W. Eric Martin
This review first appeared on FunandBoardgames.com.
The legend of Jack the Ripper has survived for more than a century, and the enduring mystery of this killer’s identity and the reasoning behind his murderous actions has inspired numerous films, television programs, novels, and interpretive dance programs.
With all that attention, it makes sense then that Jack would eventually find himself immortalized in cardboard and wooden bits, but Mr. Jack’s road to publication has been something of an ordeal itself. Designers Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc showed a prototype of this game to numerous publishers, and everyone who saw it said, yes, this is a fantastic game. Unfortunately, they also said, I’m afraid the game isn’t quite right for us.
Yes, readers, being a great game is a good first step towards publication, but that’s not always enough. Publishers shied away from Mr. Jack—which was pitched under the title “Une Ombre sur Whitechapel [A Shadow Over Whitechapel]”—because they didn’t want to publish games that accommodate only two players. Or if they did, they wanted to publish inexpensive two-player games. Or they didn’t want a deduction game. Or they had just published a deduction game and didn’t want another. Whatever reason you could possibly give for rejection, you found one. The game seemed as cursed as poor Annie Chapman.
Co-designer Cathala had already been down the road of yes-but-no with Shadows Over Camelot, a cooperative game in which players take on the roles of the knights of the Round Table and defend Camelot against evil forces. He had waited five years to see Camelot get accepted and published, and he didn’t plan to wait that long again. He printed 250 homemade copies with the help of French publisher Neuroludic. Those copies sold out in days, so now new Swiss publisher, Hurrican, is reprinting the game on a large scale in four languages. An overnight success that was years in the making, as the saying goes.
As for the game itself, Mr. Jack is a two-player deduction game in which eight investigators are searching the Whitechapel district of London for clues about Jack the Ripper. In reality, though, one of the investigators is Jack himself, trying to throw others off his trail. One of the players is Jack, and his job is to evade capture for eight game rounds or escape off the edge of the board to freedom.
The other player is the head of the investigation, so he receives information from all of the inspectors and can piece these clues together to exonerate the innocent and zero in on the real killer. If the detective can determine which character is Jack by the end of the eighth round, he wins. He must make sure of his facts, for if he accuses an innocent person, then Jack escapes in the ensuing hubbub.
The game board represents Whitechapel and has numerous alleyways and buildings on a hexagonal grid. The corners are open areas through which Jack can escape, assuming they’re not blocked by a police cordon. Many of the alleys also have accessible manholes which let the characters zip around the board more quickly.
Most important of all are the street lights, for without light you can see nothing and no one will ever be caught. The street is illuminated by six gaslights, with four tiles numbered from 1-4 and two unnumbered.
Players shuffle a chunky cardboard deck of eight character cards, then turn four of them face-up. In the first round and the other odd numbered rounds, the detective chooses one of those cards, then moves the character and possibly a special action associated with that person. Jack then moves and takes actions with two of the remaining three characters, then the detective handles the final character. In even numbered rounds, this pattern is reversed with the remaining four characters.
At the end of a round, Jack must say whether the character who is really Jack is or is not witnessed on the board. If a character is next to a gaslight or adjacent to another character, then that character can be witnessed. Unless every character is in the light or dark, the detective will learn that some characters are innocent and can stop counting them as suspects.
Unfortunately for the detective, one of the gaslights blows out at the end of each of the first four rounds, making his job more difficult. This handicap is balanced because the detective can close off manholes or move the police barricades to keep Jack less mobile. The bad news is that Jack can undo these efforts by choosing the appropriate character card during the turn.
Mr. Jack is a stealthy game of cat-and-mouse in which characters bounce in and out of the light, looking wholesome one second and sinister the next. Your tough choices start with your choice of characters, especially when you’re going first; you want to choose a character so that the ones you leave behind won’t devastate your position before the end of the round.
Jack has it especially tough once the innocent characters start being identified and the pool of suspects shrinks. That said, the original Jack the Ripper stayed out of the law’s reach entirely. Perhaps Mr. Jack can do the same?
I've always had a morbid fanscination with Jack the Ripper so I can't wait to dive into this game. A two player deduction game sounds great and although I'm a little out off by the price your review makes it sound like it's worth it! Thanks for the insight!