What're you looking at!
My wife and I have played this game 34 times now and have found it to be a very different and challenging game. We enjoy it a lot, despite not having hit the playtesters reported success rate of 47% when playing Jack.
I would say I am running at around 40%; my wife at 5% in winning with Jack. This is a very tactical kind of brain burner in that you're not thinking several moves ahead, but either only about the next turn, or the one that just happened, and all the many possibilities of the current turn.
Much has been said about the chances of winning with Jack. I think that the 47% success is realistic, if you think carefully about your options, and not just about fleeing the scene, and if you play the game a number of times in succession to get the hang of how it all works.
Regardless, if you enjoy two player games, you will definitely want this game.
The board is a cartoonish representation of a city district, and of good quality. The tokens are discs that you put stickers on of the eight possible suspects for Jack the Ripper. You also get markers for streetlights, police barricades, and manhole covers.
The two sets of cards are large and of very thick cardboard--think thick hex cardboard. Each deck represents the suspects, but the character deck is used to determine which characters get to move on that turn; the alibi deck is used to determine which suspect is Jack for that particular game. As there are only eight in each deck, it is easy to shuffle them. Finally there is a witness card, with a depiction of Jack the Ripper.
The artwork is quite cartoonish, which contributes to a lighthearted feel to the game, despite the morbidity of its subject and the amount of thinking that goes into playing it. All in all, the bits are good quality.
The board needs to be set up a specific way with suspects, streetlights, manhole covers, and barricades. You have to follow the erratum sheet included in the game for set up. It took us quite a few plays before we did not have to refer to it.
One person takes on the role of detective and the other of Jack. We always play two games so we each get a chance to play each role.
The alibi cards of the eight suspects are used to determined which of the eight suspects will be Jack the Ripper for the current game. After one of them has been chosen, the remainder are placed in the box, so that their coloured edges cannot be seen.
So set-up is a little involved, but after several plays it gets quicker.
If you are in the role of Jack, the object of the game is to escape detection, or escape the scene; if you are in the role of detective, your goal is to determine which of the eight suspects is Jack the Ripper.
At the beginning of the game all the eight suspect tokens are placed with the coloured side sticker up to indicate that they are still a possible suspect. The suspects' movements around the board are determined according to character cards, four of which the detective lays in front of him on each turn. On odd numbered turns, the detective chooses a character first and fourth; Jack second and third. Choice is reversed on even numbered turns.
The movement of characters is very important because it determines who remains a suspect in the search for Jack the Ripper. Each character also has special powers:
Sherlocke Holmes: Moves 1-3 spaces, and gets to look at the top alibi card (the player in the role of Jack has removed the character representing Jack for this game, so the reminaing ones are innocent).
John H. Watson: Moves 1-3 spaces. Watson carries a lantern and at the end of his movement it must be pointed. Any suspect in its unimpeded beam is considered as being in the light.
John Smith: Moves 1-3 spaces and can move one streetlight to a different location.
Inspector Lestrade: Moves 1-3 spaces and can move a police barricade.
Miss Stealthy: Moves 1-4 spaces and can move through objects and streetlights.
Seargent Goodley: Moves 1-3 spaces. He has a whistle which causes a character(s) to move up to three spaces toward him.
Sir William Gull: Moves 1-3 spaces, or switches places with another suspect.
Jeremy Burt: Moves 1-3 spaces and moves on of the two manhole covers to a different manhole.
On a turn, four cards are laid out, you choose a character, execute its movement and its special power (only Miss Stealthy's and Sir Gull's are optional). Characters may also use open manholes to travel: at the cost of one movement point, a character can go down a manhole and move to any other open manhole. When all four cards have been used a call for witnesses is made.
If Jack is beside another character or in the light (adjacent to a steetlight or in Watson's beam), then the player playing Jack announces that there are winesses and puts the witness card light side up. If Jack is not beside another character or in the light, then there are no witnesses and the wintess card is placed dark side up.
Characters are then eliminated as suspects. For example, if there are witnesses to Jack, then anyone who is not beside a character or in the light, can be eliminated as a suspect. If there are no witnesses to Jack, then anyone who is beside a character or in the light can be eliminated. To show that a character has been eliminated as a suspect, you flip its token over to its black and white side. At the end of the first four turns, a streetlight is removed, reducing their number from six to two by round 5.
If you are playing Jack you want to keep as may suspects as possible; as the detective you want to eliminate as many as possible. Both roles require a lot of careful thought about how characters should get moved, and how there special powers get used.
Every second round the character cards get reshuffled.
The detective has eight rounds in which to make his one and only accusation against a suspect. He does this by using a character's movement to land on top of whom he believes to be Jack and making the accusation. If he is correct he wins; if he is wrong, he loses.
Jack can win by either lasting the eight rounds and not getting accused (either from the detective making an inaccurate accusation, or from being inaccessible to an accusation); or by escaping the city, but only when there are no witnesses.
Mr Jack is a highly tactical game, and there is a lot to consider, especially when you are Jack.
Generally, early in the game it is easier to have Jack witnessed and to keep as many characters as possible witnessed; later it becomes easier to have no witnesses. I have found that the streetlights are of less importance than getting characters adjacent for the purpose of being witnessed.
Achieving no witnesses can be rather difficult. Characters can move very freely around the board, and your two unwitnessed characters with only a space between them can suddenly both become witnessed when another character moves in between them. When streetlights have been removed, and you are down to only a small number of suspects, 2 or 3, this becomes easier.
One of the most important considerations is the odd or even numbered turns. On odd numbered turns, you know which characters still have to move; on even numbered turns, you know which ones cannot move. You must use this to your advantage to position Jack so that he will remain witneesed or not witnessed.
Of course, whether or not your are moving first and fourth, or second and third makes a big difference. Going second and third can allows you some excellent combinations. For example, you can use Sgt. Goodley to pull characters towards a spot; then use John Smith to put a streetlight beside those characters so that they are witnessed, or do the reverse by pulling characters away from each other, and moving the streetlight so they are not witnessed. I find Sgt. Goodly to be a very powerful card, and if I am Jack I always choose it if I can so it doesn't wreck my plans.
Being witnessed is not a bad thing if you are able to keep a number of suspects going and are able to bluff the detective into suspecting the wrong one. It is better to think in terms of keeping suspects viable than to think about just Jack escaping, as escape is a much trickier and slightly luck dependent.
The sewers are crucial if you are planning to escape or just get away, or trying to get to Jack to accuse him. As it costs one movement point to descend into the sewer, it is a good idea to keep any character who needs to use the sewer directly on top of an open manhole. Conversely, if you don't want someone popping out of the sewer to accuse you, you need to be 2 or 3 spaces away from open manholes (not easy to do).
To escape you also have to make sure that the manholes you need don't get covered, and your escape route does not get barricaded. Finally, even if you do get everything set up, the detective may get first choice and move Jack, or your card doesn't come up that turn, and that can be very frustrating. Oh yes, and before any of that happens it has to be a no witness round.
I have made Jack escape, but have it better to keep opportunity in mind rather than plan solely for it because it might not work, and you are more likely to give away who Jack is.
This is the kind of game you have to work at a little to get into playing both roles (sometimes when we switch roles we forget to switch mindsets). It is also the kind of game in which you have to consider a lot of options. We consider ourselves quite fast gameplayers, and find this to be one of the games that takes us the most time to think about our turns.
My wife and I are very evenly matched, but in this game she almost never wins with Jack. However, she is very willing to play the game because it is so challenging.
It's not your run-of-the-mill kind of game, and if that perks your interest then you should definitely get this game. Moreover, it is a great addition to any 2-player collection.
I give this game an 8.