Jackbox Games
Recognize the Jackbox bald guy? You've seen him on "You Don't Know Jack" CD-ROMs in the '90s.
Jackbox Games
By Alex Lauer / May 21, 2020 7:25 am

What do Jeff Baena, co-writer of I Heart Huckabees; Aimee Lucido, crossword-puzzle expert at The New Yorker; and Jack Black, burgeoning TikTok star, have in common? During quarantine, they’ve all turned to Jackbox Games for comfort.

Jackbox, in the most basic sense, makes party games. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, its most popular games — like Trivia Murder Party, Fibbage or the classic You Don’t Know Jack — might. While the company traces its origin back to 1989 (and the CD-ROM), it has become the unlikely source of entertainment in 2020 for thousands of sequestered people around the world. 

For those who have been missing out, here’s how it works: Jackbox has been releasing packs of party games since 2014, which can be accessed through your computer, smart TV or video-game console of choice. During pre-pandemic times, people would gather in living rooms to play, but while social-distancing is in place, streaming these games through platforms like Discord, Steam or even your standard video-conferencing services like Zoom has been the norm. The games range from trivia to rap and joke battles to Pictionary-esque drawing challenges, but everything has a twist. The most important element, however, is that every player uses their smartphone as a controller. In fact, it’s the smartphone-as-controller element that saved Jackbox from ruin back in 2014, and subsequently saved all of us from having to resort to lesser games while cooped up at home.

For those over 30, the memories of Jackbox likely go back to the aforementioned CD-ROM days, when the company was called Jellyvision and You Don’t Know Jack wasn’t a downloadable, streamable, playable-anywhere game, but simply trivia you could play on your PC with a sarcastic bald guy. Harry Gottlieb was the man behind it all, and in a 2018 feature in GQ, he described the company’s situation in 2014 like this: “We had literally run out of money. It couldn’t have been closer to the plane crashing. But we had this idea, which we’d been knocking around for, like, a decade: using your phone as a controller.”

In short, it saved the company, in conjunction with a suite of releases that satisfied seasoned video-gamers, board-game geeks, trivia junkies and the general public. 

I know what you’re thinking, Ugh, I have to download another app to play this? But that’s the beauty of it — you don’t. All you need to do is open a browser, head to Jackbox.tv and then type in the code for the room you and your friends are playing in. If it sounds complicated, trust me, it’s not. And in good form, Jackbox Games has drawn up more detailed instructions on how to play with people who are scattered across town, the state or the country.

The barriers to entry, unlike other popular quarantine video games like Animal Crossing, are surprisingly low. (No dealing with inflated Nintendo Switch prices on eBay.) You can use the tech you have to get up and running, and the games themselves are cheap, and made even cheaper by the discounts Jackbox has been offering pretty much the entire pandemic. For example, Jackbox Party Pack 6, the latest suite of five games to be released, is currently just $21, and the other packs go as low as $12.49. Plus, only one person in your group needs to buy them.

So what are the best games? While there are gems in every single pack and the best course of action is to start with the most recent release and work backwards, here are some highlights:

  • Fibbage XL (Party Pack 1): Fibbage was the first game released in the new smartphone-controller phase of Jackbox and continues to be one of them most popular. Try to convince friends to pick your answer to trivia questions over the real one.
  • Trivia Murder Party 2 (Party Pack 6): A fast-paced, horror-themed trivia game that pits players who answer incorrectly against each other in different challenges. 
  • Mad Verse City (Party Pack 5): It’s a rap battle, but with the added help of Mad Libs-esque prompts. 
  • Joke Boat (Party Pack 6): It’s like the rap battle, but with jokes. To start the game, all the players get to submit potential setups, and then you have to write the punchline.
  • Split the Room (Party Pack 5): Everyone writes hypothetical situations, but the point isn’t to get people on your side, it’s to, uh, split the room. 

No matter how long social-distancing recommendations last, these are going to be your savior — if they haven’t been already.