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Subject: [El Dado de Jack] Review: Letters from Whitechapel rss

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Alberto Casarrubios
Spain
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You'll find a Spanish version of this review at http://eldadodejack.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/resena-sombras-...
Puedes encontrar una versión en español de esta reseña en http://eldadodejack.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/resena-sombras-...


Just after opening Letters from Whitechapel's box and having a look at its contents, I had to read its credits again, as I found it difficult to believe it was a game designed in 2010. Not because it looked aged, but because it gives that timeless feel classic games have, and its graphic design helps to that, with the (gor-ge-ous) Whitechapel area map in sepia, the wooden pieces for Jack, the detectives and the "wretched ones"... It's a pleasure to look at. This can seem accesory, but when it's all said and done one of the reasons that makes us play boardgames and even prefer then to their e-versions are tactile and aesthetic sensations. There's a reason why products like Agricola: the Goodies Expansion are sold or why there're people who can spend hours or even days painting and modifying miniatures for battle games.


Playing this without a cup of tea should be forbidden.


About the game itself, the idea is simple: one player is Jack the Ripper, and the others split the police pawns among themselves. Jack has to kill during four different nights and get back to his hideout without being caught, while the police officers will try to arrest him or at least keep him from getting to his hideout in time. Both sides have two completely different playstyles: whereas Jack tries to play deceitfully and bluff, Scotland Yard plays a strictly deductive game, trying to figure out Jack's location, objective and movements through the clues they come across. I've seen games where Jack has walked on his own steps to give the impression of having dissapeared (what we call "pulling a Batman"), others where special movements have been used without need, just to mislead, others where huge detours were taken, others where the killings happened just next to Jack's hideout... Each game is a different duel and in fact metagame plays an important role, as many times one ends up trying to infer their opponent's next moves based on what they did in previous games.

Another aspect to note is how well it uses its theme. In the same way as other games like Memoir '44, Letters from Whitechapel games have an important History lesson component, but without delving into the goriest part of the events. The map shows the Whitechapel area during that time, the four nights are based on the specific dates of the killings (including the "double event" from the third night), and each of the agents is based on one of the members of the actual investigation. Even, with one of the optional rules, Jack can use the letters he sent during that time. It doesn't idealize the figure of the serial killer, but focuses on the investigation about the killings.


Your criminal career has come to its end, Jack. Good job, lads!


And, speaking of optional rules, this is another of the designers' merits: the amount of optional rules that tip the balance in favour or against the Police. One problem most games with an important strategic component have is that the most experimented player tends to always win. Nobody wins a game of Diplomacy the first time they play against veterans, and that can be frustrating both for the newbie who's beaten up badly and for the veteran who doesn't find the challenge that makes the game interesting. Luckily, Letters from Whitechapel does a fantastic job adjusting its difficulty. The first of those resources is simple: Jack should be, at least for the first game, the most experimented player, so that the Police has several brains working to find him. But apart from that, we've got the letters "from Hell" that let Jack move the agents from one part of the map to another, the false clues that can crush a deductive outline, or giving the agents the opportunity to try several arrests per turn. Also, on the Internet you can find several more variants. That's great for adding a handicap without giving the feel of being playing a "capped" game.

One couple of warnings before you lash out to buy Letters from Whitechapel (something you should do anyway): First of all is that in games with more than two players there's the possibility of one of Scotland Yard's members taking the rains and, essentially, bossing around the other agents, which often isn't very fun for the "subordinates". This is something common to all cooperative or semi-cooperative games, and it's just a matter of tableside manners. The second one is a logistics matter: Jack is going to need a pencil to write down his movements, and it's quite likely that Scotland Yard agents will also want pencil and paper to take notes. I've got some Ikea-sized pencils and a small notebook for the Police, so we could say the game really costs one more buck than the advertised price.

To sum up, it's a game that has achieved very easy and comfortably a place among my all-time favourites, and I see myself playing and enjoying it for many years. A great deductive challenge that manages bluffing and hidden information very well, and gives a very intense experience without need for bells and whistles nor fiddly rules.

The best: The tension you can breathe during the whole game for both sides, and how it gets to submerge you into the theme without being grotesque.

The worst: It's a bit longer than usual for a current game (around 2 hours). People who prefer light games can be overcome by all the mental effort it requires.
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