It's a rare game that can feel fresh and entertaining 15 years after its debut, but all it took was a lot of clever writing to make the You Don't Know Jack formula a modern success. The latest entry in the venerable trivia game franchise uses snarky humor and witty cultural references to test a broad range of knowledge, but you don't need to be in on the joke to participate. The brisk format moves each episode along at a lively pace, and some unique twists encourage you to do more than merely answer correctly. Still, the structure can be a bit repetitive, and the twitch-based matching challenge at the end of each episode too often determines the victor. These issues are, however, vastly overshadowed by the excellent writing that will have you eagerly anticipating each new question. There are groanworthy puns and crude jokes, to be sure, but the large amount of legitimately clever and surprisingly funny writing make You Don't Know Jack one of the most entertaining trivia games on the market.
There's just one thing to do in You Don't Know Jack: Play through an episode composed of 10 questions with up to four contestants, either locally or online. Each episode is composed largely of multiple choice questions with four answers. The wording of each question varies widely, but questions always contain some attempt at humor. Some are understated, like the one that tests your knowledge of the current geological era by asking, "What's going on?" Others are elaborate, like the question about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's "Five Stages of Grief" that phrases each answer as a variation of "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." From witty to bland and from highbrow to crude, You Don't Know Jack runs the full gamut of humor. Yet despite some lows, the amusement factor is consistently high, and each episode is likely to generate a good amount of laughter. This is a very funny game, and even if you don't get a particular joke, you still stand a good chance of answering the question correctly, thanks to the thoughtful writing.
The faster you answer each question, the more money you stand to win or lose. Once every player has answered, the host makes derisive comments about the wrong answers and explains the correct one, giving him another opportunity for one-liners and you a chance to learn a little something. There are a few different themed-question types within the multiple-choice sections, and these help break up the normal questions and add some variety to the mix. One example features a dude named Chad paraphrasing famous quotes in colloquial language commonly attributed to aloof surfers. In another, the host recounts a bizarre dream he had after watching a particular movie, often with his mother and two cats standing in for lead roles. These and other question types are sprinkled sparingly throughout the various episodes, so it's a welcome change of pace when they show up.
In addition to searching for the correct answer, sharp players can be on the lookout for the wrong answer of the game. A wacky sponsor (such as Romanticlip Tandem Toenail Clippers) for each episode contains a clue to a special answer that, while actually wrong for the given question, will yield a big bonus to any player that finds it. This provides a strong incentive to pay attention to all the wrong answers in addition to searching for the right one, which is a novel challenge for a trivia game. You Don't Know Jack's signature move is also included, which will delight anyone who has enjoyed previous incarnations of the franchise. Each player is given one screw per episode that, when activated, will force the opponent of your choice to answer the current question. A successful screw earns you a big cash bonus, but if your screw attempt backfires, then, well, you know.
You can thank your fellow contestant for that one.
There are two big departures from the multiple-choice format, which occur in the middle and at the end of episodes. About halfway through, the player in last place is selected for a Dis or Dat challenge in which he or she must sort a list of things into two categories. Differentiating between nonprofit organizations and brands of designer jeans is fairly difficult, and while deciding whether a tweet came from Taylor Swift or the Dalai Lama isn't quite as tricky, the juxtaposition is very amusing. Each episode ends with a Jack Attack, which is a matching game that challenges players to buzz in when the right pairing appears onscreen. Only one player can claim each correct pair, so unlike in the other question types, fast reflexes are crucial. Unless the scores are very lopsided going into the Jack Attack, this is where the game is almost always decided, given the large dollar amount attached to each pair. The disproportionate value placed on this round may disappoint those who relish a test of wits over a test of reflexes. It can be a bummer when your smart answers get swept aside in this high-stakes reflex test, but on the other hand, staging a dramatic comeback with your quick wits and quick fingers is a great feeling.
The pre-episode stage banter and post-episode advertisements provide some extra chuckles, but the voice you hear the most is your host, Cookie Masterson. His comedic timing and inflection is very good, and though he can sometimes sound smarmy or braying, he deftly avoids being obnoxious. This is largely a credit to You Don't Know Jack's excellent writing, which consistently entertains, episode after episode. Each episode takes about 12 minutes to complete, and there are 73 episodes on the disc, making for about 15 hours of amusing quiz content. And while other trivia games, like Scene It? Box Office Smash, repeat questions within a few hours of play, You Don't Know Jack keeps the fresh material coming in a steady stream. This combination of quantity and quality makes it a great value, especially at the $30 retail price. Despite the limited gameplay options, the occasional comedic miscues, and the unbalanced Jack Attack, You Don't Know Jack is a great prospect for parties, family face-offs, and solitary self-assessments.