoyed it and did well, which means it’s not just for all your friends who imagine themselves as stand-up comedians.
The star of the show for most experienced Jackbox players is likely Trivia Murder Party 2, the follow-up to the trivia game included in Party Pack 3. Players answer questions in a fight for survival, and getting questions wrong either means they “die” or have to survive a variety of mini-games. The winning formula is back for the sequel, which is equally bleak and now takes place at a hotel. But it’s not just a new collection of questions and games here: there are some added twists that make things a bit more interesting and, overall, fair.
For starters, the new Killing Room games require a few new skills that are far less about luck and offer new ways to stay in the game if trivia’s not your thing, and the final chase segment of each game isn’t necessarily an easy runaway if you’re playing with a trivia ringer. To win, you have to break through a “barrier” that requires you to get all three parts of the final question right, not just enough to get there first. That creates a bit more drama at the end and is, I think, also a bit more fair.
There’s also a one-player mode, which is basically a solo fight for survival that’s challenging and silly but still fun to play. In one game, a punishment for getting a question wrong was to “wear” some glasses that made the answers on my phone screen harder to decipher and select, kind of like the “screw” function in the recent You Don’t Know Jack games. At the end of the game, in order to make sure I’m not “crazy” forever, I had to answer this question.
Overall the pack is strong, but you have to know when to pick your spots with the people you play with. Role Models is not a game for relative strangers — for example, as it asks players to match everyone in a group to a set of roles like “person from the show Friends.” It can be really fun for players familiar with each other, but have mixed results in a mixed group. Dictionarium is another game that can be extremely funny and creative, but only if your group can follow directions and likes wordplay. The game has two forms: both involving a made-up word and making new definitions for it.
Perhaps the game that has the most potential here is Push the Button, in which players are trapped on a spaceship trying to determine which one of them is an alien. Humans have to figure out the liar through a series of games and then vote suspects off by, yes, pushing the button. The games are a mix of a variety of Jackbox concepts, including drawing and coming up with write-in responses. And the deception-based Jackbox games are always interesting with the right mix of people. With a bit of experience it might be the best of the pack, but it’s certainly nice to have games like Trivia Murder Party 2 and Joke Boat to fall back on, too.