Last summer, Geekenstein’s own lovely David introduced me to the Facebook version of You Don’t Know Jack, a game I had never played but seen in many a book-order-form in my elementary school days. Only now that I’ve actually played some games in the series, I’m surprised they were marketing this series to kids in the first place! Known as “The Irreverent Trivia Game” (or, for the old-school fans in the crowd, “Where High Culture and Pop Culture Collide”), You Don’t Know Jack is a whirlwind of clever writing and surprisingly smart trivia. And since Dave got me into the series, I figure I might as well do everyone a service and explain the reasons why you should be enjoying some form of this game.
1. It’s been around for a long time
The first You Don’t Know Jack game came out in 1995. The series is, as of this writing, 18 years old. It’s old enough to vote now. It spawned at least 7 major iterations, a short-lived game show on ABC hosted by Paul Reubens, and even an actual board game. There was a major gap between the 2011 console release and the latest PC version that preceded it, (The Lost Gold in 2003), but thanks to said console release and a new Facebook app version, it’s gotten a small revival.
What’s the point in all this? It means that there’s a TON of trivia for you to enjoy, even if you somehow tire of the Facebook version, and have played all 113 episodes on the 2011 console version. Got any of the PlayStation consoles? There were a few PS1 releases (mainly using questions from earlier-released PC versions). If you love the series that much, you can still probably find copies of the old 90′s PC games. Having seen plenty of videos of the older games in the series, the trivia isn’t too dated and some games throw new twists or mini-games your way. (For instance, if you “screw” a player in the 4th version of the game, the screws can actually visually obscure the question, making it even harder for whoever got screwed.)
2. It’s one of the most fun, balanced party games out there
Say what you will about nostalgic memories of Mario Party on the N64. There’s one thing nobody will deny about that series: it destroys friendships. In fact, I’d argue that Mario Kart and Smash Bros can do the same depending on how into it you and your friends are (and if there’s alcohol and/or money involved). The nice thing about You Don’t Know Jack is that it’s already pretty fair (being a trivia game and all), but there are some extra curveballs that help even out the odds in case one of your friends is more of a maven of useless trivia.
In practically every “episode” of You Don’t Know Jack, one of the questions will be a “Dis or Dat,” in which the player in last place gets to take part in a rapid-fire round where they must distinguish whether seven items are either one thing or the other, usually a combination of things that you wouldn’t expect to blend so well (For instance, the seven things read off to you are either the name of a pope or the name of a Britney Spears song. It’s harder than it sounds.). And just to make sure that the good players aren’t feeling left out, if they lock their answers in before the main player of the Dis or Dat, and the main player gets it wrong but the other player gets it right, they steal the cash. It’s underhanded little details like that that add a nice new layer of competition and trickery to the game.
Speaking of underhandedness and trickery, there’s also the option to “screw” players in the console and older PC games, where one player can target another player if they think that player doesn’t know the answer to the question. In most cases, the “screwed” player will have a (very) short amount of time to answer the question, and if they get it wrong, the screwer gets a cash bonus (plus the chance to answer the question correctly). However, if the screwed player answers right, the screwer loses a ton of cash. It’s a great risk and reward system that also plays on knowing your opponents and reading their poker faces, so to speak.
One of my favorite features in the 2011 version is the “Wrong Answer of the Game”, which is a wrong answer to one of the questions, which is somehow related to the sponsor of the episode in question. Guessing the Wrong Answer of the Game nets you twice whatever the maximum amount of money is (so, $4,000 in round one and $8,000 in round two when everything is doubled), as well as the sponsor’s product as a prize. Keeping players looking for a single answer that is wrong in the hopes of getting a ton of cash is just another one of the curveballs the series is known for.
And of course, the final round of the game, the “Jack Attack” is usually a pretty good opportunity to catch up and steal the win from other players, but scores aren’t shown until the Jack Attack is over, making for a stressful and exciting conclusion to each game. It’s another type of rapid fire round where the first player to buzz in correctly gets the money, but an equal amount of money is lost for each incorrect buzz-in. It definitely works as a clear-cut game deciding event.
While the Facebook version technically doesn’t let you play against your friends, in that you’re not playing with them in real-time, it emulates the experience as best as possible, by re-playing your friends’ gameplay when you’re in an episode they’ve already completed, making it feel just the same. (Plus, the ability to brag or give props depending on whether you win or lose adds a nice touch.)
3. It’s got personality out the wazzoo
I’ve played other trivia games and I have to say, as delightful as Buzz! The Mega Quiz‘s Australian, Muppet-mouthed host is, Jack‘s Cookie Masterson has leagues more personality, and we never even get to see the guy. Different dialogue is written for practically every wrong and right answer, and the host will make jabs about everything from the number of players participating to whether or not anyone’s used their screws, to you picking an obviously wrong answer.
The game’s charm doesn’t just come from the host, however. The presentation of the game is top-notch no matter which version you’re playing, although special mention must go to the 2011 version’s jingles upon the beginning of each question, with each number getting its own jingle and genre. They’re downright catchy from question 5′s auto-tuned pizazz to question 7′s ska-tastic mosh-pit. And some episodes will even throw you for a loop and have something different (and hilarious) happen, occasionally, rewarding long-time players who pretty much sing along with the songs every game. (Sadly, this isn’t found in the Facebook version but the songs are just as catchy.)
There are also a series of commercials after every game that are downright hysterical, and you can choose to listen to them or not. In fact, the Facebook version takes it a step further by having you unlock new sponsors the more games you play, with each sponsor getting its own short, 5-second video commercial as well as a longer audio commercial.
Some people might call it sensory overload but every time I play an episode it feels like Cookie is a real, honest-to-goodness game show host interacting with me and not just a series of pre-recorded lines coming through my speakers.
4. There’s quite a few ways to enjoy the game these days
Even if you don’t feel like finding the old PC versions of the game from the 90′s, Jellyvision has been doing a swell job bringing the series back for modern devices. As mentioned before, there’s a console version that came out in 2011 (which is also on PC, but sadly only allows for a maximum of two players), featuring 73 episodes on the disc, as well as four DLC packs with 10 episodes each, totaling to 113 episodes on that version alone. The game also supports online play but that might be the one bad thing about this game being 2 years old. While the trivia is still pretty fresh topically, many online players have already played through every episode, meaning they might know all the answers, so be warned.
There’s also the Facebook version which I’ve talked about, which offers a slightly shorter experience (games are 5 questions long, with the 5th being the Jack Attack, whereas the other versions are 10 or more not including the Jack Attack), but has new episodes coming out all the damn time. Plus, if you’re having trouble finding friends to play the console version with you on the couch, you can just play against your Facebook friends or even total strangers. This version is also available on iOS so you can play your friends on iPhone or iPad. Sadly, the Facebook version uses a currency system, giving you one free game per day and making you pay 200 fun-bucks to play more, but honestly, one game a day is all you need. Unless you want to get the achievements.
5. It’s absolutely hilarious
Humor is subjective, yes, but I’m confident in saying that the writers at Jellyvision are funny people. Cookie’s always got a witty remark whether you got the answer right or wrong, and little audio stings such as a duck quack or a short piano riff really drive home the humor.
There’s also plenty of laughs to be had when the game starts getting weird on you. There’s a type of question which is read by Cookie doing a ventriloquist act (meaning his M’s, P’s and B’s sound like N’s, T’s and D’s, respectively), sometimes the show’s interns will get in on the action, and there’s even an entire episode in which there weren’t enough questions prepared so the whole thing quickly turns to chaos. Let’s just say that when I saw Cookie as a fake cat meowing with his real cats, Mayonnaise and Poopsie, in order to describe a movie he was watching the night before, I was in love.
Hopefully this little list has helped either make you aware or warmed you up to the idea of this beautiful little series. If you’re looking for a new party game with a heaping helping of snark to bust out when friends are over, this is a good one. Or at least try the Facebook version, which gives you a good idea of what to expect from other versions and is also free-to-play (once a day, at least). The future for the series is questionable, however, considering the console release was published by THQ, who recently went the way of the dodo. (However, THQ doesn’t own Jellyvision.) So if you’re interested in the most recent version, I strongly suggest you get to looking for new or used copies, because they seem to be becoming increasingly rare.
Though it doesn’t matter if you play this game or not, because at the end of the day, You Don’t Know Jack!
[Written by contributor Mitch Rozetar]