The Jaded Gamer

Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.
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The Grate Escape

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
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Anyway, how's your sex life?
"She said the same thing about waffles."
Microbadge: Offline from The Geek for a while
Retrospective 8: Mr. Jack and Extension
How obtained: Cash

Board Game: Mr. Jack

This is one of those really intense, serious games that masquerades as a nice friendly cartoony experience thanks to the artwork.

Do not be fooled, casual gamers, into thinking that the cutesy large eyed character designs and bright, primary colours indicate that nobody at the end will be crushed into an Analysis Paralysis ridden pulp by the constant hunt for which of the adorable little characters is actually a serial killer who eviscerates prostitutes - which is perhaps a perfect synergy of theme and art, now I come to think of it.

Board Game: Mr. Jack

This image by user "victorstanciu"

Perhaps this is the problem I keep smacking violently into every time I teach somebody this game - there is a major disconnect between art style, theme (if you go beyond a simple "escape" story) and game type.

In short, its an abstract deduction (induction?) game in which one of the shared characters is secretly evil and one player is trying to get that individual out of town before getting caught by the other.

Sure, it's a little less stressful than Go but that's not saying much of course. The number of times my poor wife has literally beaten the table in frustration as she tries to form her plan for the turn, or that I have had an almost physical need to flip the guilty card when being the investigator.... it's intense, seriously.

Now, for many people this is probably a plus - and actually, if I am in the right mood for it, I really think it's a great game. I was planning to play it 100 times, after all.

The only issues I have with it other than those perennial deduction/induction moments of screaming frustration are these:

1. In order to feel the competition has been fair, both players have to play each side. Of course, this leads to some serious issues with scores being tied, so you should really play three games, but that causes a problem too, since the two sides are asymmetric again. What I came up with to address this point was to play best of 5 and whoever is 2-1 down before game 4 gets to choose their role for the next game. Not sure this helps, but at least you have time to get your eye in.

2. Often it has come down to a 50/50 guess on the part of the investigator since escaping as Jack is really, really difficult in my experience and narrowing down to a single character is tough, too. In that case, success isn't particularly satisfying whoever actually wins. Maybe that's just me being crap at the game, though.

Board Game: Mr. Jack

This image is by user "MyParadox"

To prevent too much similarity the Extension (i.e. expansion) introduces a bunch more characters to vary the identical setups given.

I really like this sort of expansion since it only makes small changes to the game. Often they keep adding more rules but I reckon this actually gives you more options without adding too much to the complexity (although Spring Heeled Jack stretches the point) - if you like the game in its original form then I can recommend it to you. It's only going to be necessary after you've played a significant number of times, though... let's say, er, 30 or so, depending on how quickly you and your regular opponent(s) dissolve into the same moves over and over again.

I imagine this game is not going to be for everyone - it is very much a two player abstract strategy game closer to Chess or Go than to Letters from Whitechapel. If you are looking for a highly thematic game about catching criminals this isn't really going to float your boat.

For me, it's got a quick setup (a bit longer with the extension), looks relatively unthreatening despite the fact this may mislead the unsuspecting gamer about what kind of game it is and gives a good challenge - albeit one that is asymmetric and may require multiple plays in a session.

Perhaps that sounds negative, I really don't intend to. I'm just keen to accept this game for what it IS, not what it ISN'T.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
The title of this post is a bit misleading, since you'll escape through manhole covers rather than sewer grates, but I just couldn't resist it.
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