When I reviewed the Jackbox Party Pack 7, I was stunned. Usually, these bundles include a couple of fun games and a few you never touch, but this was different. The seventh pack was perfect, with no true duds in the group. Unfortunately, the eighth go-round couldn't continue that trend. It's still, on average, worth the buy-in price. But a couple of games are party-killing land mines.
For those who aren't familiar, Jackbox Party Packs are an annual series of minigame collections from Jackbox Games, the makers of games like You Don't Know Jack. Each pack comes with five games, usually with a variety of play styles so no matter how your group likes to play, there's something you can all enjoy. In recent packs, the company has settled into a balance of drawing, wordplay, trivia, and/or social deduction games, without relying too heavily on each.
And this time around, it's the drawing game that knocked it out of the park.
I Cannot Stress Enough How Good Drawful: Animate Is
The unambiguous stand-out star of this pack is Drawful: Animate, and it's not even close. The two previous versions of Drawful had largely the same premise: You get a prompt and have to draw what it suggests, other players write in suggestions for what they think the title you received was, and then everyone guesses what the correct title was. It's a simple formula that has worked for years.
The latest iteration adds one seemingly minor innovation. Now, players can draw a second frame. The first will be visible, in slightly lighter coloring, and the two will alternate in a loop when presented to the audience. It has the feel of very crude movie storyboards, but the effect on the gameplay is significant.
Now, you're not just stuck drawing stick figures or static images. Your doodles can explode, transform, melt, fly away. In short, they can move. This opens up a range of creative possibilities. Better yet, the player who drew the animation gets a slider to speed it up or slow it down.
This is where Jackbox games are at their best. Simple rules that give players plenty of room for creative expression. That does mean this game can vary widely based on how much your group engages with it, but at least it's accessible and fun.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, there's …
Weapons Drawn Was So Confusing We Couldn't Play It
Jackbox has leaned more heavily on social deduction games in recent packs—the kind where you suspect your friends of various crimes or deceptions and have to work out who's lying—but they're hard to get right. A game like this needs clear rules, mechanics to both deceive other players and discern the truth, and just enough plot to keep players engaged without overwhelming them.
Weapons Drawn, unfortunately, fails at most of these tasks. At the start of the game, players are told they are all world-famous detectives attending a fancy party where there might be murders. They're asked to draw a prompt that must include a provided letter from their name. Then they have to draw a second drawing with a different prompt but using the same letter. Then they must pick a name for their accomplice.
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If that doesn't totally make sense, that's how we felt. Many Jackbox games come with lengthy-bordering-on-tedious tutorials for first-time players. Instead, this game had a very brief tutorial trying to explain that players needed to hide their calling card (the letter in their name) inside a drawing of their prompt, but this tutorial played while players could start drawing, which split the group's attention. It's also unclear what this has to do with a murder mystery until later in the game.
That might've been enough information to process, but the accomplice mechanic made things even more confusing. You're asked to name an “accomplice,” but it was difficult to discern why or what criteria to use to name them. Then, you're asked to pick from the other players' accomplices to murder, and guess which of the other players brought that character along. If you guess right, you successfully murder the accomplice. And it's around this time that you ask yourself “Wait, aren't we all detectives? Why are we also all murderers? What's going on?”
It took a full play-through of the game for my group to figure out how it even works, and most of us didn't even get there by the end. I've played a lot of Jackbox games that just aren't very engaging, but this was the first one I'd played in a while where the whole group didn't even know what to do. That's not great on its own, but it's especially bad for a game where layers of social deduction and deception are piled on top of already-complex game mechanics.
The Rest of the Pack Fills Out the Spectrum
It's jarring to gauge the chasm of the quality difference between Drawful: Animate and Weapons Drawn. One's a simple game with tons of flexibility, while the other is complicated and unengaging. But the rest of the games in the pack land all across the space in between.
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Job Job asks players to answer questions, then shreds their answers into individual words. Those words are distributed among the group and used to answer job interview questions. In a clever twist, at times you can even use words from the questions themselves to fill out your answers. It has a slight Cards Against Humanity trait, where how engaging it is depends on the sense of humor of the group, but for creative players who like absurd comedy, this is a top-tier minigame. This and Drawful: Animate would be enough to carry a party and frankly are enough to make the whole pack worth buying.
The Wheel of Enormous Proportions is an obvious attempt to include a trivia game that's not just another Trivia Murder Party, and it shows. It's not bad, per se, but players have to answer questions to earn slices of a Wheel of Fortune-style wheel and then earn enough points to spin the wheel, and then players can win only if they luck into landing on a certain spot. For a trivia game, there are a lot more elements of chance than in the TMP titles, which can take the wind out of the sails of players who enjoy the competition.
And finally, there's The Poll Mine which groups players into teams and asks them to rank things like the best things to look for in a vacation spot, or the worst Christmas songs. Then, players have to guess the overall rankings in order to progress through a spooky cave. The aesthetic of the game is nice, but it suffers from being pretty unbalanced. The final question in our game was ranking which pirates you'd want on your crew, with names like Orson Burnsboats, which is kind of funny, sure. But once you're done laughing at the joke the game made, you're left with a befuddling game mechanic where you're trying to guess how other people rank random pirate names.
This game is also one of those that can suffer based on the arrangement of the people you're playing with. If you're not sitting next to your teammates, then debating your answers can be awkward. And if you're playing over Discord, good luck communicating with just your team.
Overall, this Jackbox Party Pack is as uneven as many of its predecessors. But I also find myself judging it more harshly than it deserves simply because I was so pleased with the last pack. It's annoying (and expensive) to swap between several packs just to find the good games, and there's finally one that has nearly all hits. I'd hoped that would stay the case for the eighth pack.
Instead, this is a solid entry in the Jackbox series, with multiple games that can keep everyone entertained for several hours, no matter their gaming preferences. It's worth it for Drawful: Animate alone, but the rest of the titles like Job Job certainly help push it over the edge. Just maybe skip Weapons Drawn if you want to keep everyone at your party engaged.
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