Use Your Words adds some strategy and psychology to the Jackbox formula


Don’t hit!

I’ve made no secret that I enjoy the Jackbox series of party games, and playing them is something my group of friends always seems to enjoy when we get together. Being able to use your smartphone or other internet-capable device as a controller really lowers the barrier to entry and helps get people who don’t consider themselves gamers to participate. What’s more, the games have become popular on streaming sites like Twitch since it’s possible to play along remotely.

Jackbox Games has released a Party Pack containing five games each over the last three years, but we haven’t seen anyone else try to use the same formula until now. Use Your Wordswas successfully kickstarted in May of 2016 and is anticipating a March release on the PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and PC. One of the game’s designers is popular YouTube performer Brent Black, better known as BrentalFloss.He’s best known for his covers of classic game music with his own clever lyrics. Use Your Wordsis the first game project he’s worked on.

Use Your Wordshas four different game modes, and you’ll play through six rounds of the first three before moving on to a lightning round to finish the game. Up to six player can participate, and up to 10,000 audience members can join in to watch a game in progress. You begin a game by booting it up on your main screen, heading toWordsgame.lolon your device and putting in your four-letter room code.

There are three modes in those first rounds. Blank-o-Matic is very similar to Jackbox’sQuiplash, and asks the players to come up with the best punchline to a joke setup. The other two modes take advantage of the large screen in front of you. Extra, Extra provides a silly photograph and asks you to provide a newspaper headline to match it. Sub the Title plays a film clip from a foreign film and asks you to fill in what the characters onscreen are saying. The final round is called Survey Says, and it’s a lightning round consisting of three Blank-o-Matic prompts in quick succession.

After each player answers the prompt, everyone votes on their favorite answer, and points are awarded to the answers that received the most votes. The twist that makesUse Your Wordsdifferent from Jackbox Games’ titles is the addition of what are called House Answers. House Answers are the safety answers pre-programmed into the game in case you can’t think of an answer in time. There’s at least one of these added in every round of play.

UnlikeQuiplash, each of the House answers inUse Your Wordsis specifically tailored to the prompts, and they tend to be pretty funny and likely to be picked. If you use a House Answer and others vote for it, you’ll only receive half the points you’d have gotten for an original answer, but everyone who voted for it will lose points. This brings in an element of strategy, since you have to balance voting for the funniest answer versus voting for one that you don’t think will lose you points. The head games begin as you try to decide which answers your friends might have written, and it adds quite a bit to the proceedings as you have to quickly psychoanalyze the room after every question. There are seven house answers programmed in for every question, so in theory every player could choose the house answer every time and there’d still be enough to go around.

Choosing a House Answer can be strategic, and the tips that show up on your devices advise that using an inside joke with your group of friends can be a good tactic since everyone else will know that it isn’t a House Answer. During the time my group played, we noticed that a good House Answer in the final round can really swing a game, especially since all the point values (and losses) are doubled.

House answers have typos in them to “blend in” though I noticed that most of the time they didn’t use any capitalization. This made them stand out since most text programs on phones take care of that for you automatically. Your answer will default to a house answer if you run out of time.

The visuals and sound go for a casual, retro-60’s aesthetic and hit the mark pretty well, in my opinion. The announcer’s voice is suitably cheesy, and the background music is low-key but keeps things moving along. The Sub The Title rounds in particular have a vintage drive-in movie motif, and I saw some clips I recognized from Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies likeJack Frost.

These Sub The Title rounds were fun, but did have a tendency to feel repetitive. The original clip is shown twice at the beginning of the round, and once answers have been entered, it plays once more for each of those. After the voting round, it plays yet again for each answer that received votes. With a full group of six, that means the clip plays at least ten times, and possibly as many as fifteen. It didn’t take away from the game in any way, but might start to grate on people who lack patience.

There were some other minor glitches in the build I played, including some typos in the tips that show up on your phone between rounds. It’s optimized pretty well, but the text box on my particular phone blocked me from seeing part of the answer I was typing in. Fortunately, it’s easy to scroll the available screen space to see everything.

Use Your Wordshas several features added to encourage streaming, and it’ll probably be a popular audience participation game on services like Twitch. To start with, the timer is more generous than those found in Jackbox games, and it doesn’t start counting down until at least one player has answered the prompt. There’s a toggle that changes the music from licensed works to original tunes to avoid getting a copyright flag. You can choose to play with clean or dirty prompts and answers, depending on the age of the people in the room. And while my group didn’t use the feature very much, you can use emoji in your answers and they’ll show up on screen.

I’m glad to see some other games coming out that adapt the formula Jackbox pioneered, andUse Your Wordslooks like it will be a worthy competitor when it comes out in March. I played on PC, but this is one of the last games that’ll come out on the Wii U, and the only game of this type playable on that platform. If you’re interested inUse Your Wordsit will retail for about $15, and you canpreorder a Steam copy here.

[This preview is based on a preview build of the game provided by the publisher.]