Up until last year, I didn’t really pay much attention to the You Don’t Know Jack series of video games. The trivia questions were cleverly written about 60% of the time, but the 90’s Kool Attitude tone of the jokes got old quickly. However, in 2015, The Jackbox Party Pack and its sequel, Jackbox Party Pack 2, were released. Along with that year’s version of YDKJ, the game bundles included two games – Fibbage and Quiplash – that I believe are some of the best party games ever designed.
As many of you know, I am currently late in the design phase of Stand Back, Citizen!, my superheroic party pitch game. There aren’t a lot of resources for this type of game, despite its popularity, so I wanted to delve into why Quiplash and Fibbage are so fun and have so much repeat value. Other designers can use the tools they created in their own games, even if not all of them translate well from the video game format.
On its face, Fibbage is very close to the classic board game Balderdash. A factoid is put up on screen with critical information missing, i.e. “The death metal band Hatebeak’s front man is ________”. Each player then creates a fake but plausible-sounding answer that will hopefully get the other players to guess it instead of the real one*. You get points for other players guessing your answer, as well as if you guess the correct answer yourself.
This is already a pretty decent formula. However, the designers included one of the most brilliant mechanics I’ve ever seen in party games: The thumbs-up. After guessing an answer, players may then select any or all of the answers to give a thumbs-up to, indicating that they thought it was clever or funny. At the end of the game, the players whose answers got the most thumbs-up gets the prestigious “Thumbs Cup”, even if they’re in dead last.
Instead of trying to convince its audience that it should be taken seriously, Fibbage instead rewards people who want to goof off and make hilariously bad answers. Players are effectively split into two camps: Try-hards who put in realistic answers that people will guess, and goof-offs who answer “The original name of Kool-Aid” with “It’s Fruit Sugar! With The Glass Intruder” in an attempt to get thumbs. People bad at making jokes will be happy trying to earn points, while people bad at coming up with good fake answers will be happy watching the other players’ reactions to the latest monstrosity they created.
For the record, I am firmly in Camp Goof-Off; the Kool-Aid answer is mine and I included it because I have a huge ego when it comes to joke writing.
In Quiplash, players receive two prompts and write a funny answer for each one. Each prompt is put on screen one at a time (two players compete per prompt) and the rest of the players vote on which one they liked the most. Points are earned for each person who liked your response, plus a bonus if everyone votes for your response, also called “Quiplashing”.
This formula sneakily addresses one of the biggest issues with Apples to Apples-style pitch games: The massive amount of player downtime. I will be getting more into this topic when I talk about designing Stand Back, Citizen!, but the flow of most games like this work as follows:
- A prompt is revealed, players select a card.
- The judge reveals all the cards and reads them out loud.
- The judge selects the best card and awards that player the prompt.
The problem is that the longest amount of time in the game is spent on a phase in which only one player has the power to do anything besides argue pointlessly about how their submission was the best. However, in Quiplash, all but two of the players act as the judge every round, creating a lot less average downtime for each individual player. The rounds are also timed, which helps prevent the problem of the slowest player taking five to ten times longer than the others when deciding on an answer to a prompt.
Unlike Fibbage, which tries to appeal to audiences with multiple tastes, Quiplash is strictly oriented towards people who like to write jokes. Because the prompts are write-in, people who aren’t good at coming up with funny things under pressure might feel alienated, but this is made up for by the escape hatch of writing an in-joke about your friend group.
A good party game is difficult to differentiate from the pack, partially because the review resources aren’t as meticulous as those for hobby games and partially because there isn’t a lot out there saying what makes a good party game. I will be writing another column or two on the subject in the coming months, and I hope it proves useful in buying – and making – social games.
* ”A parrot.”