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Whitechapel. London district, which would be as ordinary as others, if it was not connected to a terrible history. It was the year 1888, when Jack the Ripper attacked women here. But he was not alone on the street. Detectives were waiting for him. Who will succeed? Police with their trap or will the mass murderer get away unscathed and undetected again?
Dramatic hunt for Jack the Ripper awaits anyone, who gets tempted and buys fiery boxes of Letters from Whitechapel. Game was created by a pair Gabriele Mari and Gianluca Santopietro (second of them worked also on illustrations), who created game in 2011 under logo of Fantasy Flight Games. We got the new revised edition, which even has some modified components and mechanisms. This review, however, does not compare these two boxes, since we did not play the original.
Square box with a silhouette in a hat casts bloody shadow on players as well as on map of London on the lid. It is also first thing, that players pick up from inside of the box. Be sure to note the dashed paths, numbered stations (there are 195) and bloody inscriptions with names of the victims. Entire board is divided into square sectors in the style of a chessboard. Map gets its place on the table first, then players have to choose Ripper himself among themselves. Rest of participants will become detectives. Accordingly, they will also look forward to their starting gear.
Killer takes one free blank sheet of traces and places it behind his big screen. On the inner side, there is small reduced schedule London to make their views untraceable. At the same time, player standing alone against all others chooses his refuge as any numbered position (writes it into his pad) and places his figure on first position of the night scale. At the same time, Ripper player gets most of tokens – help, crime scenes, women and special moves. Detectives create shuffled deck to have different chief of investigations for each turn, receive a reference card and also put together pieces of police patrols and wretched.
Entire game is divided into four nights in designated dates. Any such night has a number of phases, which are grouped into two parts – Hell and Hunt. Most of the time, police and Jack the Ripper alternate in turns, although not quite symetrically. Everything always starts with offender, who has the opportunity to prepare his entire murderous theater. He got some movement tokens for carriage and street passages to start with and now also has several women tokens. Only a few of them are marked in the bottom with a red tag as possible targets (rest is used to confuse the investigators) and Jack now secretly deploys them face down on the red spots on the map.
At that moment comes first chance for police. Upper tile decides, who will become lead of the investigation for the round – matching color figurine in control of one of the participants. He himself without consulting with the other detectives (only he will know this information) places police patrol tokens on intersection marked by a yellow border in Whitechapel. Even the police has fake patrols, which will be used to confuse perpetrator. But because the police are not as flexible as one killer in subsequent nights, players must always follow five positions of the seven guards (where their movement ended), but can freely exchange them for fake patrols.
Jack the Ripper in that moment reveals his plans, uncovers planned tokens and those marked in red are replaced by wretched tokens. At the same time, he puts crime pointer on the Roman numeral I. The killer must now decide, whether he wants to kill or wait. By doing that, he also decides, whether he will have more time to escape (and simultaneously enables detectives to get better position) or take his murderous chance now.
In the first round, he usually decides to wait. That means, that action is passed to police, which shifts time of the crime token one step forward and head of the investigation moves all the poor woman (wretched) to the nearest unoccupied numbered box. At the same time their movement must not end at the space of police patrols. Murderer has time and therefore can scout terrain. He gets a chance to peek behind the scenes of police plans. Ripper player reveals one of patrol tokens and sees, if it is a bait or not. Thus, both sides alternate with Jack always decided to make his move or not. But he can wait only five times, when pointer reaches box with number V, he has to kill.
This is time for “Body in the alley”, which is name of eighth stage. Killer now replaces wretched pawn with crime scene token. At the same time, he marks this number into his pad below the corresponding Roman numeral. Remainder of the round will be filled with escape from the police claws. His aim is to get to shelter, that was chosen at the beginning of the game. Roman timeline, when the murder occurred, is marked. His time (and therefore also marker) will be now moving in the opposite direction, counting down the time. But first, police must rise alarm, calling all their forces. Patrols in the streets are revealed and it is time for a hunt.
Jack will move through streets to neighboring numbered box. But he cannon pass spot, where police patrol is located, while trying to get closer to his hiding place. Their target number for that move is again noted on his pad and piece on the timeline is moved one space to the right. Instead, he also may use a carriage or aisle token. Police can then respond. Each player moves his pawn in chosen color, which means, that all detectives can finally play as a team and each one can move up to a distance of two intersections.
Now there is finally chance for law supporters. Officers can explore all surrounding locations for clues. They choose one number at a time (in any order they like) and if Jack was at that position during the night, he must place hint token there. Instead, currently playing policeman may choose one of his neighboring positions and play for arrest. He needs to have some suspicion. If Jack is hiding at the announced location in the moment, he immediately lost the entire game. The same is true, when he fails to reach his hideout and time marker reaches fifteenth box on the time line. Otherwise (no end game conditions met), all tokens are removed and another night begins until the moment, when Jack is successful in all five murders (one night includes two victims!). Or until the police catches him. Which side celebrates victory in which situation is quite clear.
Letters from Whitechapel is definitely not a simple game. It has complex rules full of sequences and clearly given order during the rounds. That makes the whole match even more atmospheric and story driven. Fantastic experience includes everything – strategy, bluffing, reasoning, memory and mystery. Ingredients are combined in such amounts, that it could all end only in two ways. And this recipe is certainly not bad for our taste!
The whole thing is unmistakably similar to classical Scotland Yard. Again, perpetrator is fleeing under cover of darkness from the scene. But this time, it all also extends by meeting new and unseen elements, that make this game a truly unique experience.
Game is composed of two completely interchangeable roles. And while detectives can often feel like doing hunt for mice, Jack controls the whole game and enjoys it to the fullest. If you do want to have the most fun playing this game, you certainly want to play the Ripper side. But someone also has to play for detectives, otherwise you can not play. Moreover, overall impression from this side depends on player preferences. If someone likes to play catch-the-mice, then an officer is role to enjoy.
The most valuable assets have already been mentioned, but we still want to go back to bluffing. This is crucial, because you can confuse the other side and maybe do a little step towards victory. At the same time, however, players should also be able to read opponent’s emotions. If you leave it to chance alone, then you certainly will not enjoy the game as perfectly. And although luck may play some role, it certainly is not primary way to win.
In consequence of this information, you may already be aware in advance, that this experience is perfect mainly in two. Although the rules and box allow to have up to five detectives on the good side, game is best served, when responsibility lies on shoulders of chief inspector himself. Otherwise, players take turns in control, while others can only watch.
Game has clearly straightforward rules, which are more complicated and printed on a lot of pages, but after first game, you will no longer need them and use guideline table on the back side of the rules as reference. Whole process enters the blood easily, because it all flows quite logically. This is probably also related to chosen theme, which is probably one reason for the success.
With a little help in the beginning, this game will get under your skin, no matter is you are less experienced players or beginners. If we disregard the bloody issue, it could almost be described as a family game. This is easily disproven by game time, because due to several murders and chases, it all takes up to two hours to complete one game. But they do not seem long, because they will run fast and are full of great experiences. This is also helped by awesome processing with attention to small details.
Letters from Whitechapel is brilliant choice, if you like Scotland Yard (or generally a hidden movement games) and you want to take your experience to the next level. This is exactly step up, that to (let me say that) pulls this concept to the maximum. Letters from Whitechapel are great achievement, which beats other similar game in the genre – Fury of Dracula.
Original review posted on DeskoveHry.com with more pictures:
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