“You Don’t Know Jack”: The Tabletop Game?!

Ever since I first played them at the house of one of my uncles many years ago (I can’t remember how many years exactly, but  I was very young), I have been a devoted fan of the You Don’t Know Jack series of computer trivia games.  There’s just something inherently appealing about these games to me; maybe it’s the way that it can attract many of the people I know and love around a small computer screen to test the fringes of their knowledge, surprising their friends and family with what they know and leading to conversations about why they know the answer to that question.  It could be, too, that the games’ unique style of humor makes for an entertaining atmosphere which greatly complements some of the relatively obscure facts that come my way.  Either way, whenever I see the You Don’t Know Jack logo on something, it raises my curiosity a bit and I’ve got to check it out.  Such a thing happened to me recently at the flea market when I bought a You Don’t Know Jack tabletop game, an unusual piece of Jack merchandise but very interesting on its own terms.

Before this tabletop game, I thought there couldn’t be anything more unusual than the pair of You Don’t Know Jack trivia books I bought from a dollar store years ago; they are basically collections of questions from the games but without the witty host providing insane comments and insulting the players every minute or so, one of the elements that makes the computer versions so entertaining in my view.  But still, the trivia books are easily portable and can be played any time, whereas the original games come on CDs which have to be played on computers (there is a Facebook version which I play every day, but it doesn’t feel quite the same to me).  The tabletop game isn’t quite as portable: it’s a bulky machine that, I think, looks like a cross between the Batcave’s giant Batcomputer and the Panic Button game from Wayne Brady’s version of Let’s Make a Deal.  It’s not the easiest thing to carry around, even seated comfortably in its original box, and I’d be hard-pressed to say I would want to bring it over to a friend’s house to play a quick round of trivia.  When I did take it out of its box and play a few test rounds with my dad, though, it took me back to a bygone era of gaming that I had almost completely forgotten about.

After installing four new AA batteries (an action which makes me feel very old for even remembering how to do; how long has it been since I last installed batteries for you, Game Boy, old buddy!), my dad and I played a few short rounds of You Don’t Know Jack to see how the machine worked.  After we turned the machine on, we found that it was a bare-bones version of the Jack game which focuses exclusively on multiple-choice questions, leaving out the more iconic specialty question types such as the DisOrDat, Gibberish Question, or even the end-of-game Jack Attack.  I don’t mind that, though, as there is still some decent variety in the way the questions are presented.  Anyway, a basic game lasts for ten questions, each worth different amounts of fictional money ranging from $1,000 for easy questions to $3,000 for the hardest questions.  Whoever has the most “cash” at the end of the game is declared the winner.  This is a simple, fun approach to the Jack game which I feel works well for a tabletop version.

The basic game works as well as I could ever hope it to be.  Trying to work with the machine to play the game properly, though, is a bit of a chore.  Like I said, the questions are written on cards which you have to put into a screen on the machine’s front.  You then close a door on this same screen to cover up the card’s answer choices.  When the game prompts you to, you enter a unique number code using the buzzer buttons below the screen so the game knows which question you’re playing with.  You and the other players squeeze to look around the machine to see the question.  You then push another button on the side to open the door and see your answer choices.  You then have about ten seconds to hit your buzzer and select the correct answer.  If you get it right, the amount of money the question is worth is added to your score, but if you get it wrong, the money is subtracted; a score counter on the bottom of the machine keeps track of how everybody is doing, but it looked very small to me and it was a little hard for me to make out the numbers on its digital display. 

Moving cards around and resetting the machine for the next question takes a few seconds to do, a period of time which I’ve never really experienced to any great extent in any of the computer games because the next question loads automatically in those instances.  It is an experience which feels like it comes from a bygone time, back when I had to blow into an NES or Game Boy cartridge to get them to work.  The Jack machine reminds me of a long line of oversized plastic gaming machines and felt very clunky.  I don’t really see games like this on the toy market anymore, or anywhere else for that matter, so a machine like this feels like a “time machine” into my past. 

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings regarding the You Don’t Know Jack tabletop game.  It feels slightly clunky and is hard to move around and work properly, yet it taps into a deep feeling of nostalgia for a time I thought I would scarcely relive.  Not bad for a spin-off of a popular trivia game!

Have you encountered anything recently that gave you an inexplicable feeling of nostalgia?  What did it feel like to you?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.


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