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Subject: A GFBR Review: Spectacular - as long as the opponents are evenly matched rss

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This week, I thought we’d take a look at a game that wormed its way into my heart remarkably quickly. Mr. Jack is a two-player deduction game that pits the Investigator against Jack the Ripper him or herself.

For anyone apprehensive about the theme, there are no grisly murders to be had during this game. Instead, Mr. Jack merely attempts to avoid discovery and evade capture.

As a nearly pure deduction game, Mr. Jack forces opponents to use everything in their brain arsenal to achieve victory. However, it takes a measure of creativity to be successful, so strictly analytical types may have to go outside their comfort zone. Still, Mr. Jack does have a few faults that may not make it ideal for some pairings.

The Basics. One player takes on the role of the Investigator, and the other is Mr. Jack. There are eight characters on the board that can be moved about and each has a special power. The goal for the Investigator is to discover which of the eight characters is secretly Mr. Jack and then accuse him.

At the beginning of the game, a deck of eight alibi cards is shuffled and Mr. Jack selects the top card. This is the character who is Mr. Jack. In each of eight rounds, the players take turns moving the characters and activating their abilities.

The board is the twisting streets of Whitechapel and contains spaces for numerous streetlamps - six are lit at the beginning of the game and four will be put out during the game. Each of the eight suspects has a character card. Four are turned over each round (and the full eight are reshuffled every other round) and the two players must pick the characters they want to move. In odd numbered rounds, the Investigator picks one, Mr. Jack picks the next two, and the Investigator moves the final character. In even numbered round it switches, with the Investigator taking the two middle characters.

At the end of each round, Mr. Jack must announce whether he (or she) is hidden or seen. The character is seen if he or she is next to a light, within Watson’s flashlight beam (a special power), or next to another character. Otherwise, Mr. Jack is hidden. The Investigator then uses a process of elimination to whittle away the suspects. So, if at the end of a round Jack is hidden, then all the seen suspects are flipped over (to a black and white picture) representing that they have been cleared. Then the search continues.

The game ends after eight rounds or when the Investigator accuses someone of being Mr. Jack. If, after eight rounds, Jack has not been accused, then the game is over and Jack wins. If the Investigator accuses correctly, he wins. If he gets it wrong, Jack wins. Jack also has the ability to escape off the board if he is hidden, so the Investigator must be wary of suspects near the edges.

The Feel. I like puzzle games. While it isn’t really a “puzzle” in the traditional sense, it feels very similar. In fact, it feels like the Investigator is trying to solve a puzzle, and Mr. Jack is throwing up as many barriers as possible. Each round, the Investigator wants to split the suspects as evenly as possible. That way, when Jack is declared hidden or seen, he can eliminate half the potential culprits. By contrast, Mr. Jack wants to get as many of them as possible to be one way. That way, the Investigator cannot eliminate many.

I tend to favor deduction games and this is a fantastic entry into the genre. While the rules are fairly straightforward, there are a whole host of special powers and character movement that can impact the games. I have seven plays under my belt and continue to find new and inventive ways to exercise the powers. Admittedly, there will come a point where I’ve seen it all since there is a limited power set, but I’m not there yet.

A few examples of powers that directly impact the hidden/seen aspect. After moving him, Watson is faced in a direction where he shines his flashlight. If a character is in line of the beam, he’s seen. Ms. Stealthy can move four spaces and through buildings allowing her to run right up next to people to make them seen. The Constable can blow his whistle and move other suspects up to three spaces. Seeing how these characters interact with each other, and since only four will move on any given round, well-laid plans can be easily upset by weller-laid plans.

It should be noted that this game has a surprisingly high learning curve. It takes several plays to really understand how all of the special powers and abilities interact with one another. Beyond that, you have to assess not only what you can do to move the characters in a way to benefit you, but how your opponent will move any characters that you don’t take. Mastering that aspect of the game can be a challenge and it makes the game difficult to introduce to new players. If you use your accumulated experience against their novice ranking, the game won’t seem all that fun to them.

And there is one aspect of the game that really annoys me. The Investigator can make a blind accusation at any time. If he’s right, he wins. If he’s wrong Jack wins. Ordinarily, the Investigator will use the first seven turns trying to narrow down the suspects and find Jack. But, if he hasn’t found it by turn eight, he’s encouraged to make a blind guess. After all, if he doesn’t guess, he loses after turn eight anyway. I really feel that this cheapens the deduction experience. By turn eight, there is rarely more than two or three potential suspects left. Bringing this excellent brain game down to a 50/50 win chance seems almost obscene. In our plays, we’ve house ruled it that Jack must be the lone suspect before he can be accused.

Components: 4.5 of 5. Top-notch quality on this game. Mr. Jack could have made do with standard playing cards for the character and alibi decks. Instead, the game uses thick tile-like cardboard pieces. While this makes shuffling harder than with ordinary cards, given the amount of shuffling the cards receive, it is a welcome change. This ensures that there will be no bending, warping, scuffing, or other damage, despite repeated plays. The board and art is excellent and all other components are made of wood with stickers that you can place on yourself.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. The sole element of luck is in the semi-random distribution of cards. The four characters to act that turn are chosen at random (with the remaining four to move in the next round). There are times when a lucky pull might favor one side or the other, but these are more than mitigated over the course of a game. And, in general, do not favor either side. Instead, it is up to the skill and strategy of each player - along with creative use of powers - to ensure success.

Mechanics: 3.5 of 5. Mechanically, the game works flawlessly -ntil the end. Having a deduction game suddenly devolve into a random shot in the dark seems so against the grain. It’s actually jarring to have spent the last thirty minutes relying on strategy and then have the game resolved on a single guess. It would be like ending Caylus with a final round of points gained in a free throw competition. However, with a little house rule, the game can be quite awesome.

Replayability: 1.5 or 5 of 5. When the players are on equal footing, this game is supremely replayable. There are a number of strategies and gambits that come about during the games and this is one of my favorite two-player endeavors. On the other hand, if you are introducing it to a new player, they may feel just crushed since they don’t have the experience. If you don’t ease them into the game, Mr. Jack will not get replayed often. The same is true if there’s a mismatch in deductive brain power or smarts (a point brought up on a recent podcast).

Spite: 0 of 5. Spite is absent in this game. For me, “spite” means doing something solely to hurt another player even though it doesn’t directly benefit you. There is none in Mr. Jack because even if you mess up their strategy to keep certain characters hidden or seen, you get a tremendous benefit from it. In fact, that’s exactly your goal throughout the game. And there are no powers that make players skip their turns or otherwise prevent them from acting.

Overall: 4 of 5. While not without some notable faults, Mr. Jack is a phenomenal game. As a deduction game, I’d be hard pressed to come up with one I’d prefer. And, when the players are evenly matched and experienced, this would be hands down my favorite two-player game. Just be aware when teaching it to new players that they might need a little extra help or coaching.

In fact, in my first play as Mr. Jack, I managed to get everybody but my character hidden. Only Mr. Jack was seen and so he was discovered on the first turn. "Wait, wait!" I proclaimed. "Let me take that back." I redid the turn and somehow, this time I made everyone but Mr. Jack visible. As the only hidden character, he was again spotted on the first turn.

I can recommend Mr. Jack to any Investigator ready to push his suspects into the light of justice.

Originally posted (with pictures) at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot.
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Chris Norwood
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Quote:
And there is one aspect of the game that really annoys me. The Investigator can make a blind accusation at any time. If he’s right, he wins. If he’s wrong Jack wins...

Maybe I'm reading your rules summary wrong, but it sounds like you've just been allowing the Investigator player to make a verbal accusation at any time, which I don't think it correct.

I haven't played in a while (and I don't have my copy of the game with me right now to check), but I'm pretty sure that in order to accuse Jack, the investigator player has to move another character into the same space with the character he thinks is Jack. So it's actually possible that you know exactly who Jack is, but can't get to him before the end of the 8th turn or before he can escape off the board.

The game is hard enough for Jack anyway, so at least give him the advantage of having to actually be captured rather than just accused!


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Latina Nakita
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kilroy_locke wrote:
Quote:
And there is one aspect of the game that really annoys me. The Investigator can make a blind accusation at any time. If he’s right, he wins. If he’s wrong Jack wins...

Maybe I'm reading your rules summary wrong, but it sounds like you've just been allowing the Investigator player to make a verbal accusation at any time, which I don't think it correct.

I haven't played in a while (and I don't have my copy of the game with me right now to check), but I'm pretty sure that in order to accuse Jack, the investigator player has to move another character into the same space with the character he thinks is Jack. So it's actually possible that you know exactly who Jack is, but can't get to him before the end of the 8th turn or before he can escape off the board.

The game is hard enough for Jack anyway, so at least give him the advantage of having to actually be captured rather than just accused!




yep, you are correct, nothing better then your bro knowing who Jack is, but not being able to land a guy on him, Jack moves first last turn, so this can happen a lot, that is why as the detective I usually guess on round 7 if possible
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Michel van Peenen
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Chris is right, the detective may use a blind accusation, but must still move a character on the character which he thinks is Mr. Jack.
Therefore Mr. Jack should try to get his character out of accusation range if he makes it through to the eight round.

I won a few of my games as Mr. Jack by being able to position Mr. Jack so that the detective was not able to get a character on Mr. Jack on the eight turn. This despite the fact that the detective knew who Mr. Jack was.
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GeekInsight
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Yes, the Investigator must move someone onto the suspect in order to accuse him. However, if the Investigator has it narrowed down to two suspects on turn 8, he can just take a 50/50 shot at winning. That's my complaint.

For such a great deduction game, I just don't see why it has this final guessing round. The detective should have to narrow jack down to one suspect before making an accusation.

Just my $0.02
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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MyParadox wrote:
Yes, the Investigator must move someone onto the suspect in order to accuse him. However, if the Investigator has it narrowed down to two suspects on turn 8, he can just take a 50/50 shot at winning. That's my complaint.

For such a great deduction game, I just don't see why it has this final guessing round. The detective should have to narrow jack down to one suspect before making an accusation.

Just my $0.02

Why throw it to Mr. Jack in that case? Neither player has achieved a clearcut victory. Neither player has earned an automatic win, so even if it were left to chance, that would work for me. But it isn't entirely left to chance even then. The Inspector has had the opportunity to observe Jack's play for the entire game. Even if those moves don't provide absolute proof, they provide plenty of food for thought. The Inspector is left to play a hunch based on what he's seen.
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Sphere wrote:
But it isn't entirely left to chance even then. The Inspector has had the opportunity to observe Jack's play for the entire game. Even if those moves don't provide absolute proof, they provide plenty of food for thought. The Inspector is left to play a hunch based on what he's seen.


Exactly! That's where the actual "deduction" element of the game comes into play. (And incidentally, it's a much bigger aspect of the online version of the game where you can go back and replay all the previous moves before making the final accusation.)

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Kevin Garnica
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Have you taken a look at Mr. Jack in New York? - the best entry in the series thus far! Or Mr. Jack Pocket, which is what I might use to first introduce people to the Jack games...?
 
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Andre Lucato
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MyParadox wrote:

In fact, in my first play as Mr. Jack, I managed to get everybody but my character hidden. Only Mr. Jack was seen and so he was discovered on the first turn. "Wait, wait!" I proclaimed. "Let me take that back." I redid the turn and somehow, this time I made everyone but Mr. Jack visible. As the only hidden character, he was again spotted on the first turn.

Originally posted (with pictures) at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot.


LOL. That's a classic! I guess everyone has at least once done that
 
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