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Why Did the Chicken is one of my favorite party games, because of the hilarious answers to riddles that people write. It’s produced some of the loudest outbreaks of laughter in any game I’ve played. As soon as I read over the rules for JabberJot (Morning Star Games, 2005 – Allen Wolf), I knew that it was going to be funny along the same lines. Players have to write stories using certain words, cards, and pictures – with the funniest story getting a point each turn. I played the game, and sure enough – the laughter I expected ensued.
I will say that JabberJot won’t work in every situation; you need a crowd of folk who are somewhat creative, and who are willing to write down their stories as well as not mind writing down a decent amount of material. The game’s settings can be modified, which we did in our games, simply because of information overload. But if that sounds like something you would be interested in, and you don’t mind the rather large box, then JabberJot can provide some seriously fun times. I still keep the stories that have been written in my games, simply because some of them became instant classics!
Players are all given sheets of paper and writing utensils, and a stack of cards, bag of word tiles, tray, and timer are given to one person – the “Jabber”. Each round begins the same way. The Jabber draws a “Challenge” card from a deck and chooses the theme on either side of it. (i.e. “Praying” or “Sword Fighting”). The card indicates how many cards from zero to two or each of three categories of cards should be drawn and placed in the rack – whichever side the Jabber chooses (three cards in total). The categories of cards are “Hipster”, which shows pictures of people doing a variety of things; “Globetrotter”, which shows various scenes from around the world; and “Thingamajig”, which shows a wide range of objects.
The Jabber also randomly draws three word tiles from a bag (i.e. “Frothy”, “Pain”) and places them on the rack to the side that he so chooses. At this point, everyone carefully looks at all the words, theme, and pictures, until the Jabber starts the timer. Players then have ninety seconds to write a story that uses all the words, part of or all of the pictures in some way, with the theme as their guide. When time is up, players give their stories to one person who is the “reader”. This person reads all the stories to the Jabber, who must pick the story he likes the best. The player who wrote this story receives the Challenge card as their reward, and the game continues. When one player has gotten a certain amount of Challenge cards (three to five, depending on number of players), they win the game!
The game includes some exact instructions on how to determine whether someone or not has used a picture in their story (players who fail to do so are out of the round), etc. But the rules also make it clear that the players are free to dabble with the game system in any way they’d like – using no word tiles, using only word tiles, having a group vote for the winner, etc.
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The box is probably the largest party game box of any game I have, which makes it more difficult to transport – can’t just throw it in a backpack. However, it does hold all the pieces of the game quite well in a custom designed plastic insert. The components themselves are of high quality, except perhaps the plastic tray, which was a bit flimsy. Still, it held the cards and tiles easily. The card box was extremely nice, as it had four sections which allowed players to pull from any of them easily. The game also included small pencils (should be in all party games), a lot of paper, a cloth drawstring bag with a huge amount of double-sided word tiles, and a nice timer. The picture cards, which are probably the heart of the game, have some really great pictures on them. Most of them evoke some sort of reaction from the person watching and show a wide range of people and places from multiple cultures. The Hipster pictures in particular show folk doing zany things, making outrageous expressions, and generally just making you laugh to see them. Whoever the photographers were, I give them two thumbs up.
2.) Rules: The rules come on four pages and are very clear and well formatted. In fact, the actual rules are only on two pages with the other two dedicated to tips and variations. I was very pleased to see that the designer encouraged players to find the combo that they most enjoyed. For myself, I like playing the game as is but with only one word tile instead of three. Some of the variations in the rules, like the one that allows everyone to be a Jabber, speed the game up considerably.
3.) Time: The ninety second timer can be a bit of a pain – it’s difficult to get a story out in that amount of time. In our games, we often ended up flipping the timer twice, to double the amount of time. The problem with that is that the game then starts to take a bit long. Still, I would rather have a longer game with people who aren’t getting frustrated with the short time they have to write, than a short game with stupid, one sentence stories.
4.) Creativity: Just like another game I recently reviewed, X-Machina, JabberJot requires players to really think up funny stories. For example, three pictures, two word tiles, and a theme produced this story “Two newlyweds were praying about their weight while kneeling beside their bed. They had both recently had their picture taken and that’s when they noticed that they were both the size of a small castle. It was also very annoying to have people constantly running away in fear yelling, Godzilla! Godzilla!”. Now to you, the dear reader, this may not be overtly funny. But when taken in context of a party game (which has heightened silliness to begin with), and the fact that we could see the picture of two guys running in fear, and another of a castle, really just made us all burst out in laughter for a good bit. When you allow yourself to just write stories – regardless of how silly they are – the game works like a charm. Some members of the group insisted that they were not creative; and while possibly true, they managed to write some of the funniest stories.
5.) Diversity: With 450 different pictures, 500 words on tiles, and 150 challenge cards with themes, the game isn’t going to get stale or boring soon. Each picture can usually be read in several different ways, and players are allowed to only use part of a picture if they’d like. Sometimes players' stories come out remarkably similar, but I attribute that to the fact that they are simply on the same wavelength at that particular moment. Every time, I waited to see what outrageous combo we would see this round, and they were always wildly different from the last.
6.) Fun Factor: JabberJot is a lot of fun and produces laughter, tears (of laughter), and some really funny stories for posterity. I will grant that a non-creative, non-participatory group of people will probably make for a fairly dull game, but then again, what kind of game would I want to play with these folks anyway? JabberJot is simply fun; and while not as elegant as my favorite party game designs, it’s certainly good enough to bring out several times a year.
Despite its slightly longer length, I really enjoyed playing JabberJot, and I look forward to more games of it in the future. Just now, before writing this review, I sat down and read some of the stories that had been written in a previous game and burst out laughing. I don’t need to watch TV for funny stuff. I just need to get my friends to play this clever, creative game.
“Real men play board games”