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Board Game: Letters from Whitechapel
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Subject: Letters from Whitechapel: The Deduction Game I've Been Looking For rss

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Evan Pulgino
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Letters from Whitechapel is a new deduction game designed by Gabriele Mari and Gianluca Santopietro and released by Nexus Games. Letters from Whitechapel is a pure hidden-movement deduction game ala Scotland Yard. There a number of hidden movement deduction games on the market, but few present such a clear, understandable rule set.

Letters from Whitechapel is steeped in the history and myths of Jack the Ripper. One player plays Jack and one to five other players play investigators trying to hunt down the serial killer. If Jack can successfully return to his hideout after each of the four nights of murder he wins. The investigators win if they can arrest Jack or if Jack runs out of time without making it home.

Before the game starts the Jack player chooses a numbered circle on the map that will be his hideout. Then the first of the game’s four nights begins. The rounds follow a simple phase structure that is easy to pick up and teach.

In phase one, Jack receives a specified amount of special movement tokens (more on those later).

In phase two Jack receives a specified amount of women tokens. These tokens represent Jack’s possible victims on the game board. On the first night five of these tokens represent possible victims and three are blank and are used to throw off the investigators. Jack then places these tokens face down on the eight red dots on the game board.

Next the investigators place their seven investigator tokens face down on the yellow police crossings. Five of these tokens correspond to individual player pawns and two are blank to throw off Jack.

Jack then reveals the women tokens and replaces the red tokens with the women pawns. At this point Jack must make a decision to either kill one of the possible victims on the board or wait to make his move. If Jack decides to wait the investigators must move each of the possible victim pawns one space , Jack gets to reveal one of the hidden investigator tokens and Jack will get a little bit more time to make his escape. Jack can wait up to a maximum of four times.

When Jack decides to kill he replaces any one of the victim pawns with a red crime scene token and the remaining investigator tokens are revealed and replaced with the investigator pawns. The crime scene token will represent Jack’s current location on the board and this is only time of the round when the investigators definitively know Jack’s location.

This begins the most tense part of the round. Jack now attempts to make his way through the streets and alleys of Whitechapel without being arrested or derailed by the police. After the police pawns are revealed Jack will write down his next movement on his hidden sheet Jack can move to one adjacent circle space unless he uses a special movement (once again, more on that later). Then all of the investigators may move up to two square crossing spaces.

Next each of the investigators can look for clues or attempt to make an arrest. If they look for clues they can ask the Jack player if he has been to a location adjacent to their current police crossing location. If he has Jack places a clear clue token on the spot. If he hasn’t, the investigator can continue to look for clues until he has found a clue or he runs of adjacent locations. If an investigator attempts to make an arrest he chooses one and only one location to arrest Jack. If Jack is currently in that location then the investigators win, otherwise that investigator’s turn is over.

This sequence continues until Jack returns to his hideout, is arrested or runs out of time. If Jack successfully escapes then the game moves on the next night with some more restrictive rules. If Jack is caught or runs of time the game is over with victorious investigators bringing the Ripper to justice.

Jack has some special movement tokens to throw the police of his trail. A coach token allows Jack to move two locations on one turn. Jack writes down both locations on his sheet. Even though this eats up two of Jack’s movements for the rounds, it can be essential in getting some distance between Jack and the investigators. An alley token allows Jack to move from one location on the perimeter of a city block to any other location on the perimeter of that same block. This allows Jack to leave gaps in his trail and move large distances with one movement.

I’ve played Letters from Whitechapel twice. Once as an investigator and once as Jack. The game is very, very fun from both sides. Being an investigator is a real challenge. Often times you feel like you’ve got him corralled and he will slip out of your fingertips. Being an investigator in Letters from Whitechapel feels substantially more difficult than most other deduction games.

Playing as Jack the Ripper can be exhilarating. My last game I had to escape imminent arrest multiple times. I had made it to night three and the investigators had a very good idea of where my hideout was. They were on my trail the whole night, but I managed to hide in side streets and weave my way through a tight dragnet, only to be caught one move away from my hideout.

Deduction games are some of my favorite games and Letters from Whitechapel certainly doesn’t disappoint. I’ve been looking for a hidden movement game that is deep and tense, but also easy to teach and play. Fury of Dracula is tense for the Dracula player, but an excess of rules can bog the game down. Nuns on the Run is light and short, but the game feels nearly impossible to explain and the fiddly rules about noises and line of sight lead to lots of mistakes being made by all players.

Whitechapel distills the hidden movement deduction game down to a few simple rules. As a result the game is easy to play and teach, even to non-gamers. The game is also incredibly tense. There are lots of ways to escape capture, but as Jack’s trail gets narrower and narrower you can cut the tension with a knife.

The components are excellent, the rules are clear and easy to understand and the game is a lot of fun. Letters from Whitechapel has earned a permanent spot in my collection and will be played often. If you are looking for a great deduction game, this is the one to get.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Thanks for the review. The game is too thematic for me. I could never play a character that was trying to kill women like that. I understand it's historical but I prefer the approach Mr. Jack took.
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I like the part where you said, "cut the tension with a knife."

Well done, sir. Well done.

Great review (though it could use some pics to break things up and showcase the components a bit better).

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Evan Pulgino
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jschlickbernd wrote:
Thanks for the review. The game is too thematic for me. I could never play a character that was trying to kill women like that. I understand it's historical but I prefer the approach Mr. Jack took.
Understandable. The game's theme is definitely dark and there's lots of the history on the map and in the rulebook. I think time is big factor for me. If the game was about a more modern serial killer I don't think I could play either. But definitely get why someone wouldn't wanna play this.

Agree about Mr. Jack, but the gameplay just is not that satisfying to me. It feels like more of a puzzle game than a cat and mouse chase.
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Paul Tabara
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jschlickbernd wrote:
Thanks for the review. The game is too thematic for me. I could never play a character that was trying to kill women like that. I understand it's historical but I prefer the approach Mr. Jack took.
My wife and I totally agree. I just can't get into any "gaming" around such a horrific monster like Jack the Ripper.
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Patrick C.
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I've seen many many people talk about how they find the theme of Whitechapel specifically disturbing, more so than other games and definitely more so than other attempts (e.g. Mr. Jack).

I understand the reaction in the abstract, but I can't help be a bit outraged. Are people equally offended by the killing of men? If so that's going to mean a lot of games that should be seen as offensive. But they're not.

Secondly is the issue of the acceptance of propaganda and the meaning of something that is currently offensive vs. something that happened over 100 years ago.

I'm thinking specifically of Labyrinth: The War on Terror. No, I haven't played it, but I know enough about it to know that it is most definitely propaganda.

I served in US Army Intelligence and I visited Iraq as a civilian during the time of US led sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. I've seen people die in front of me. When I see a game that presents the US as good and pure vs. an evil enemy, with very little gray in the middle, I find that offensive. It's absolutely propaganda.

And yet, for me to speak out on this I'm labeled (not here, but in general) "fringe" or "political" instead of just being a human being outraged over the killing of innocent civilians REGARDLESS of who they are and where they live.

I find the strong anti reaction to Letters of Whitechapel offensive when compared to how games such as Labyrinth are accepted. Those offended by Whitechapel are "allowed" to express those views (about murders from long ago no less) while those offended by deaths that occurred in our lifetimes (and we might have actually witnessed) are seen as having an agenda.

The real agenda is from a game like Labyrinth. And that is the worst offense of all. Whitechapel is obviously not defending Jack the Ripper. Labyrinth is defending the actions of the United States. It present a B&W situation that is full of gray. Now imagine if Whitechapel did that, as if there was any conceivable defense at all of what Jack the Ripper did. Only then would I understand the discomfort of others.

Until propaganda is seen for what it is, I will continue to bristle when I see the outrage over Whitechapel.

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Doug Green
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Great review, concise with lots of info! I've got this on order and am really looking forward to it.

I had and sold Mr. Jack because it felt too cartoony and light and rarely, if ever, produced any tension like I'm hoping that LfW will.

While the mechanics are what really draw me to the game, I can't say the theme particularly bothers me... seems on par with reading a murder mystery, or watching an episode of Sherlock Holmes. So many games involve war and killing, so maybe I'm desensitized. Though I can see how playing the role of a serial killer wouldn't sit well with some.
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sound609 wrote:
Great review, concise with lots of info! I've got this on order and am really looking forward to it.

I had and sold Mr. Jack because it felt too cartoony and light and rarely, if ever, produced any tension like I'm hoping that LfW will.

While the mechanics are what really draw me to the game, I can't say the theme particularly bothers me... seems on par with reading a murder mystery, or watching an episode of Sherlock Holmes. So many games involve war and killing, so maybe I'm desensitized. Though I can see how playing the role of a serial killer wouldn't sit well with some.
Yeah, in the end...just a game, folks. You have to be mature and intelligent enough to realize the distinction between reality and a game. Acting outraged over something found in an entertainment product is patently silly. There are tons of things that people support, everyday, in some cases unknowingly, in some knowingly, that represent unpleasant or even really disturbing things (sweat-shop labor, violence, etc..). It's pretty hypocritical to fuss about the theme in this one.

Maybe that's why dry Euros are so popular lately? Hard to get your political, philosophical, or moral "dander" up over a boring wooden block in a game about moving sacks of grain back and forth between buildings, right?
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Personally, I like both Mr. Jack and Whitechapel.

Now, I may not be objective, but I think that making FUN out of a grim topic like a serial killer, like Mr. Jack does, is even less nice than a "serious" approach like the one used in Letters from Whitechapel,

And as Patrick noted, how many topics which are in fact much darker are easily accepted in games?

And how many people who easily may look at a show like CSI, or enjoy a movie like Silence of the Lambs, have difficulties in accepting a similar topic in a game?

I should note that we had a crew of teenagers (including teenager GIRLS) demoing Whitechapel at Gencon last year, and none of them was disturbed by the topic.

I have the feeling that games have still a long way to go before they're seen as a mature media, which can handle a topic just like any other media.
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While I respect people's decision to dislike the theme of this game, I personally belong to the side that finds the theme acceptable.

Firstly, as others have mentioned before me, I draw a very distinct line between what is in a game and what is reality. To those who are offended though, I am curious to find out: if you find this game offensive, what about similarly themed forms of entertainment (movies, TV shows)? Do you find them offensive as well? If not, why?

Which brings me to my second point. I reckon most of the people who are offended would have more of an issue with playing the role of Jack and not the investigators. Even so, I have personally not had an issue with taking on that particular role because I know that I'm not fantasizing about killing women, but rather simulating events that HAD already happened in history. That makes a difference to me, and I found it quite brillant that the game was designed with as much historical accuracy as possible.

Lastly, a suggestion for those who finds playing Jack offensive... let your willing buddy do it while you play an investigator and imagine yourself as being an agent of Justice. Win-win for all, and you can still enjoy this brilliant game.
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Christopher Hill
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I agree with Roberto.

Bottom line is, it is just a game. Like any other. There will be people who can disengage from the subject matter and those who can't. It's the same with the internet, films, books, magazines or any other media source with a subject matter people find offensive.

If you don't want to play a game because you find the subject offensive, then don't play it. There almost always is a different game with a different theme that uses the same basic mechanics. For example, people turned off by the theme of Labyrinth, may enjoy 1960. They have two very different themes, but very similar play mechanics.

The thing is we all have choices and with board games this is a wonderful thing, because we have so many to choose from.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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I hope that people are not including me in those who are 'offended'. I never said I was offended, I said I wouldn't play it. There's a difference. If people want to play a role of a historical murderer as he's murdering women, go for it. I'm not doing it because there are too many games out there with themes that are more pleasing to me.

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Patrick C.
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Quote:
If you don't want to play a game because you find the subject offensive, then don't play it. There almost always is a different game with a different theme that uses the same basic mechanics. For example, people turned off by the theme of Labyrinth, may enjoy 1960. They have two very different themes, but very similar play mechanics.
It's far more complicated than that.

No one who plays Whitechapel or Mr. Jack, as long as they're sane, is actually identifying with Jack the Ripper.

I could explain more, but I'm trying to make a point while also not turning this into a completely inappropriate political debate.

I'm simply saying that there are understandable reasons to be offended and then then there are HUGE reasons to be offended. My reaction to Labyrinth cannot be compared to anyone's reaction to Whitechapel. I'm objecting to a current and ongoing lie that involves killing, others are objecting to a historical theme about death/killing that has no agenda whatsoever. They are not the same.

However, it is far more socially acceptable here for someone to state their distaste for the theme of Whitechapel than it is Labyrinth. The person who reacts negatively to Whitechapel is simply expressing a personal taste. The person who objects to Labyrinth has an "agenda." I'm saying this because I've personally encountered this mindset.

The entire thing feels Orwellian to me.



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Admin note:

As a general reminder, we have a designated Religion Sex and Politics forum - posting on those topics outside of that forum is not permitted.

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Thanks!
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Thank you for the review. This one is on my radar.
And I especially appreciate the comparison to Fury of Dracula.
I was going to ask about that.
I wonder if you could answer.. How does it compare to Scotland Yard ?
It is admittedly a game I've never played, but I've read a lot about so i think I have a good grasp of it.
If you can't answer this question, a response from someone that could would be greatly appreciated.
Regards
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I'm teetering somewhere in the middle of all this. I've argued against people in the past when they've expressed moral outrage about Mr. Jack, which I see as entirely fictional. Jack serves as the iconic symbol of a criminal in that one, just as Sherlock Holmes is the iconic detective. And there are no crimes committed; the game portrays only the escape.

It is more difficult to see Letters from Whitechapel in that light. We're dealing with the historic Jack here, no mistake, and we're committing the murders when we play him. I totally understand Jennifer's position, as I also am uneasy when I consider it. When I try to think critically about it, I realize that my discomfort is more emotional than rational. When I play The Fury of Dracula, I don't worry about how I 'create' the vampires, and I've cheerfully obliterated millions while playing Nuclear War.

Restricting the problem to historical games, I laugh when throwing people into the volcano in The Downfall of Pompeii, and I've bombed cities full of civilians mercilessly in Luftwaffe. I've had a twinge when interrogating prisoners in Search & Destroy, though, and the murders in Whitechapel make me think about that.

I know I would enjoy the game play. There is no question about that. But I'm not sure I'll buy it, because I'm not yet confident that I could fictionalize the game adequately when playing. There is one advantage to standing at the balance point: I can see both sides of the discussion, and easily understand how good people with good intentions could argue from either side. The important thing is that we make our own choices thoughtfully, and remain respectful of those who see it differently.
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My wife LOVES this game. We've played 7 times now and we've relegated the kitchen table as the designated "LfW constant set-up"; the board and pieces just sits there until she sits down as either the investigators or Jack.

This game is also a fantastic multi-player game as well. We've played with 4, 5 and 6 players so far and we've come up with a few tweaks to the rules concerning the 'head investigator':

1) With 5 players, the 'brown' pawn is moved by the 'head investigator' as the final police movement.

2) With 4 players, the 'brown' and one other pawn are controlled by the 'head investigator' - and so on for 3-players

3) With 6 players, on The Third Night, there are two (2) investigators. This allows all the players to have a chance as investigator. They both have a say in where the Wretched pawns move to (if Jack chooses to wait) as well as where the police tokens are placed. They also consult as to where police tokens are moved to if Jack uses one of his Letters of uses the Glouston Street graffiti card.

I'd imagine that with 3 players the two investigators either just change-up who is the 'head investigator' each night or they simply make combined decisions.

This game is wonderfully involving, dynamic, and nerve-wrangling. Can't recommend it enough.
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Patrick C.
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Restricting the problem to historical games, I laugh when throwing people into the volcano in The Downfall of Pompeii, and I've bombed cities full of civilians mercilessly in Luftwaffe. I've had a twinge when interrogating prisoners in Search & Destroy, though, and the murders in Whitechapel make me think about that.
There is a huge difference between being about something vs. being for something.

Does Whitechapel support serial killers as if they're heroes or admirable? Does Nuclear War actually advocate nuclear war as a logical step for a country? Does Guillotine support capital punishment? These games and others are about their theme. They're not FOR their theme. They might mock their disturbing topic (Pompeii, Nuclear War, Guillotine, and many many others), but they barely go beyond farce in terms of meaning.

At worst most games with disturbing themes are apolitical/amoral and are thus "insensitive," at least to some. But they're not taking a stand about anything. I'd even say this about most war games. Which is why I don't have an issue with 99.9% of all games. Mass murder, war, death, suicide, you name it. These games aren't for anything. They're only about something.

I believe any further comments I make about this should be in another forum, perhaps BGG Suggestions, as this is a policy issue and isn't simply about differing political views. Haven't decided yet.
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I also think there is a difference between a game and a movie. When you play a game as Jack The Ripper you want him to escape. If you just watch a movie about the Ripper I'll bet everybody wants him to be captured.
 
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travvller wrote:
There is a huge difference between being about something vs. being for something.
If you gathered that I was confused on that point, perhaps my post lacked clarity. The real question is whether playing this game would prove gratifying or disturbing, and each of us will reach our own conclusions, due in part to our differing essential natures, and in part to our unique life experiences. Neither view needs missionaries.
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Patrick C.
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Sphere wrote:
travvller wrote:
There is a huge difference between being about something vs. being for something.
If you gathered that I was confused on that point, perhaps my post lacked clarity. The real question is whether playing this game would prove gratifying or disturbing, and each of us will reach our own conclusions, due in part to our differing essential natures, and in part to our unique life experiences. Neither view needs missionaries.
Actually, most likely my bad for making it appear that you were taking a position that you really weren't. I used your comments as a springboard for a larger argument. How people relate personally to playing the role of Jack the Ripper is a separate issue from what I was addressing. I'm sorry if I made it appear that you saying anything other than what you intended.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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The 'larger argument' doesn't belong here. It belongs in the Politics, Religion, and Sex forum as Octavian has already said.
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The 'larger argument' doesn't belong here. It belongs in the Politics, Religion, and Sex forum as Octavian has already said.
I believe you've either misunderstood my comments or perhaps haven't read about the rules and gameplay of Labyrinth. It is not just about war or politics. It's for a current political position.

It appears to that some are basically arguing: It's inappropriate to make "political" comments about a game that, by its very nature, is making a political comment.

Labyrinth's has created a contradiction within BGG community rules. If Labyrinth is off limits to allegedly political commentary outside of the political forum then BGG itself is doing one of two things:

1. It's making a political stand itself by allowing a game that takes a political position to not be questioned

or

2. BGG is so strict about this policy that ANY game that takes a position, from Holocaust denial, to actually advocating violence against women, gays, Christians, etc., is acceptable and its political content cannot be discussed.

I'd be astonished if #2 applies. People would understandably be outraged if a game that, for example, advocated Naziism or Stalinism could go unchallenged.

I'm hard pressed to think of any other (current) game that is even remotely like Labyrinth. It is FOR a current political position. It is not just about politics like Making of the President or Campaign Manager, neither of which really have a point of view.

It's as if a political party made a game advocating a specific point of view. BGG admins, whether they like it or not, are caught in a bind with Labyrinth. You can detest me for pointing this out, but the fact remains.

The "larger issue" should be addressed. And after seeing your response I intend to politely raise this issue in a more appropriate forum. And not politics. This is about site POLICY.
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You seem a bit obsessed about this Labyrinth game. It's sort of freaky, man. surprise
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terrific review...thanks...I just purchased the game based on Drakkenstrike's excellent component review and reading your review makes me even more anxious to play it!

And people, lighten up...it's a game, a toy, we all play for fun.... enjoyment...we could all be playing a game or reading an excellent review in the time spent blowing steam about this theme or that.

I understand that all games are not for all people, that's why there's so darn manyarrrh, and that's fine, there are games that are not for me, but there are positive way's to express our beliefs without playing with matches...and avoid accidentally lighting a fire or getting burned

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