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Subject: Letters from Whitechapel as a 2 player game rss

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Sharon Khan
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I loved this game from the first time I played it, but it took me almost exactly a year to find a copy to buy, so I've been playing it at the club nearly every month as it's one of my favourite new games. Managed to buy it about a month ago, and since then I've introduced it to my husband as a 2 player game.

This review is part of my series of how games work with just 2 players:My 2 player game reviews.

Rules - how are they different in a 2 player game?

Letters from Whitechapel is at its heart a 2 player game regardless of how many play, it's just that normally one of the "players" is a team of up to 5 detectives. Taking it down to 2 players just makes it 1 v 1, instead of a team vs 1. There are no actual rule changes.

How is the game different with 2?

The major difference is the lack of table-talk and discussion. Letters from Whitechapel with 6 can be a very social experience with lots of discussion around Jack about his location, and often the "team" of detectives pull in different directions as players have different opinions on where Jack is, and how best to catch/locate him. At times this can be frustrating, but with an experienced team of detectives, it can be really fun banter. With 2 this is removed completely, and the game reduces to more of a puzzle. Is this bad? Well, not for me - I absolutely love the deduction puzzle game that it reduces the game to! It also gives you full control on where all 5 detectives move, which means that you don't have the frustration when a novice player moves somewhere silly against better advice.

The gameplay itself is identical regardless of number of players - the only difference as the game moves is how many detectives you get to control - 5 with 2, 2 or 3 with 3, going down to just 1 when playing with 6.

Verdict

Although I'm sure I will play again at the club with a group, for me now Letters from Whitechapel is definitely best with just 2, and that's how I'm playing it most - it's shorter (although not by as much as I expected!), you get more involved, and it turns the game into a really tight deduction puzzle. I do miss some of the table-talk, but not some of the more frustrating aspects of playing with more.
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jbrier
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sa266 wrote:
often the "team" of detectives pull in different directions as players have different opinions on where Jack is, and how best to catch/locate him... a novice player moves somewhere silly against better advice.


I don't see how a clever Jack player would ever lose against a team of investigators playing this haphazardly. Are the investigators even taking notes in your games? If not - and the investigators are still winning at all - then Jack is playing very poorly.

In our group, we use the variant allowing the investigators a third move in lieu of searching for clues or making an arrest. Even so, the investigators still need to take extensive notes as well as use laminated maps and dry erase markers to keep the games competitive. In multi-player games it goes without saying that the investigators need to have a concerted effort. I can't even imagine how the investigators accomplish anything with individual pawns acting autonomously.

Most of my 50 or so games have been 2p, but I actually enjoy 3p the most as it is really fun to deliberate with your partner when you're the investigators. It also reduces the likelihood of stupid mistakes, which in this game can be decisive. I haven't played with 4+.
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Chris Norwood
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I'm always glad to see someone enjoy the game, but I totally disagree about player counts. In my experience, the game is most fun with 4-6 players.

With 2, it's certainly a good game, but it's also very cerebral, very quiet, and to me, also sort of boring.

And while you talked about a larger group of investigators pulling against each other, my groups usually work together really well, so you actually have a synergy of different ideas, greater memory, and, ultimately, better problem-solving and more accurate intuition than any one or even two people could have on their own. And that interaction and teamwork are what really make the game for me.

But maybe we're just not all that normal...
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Sharon Khan
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verandi wrote:
sa266 wrote:
often the "team" of detectives pull in different directions as players have different opinions on where Jack is, and how best to catch/locate him... a novice player moves somewhere silly against better advice.

I don't see how a clever Jack player would ever lose against a team of investigators playing this haphazardly. Are the investigators even taking notes in your games? If not - and the investigators are still winning at all - then Jack is playing very poorly.


It varies! Sometimes we get a really good group, and other times the investigators lose by clearly just not working together. It's not always the same group of players, so it varies quite dramatically. There's one particular guy who is very good at playing Jack and hard to catch, even though he gives us a good run, whereas less experienced Jacks are as likely to make mistakes as the investigators!

Quote:
In our group, we use the variant allowing the investigators a third move in lieu of searching for clues or making an arrest. Even so, the investigators still need to take extensive notes as well as use laminated maps and dry erase markers to keep the games competitive. In multi-player games it goes without saying that the investigators need to have a concerted effort. I can't even imagine how the investigators accomplish anything with individual pawns acting autonomously.


We have lots of coloured tokens in the copy at the club, but haven't gone as far as laminated maps and dry erase markers! I agree the game is stacked in favour of Jack, but it's still possible to beat a good Jack - and sometimes the odd behaviour works in your favour - I remember a certain game where a player moved away from the main group and searched on 100, with us thinking he was mad, and he found Jack!

Quote:
Most of my 50 or so games have been 2p, but I actually enjoy 3p the most as it is really fun to deliberate with your partner when you're the investigators. It also reduces the likelihood of stupid mistakes, which in this game can be decisive. I haven't played with 4+.


I agree the one or two 3 player games I've played have been great fun. Generally I'm playing in groups of 5 or 6 though, as the game is so popular, and with that many I find it can get chaotic, especially when a number of them are new to the game. The more experienced of us try to keep them on track, but don't like to completely take over the game.
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Sharon Khan
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kilroy_locke wrote:
I'm always glad to see someone enjoy the game, but I totally disagree about player counts. In my experience, the game is most fun with 4-6 players.

With 2, it's certainly a good game, but it's also very cerebral, very quiet, and to me, also sort of boring.

And while you talked about a larger group of investigators pulling against each other, my groups usually work together really well, so you actually have a synergy of different ideas, greater memory, and, ultimately, better problem-solving and more accurate intuition than any one or even two people could have on their own. And that interaction and teamwork are what really make the game for me.

But maybe we're just not all that normal...


Cerebral and quiet doesn't have to be boring!! But yes, it is most definitely fun of a different sort - much as I do like it with 2, I do miss some of the banter you get with more.

As to pulling together, or against, I think that depends on experience of the players more than anything. I usually have a couple of experienced players in the group, and at lesat one new player (I don't think I've ever played at the club and not had to give a rules explanation for it!) and I think that is part of the problem. If I got to play several times with the same group, I can see we'd work together better.
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sa266 wrote:

We have lots of coloured tokens in the copy at the club, but haven't gone as far as laminated maps and dry erase markers!


Ah! We used colored tokens at first, but then decided that letting Jack know what the investigators are thinking is a huge disadvantage. In fact, when playing multi-player Jack will sometimes leave the table so the investigators can discuss. As you hint at, being unpredictable as the investigators (rather than making the most rational/efficient move every time) can lead to great success and generally keeps Jack on his toes.

So we use the map to check movement possibilities the same way you do with the tokens. The more important use of the maps though is to determine the possible locations of Jack's hideout after each night. For example, if at the end of night one we deduce that Jack's hideout is 3 spaces from 157, we can then draw a perimeter around all locations that are 3 or fewer spaces away from 157 (it is often more nuanced than this, but you get the idea). Hopefully, by doing the same after night two and then cross checking that zone with the zone from night one, we'll have narrowed down Jack's hideout to a relatively small number of possible locations. With experience, this is not as time consuming as you'd think.

As the quality of Jack's play improves (more backtracking, passing through locations adjacent to many other locations, et al) then you might find it useful - perhaps even necessary - to use some of these tools to stay competitive. Good luck!
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Eric Soderlund
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In my experience, two-player is much tougher for the cops. Adding just one extra brain to the police force makes it a lot tougher for jack to get away all four nights. Adding three or four working together tips the balance decidedly in favor of the police. In two-player, I would not recommend playing without the house rule of giving the cops three moves without asking for a clue.
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Chris Norwood
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verandi wrote:
Ah! We used colored tokens at first, but then decided that letting Jack know what the investigators are thinking is a huge disadvantage. In fact, when playing multi-player Jack will sometimes leave the table so the investigators can discuss.

That's cheating. All discussions have to be at the table, where Jack can hear.

Page 13 in the rulebook (in the "Suggestions and Tips" callout box) says:
"The detectives will have to discuss their tactics in front of Jack..."
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Don D.
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kilroy_locke wrote:
verandi wrote:
Ah! We used colored tokens at first, but then decided that letting Jack know what the investigators are thinking is a huge disadvantage. In fact, when playing multi-player Jack will sometimes leave the table so the investigators can discuss.

That's cheating. All discussions have to be at the table, where Jack can hear.

Page 13 in the rulebook (in the "Suggestions and Tips" callout box) says:
"The detectives will have to discuss their tactics in front of Jack..."
]

Well, who is cheating? Jack for leaving the table while the investigators are discussing? Or is it cheating for the investigators to not force Jack to stay and listen to what they are saying? What about house rules?
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kilroy_locke wrote:
All discussions have to be at the table, where Jack can hear.

Page 13 in the rulebook (in the "Suggestions and Tips" callout box) says:
"The detectives will have to discuss their tactics in front of Jack..."


Thanks for pointing this out. While it's not stated explicitly in the rules themselves, I agree that your quote from the suggestions and tips box unequivocally implies that this was the designers' intent. I'll bring it up locally, but I doubt we'll decide to play by that rule as we already use several variants. Basically, we just don't think the rules out of the box are balanced- a conclusion not reached hastily I might add.

What still baffles me though is how Jack ever loses in your group, given your investigators neither take notes, use a laminated map, nor even discuss among themselves without Jack present. I don't at all mean to be contentious; I'm just very curious how your group approaches the game.

I gave a rough outline of our group's investigator approach earlier in this thread. In a nutshell: the first two nights our goal is to find the latest possible clue and then use it to establish a zone inside of which Jack's hideout must be, e.g. Jack's hideout is 3 moves from 88. This of course is accomplished by deducing as much of Jack's trail as possible before he gets home. Given Jack's ability to backtrack, exploit problem locations such as 125 and 102 that connect to so many other locations and can move Jack a large distance, plus the need for investigators to remember where their pawns were located whenever Jack walks, to name just a few of the more salient difficulties, I just don't see how it's humanly possible to stay on Jack's trail without taking notes.

Before getting into a discussion of later game strategy and tactics, I just want to know: what do your investigators do on nights 1 and 2?
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verandi wrote:
Thanks for pointing this out. While it's not stated explicitly in the rules themselves, I agree that your quote from the suggestions and tips box unequivocally implies that this was the designers' intent. I'll bring it up locally, but I doubt we'll decide to play by that rule as we already use several variants. Basically, we just don't think the rules out of the box are balanced- a conclusion not reached hastily I might add.

Of course, you can play however you like. I just wanted to make sure that people knew your suggestion would, in fact, be against the rules as written. But as you point out, lots of people use variants and house rules to balance out the game one way or another.

I will also say, though, that having all the discussions at the table are what's most fun about the game. As Jack, you really don't have much to do other than write down a new location every so often. If you take away their participation in at least having to listen to the police talk about what's going on and either have to keep a straight face when they're getting close or look worried when they're not, then that role could get pretty boring. Plus, as investigators, you can actually mislead Jack with some of your discussion as well.

Quote:
What still baffles me though is how Jack ever loses in your group, given your investigators neither take notes, use a laminated map, nor even discuss among themselves without Jack present. I don't at all mean to be contentious; I'm just very curious how your group approaches the game.

I gave a rough outline of our group's investigator approach earlier in this thread. In a nutshell: the first two nights our goal is to find the latest possible clue and then use it to establish a zone inside of which Jack's hideout must be, e.g. Jack's hideout is 3 moves from 88. This of course is accomplished by deducing as much of Jack's trail as possible before he gets home. Given Jack's ability to backtrack, exploit problem locations such as 125 and 102 that connect to so many other locations and can move Jack a large distance, plus the need for investigators to remember where their pawns were located whenever Jack walks, to name just a few of the more salient difficulties, I just don't see how it's humanly possible to stay on Jack's trail without taking notes.

Before getting into a discussion of later game strategy and tactics, I just want to know: what do your investigators do on nights 1 and 2?

I'm not sure if this was aimed at me or the OP, but I'll give you the point of view from my group either way.

We haven't yet found the need to bring in any variants or aids to help the investigators. Using cubes/markers, laminated maps, and/or taking notes feels a little like cheating to me personally (although there's certainly not anything saying so in the rules), mostly because you're introducing something foreign into the game system that wasn't there originally. With 4-5 police players, we rarely have the problem of not remembering important details, and we find the game long enough as it is without adding more fiddlyness or record-keeping into it.

And for the most part, our win ratio has been pretty close to 1:1. One factor in this is that the learning curve for Jack is a lot steeper than it is for the police, and that if you take turns being Jack, you get a lot more practice being on the police side.

We have definitely noticed, though, that more experienced Jacks do seem to have an advantage (though not quite as severe as most groups report). If we can get it back into our more regular rotation of games, I wouldn't doubt that we'd certainly introduce at least the extra-movement (when not looking for clues) and the "no duplicate site murders" variants pretty soon.

As far as strategy goes, we pretty much do as others here have said. We just try to narrow the possibilities down to which general region of the board Jack's home must be in, and maybe try to get lucky and find something like "3 spaces from 88" or whatever.
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kilroy_locke wrote:
Using cubes/markers, laminated maps, and/or taking notes feels a little like cheating to me personally (although there's certainly not anything saying so in the rules), mostly because you're introducing something foreign into the game system that wasn't there originally.


Where do you draw the line on this? animeeples?
 
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Come on, now. Animeeples are purely cosmetic and don't grant any extra benefit to one player over another.

A better example would be someone using their smart phone to track how many cubes everyone else had collected in Tigris & Euphrates (which also feels like cheating to me). And I suppose, if everyone at the table decided to do something like this (or just had open scoring), then it would be okay. But giving a distinct advantage not specifically granted in the rules to just one side is a whole different thing.
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kilroy_locke wrote:
Come on, now. Animeeples are purely cosmetic and don't grant any extra benefit to one player over another.

A better example would be someone using their smart phone to track how many cubes everyone else had collected in Tigris & Euphrates (which also feels like cheating to me). And I suppose, if everyone at the table decided to do something like this (or just had open scoring), then it would be okay. But giving a distinct advantage not specifically granted in the rules to just one side is a whole different thing.


So its not that they aren't included in the game, its that they give a distinct advantage to who has access to it when others do not? What if a player brings an FAQ? I'm just trying to piece through what your metric for cheating is.
 
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kilroy_locke wrote:
I'm not sure if this was aimed at me


It was. Thanks for your in-depth reply.

kilroy_locke wrote:
We have definitely noticed, though, that more experienced Jacks do seem to have an advantage (though not quite as severe as most groups report).


A-ha! My conjecture, based on my own experience, is that you'll find the imbalance gets more severe as Jack continues to improve. That's what happened to us, and we felt the need to play the game more analytically as the investigators in response to this effect. I'd be curious to see how your actual experience pans out - I think we can both agree that the game is worth playing a bunch
 
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dond80 wrote:
What if a player brings an FAQ? I'm just trying to piece through what your metric for cheating is.


If a player brings an FAQ and doesn't share the information contained within, then I think most would categorize that as unfair. That is what I gather he means by "cheating".

Which is the same way he feels about using supplemental materials as the investigators. You could also give those materials to Jack, but as he mentioned above he already feels the game is long enough as is. It's certainly his prerogative to think that way, even if we think differently based on our experience.
 
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verandi wrote:
What still baffles me though is how Jack ever loses in your group, given your investigators neither take notes, use a laminated map, nor even discuss among themselves without Jack present. I don't at all mean to be contentious; I'm just very curious how your group approaches the game.

Before getting into a discussion of later game strategy and tactics, I just want to know: what do your investigators do on nights 1 and 2?


It does depend on the investigators and how well night 1 has gone, but as a rule of thumb on night 1 I'd definitely just try to stay as close on Jack's trail as possible, to get as much information about his hideout as possible - ideally you want his hideout to be 2 spaces from the last known position; but more often it's 3 or 4 (hopefully no more or things have definitely gone badly!). On the second night, I'd still do that, but only to a degree, using a couple of detectives more for blocking, trying to stop Jack getting to those problem locations where he can shoot off in many directions, and to stop him moving really fast. The danger of doing sticking too much on Jack's tail the second time is that you don't gain any further information - blocking can force him to give you extra information.

My husband plays much more for blocking (3 or 4 detectives blocking, even on night 1), and less for sticking on my trail - although sometimes this means he has very little information to go on, more often than not he will pick up a spot late on my trail by this means, and he's much less likely to get thrown by doubling back etc, as he's not plotting out my exact route, just trying to get an indication of which direction I went.

When playing 2 player with my husband we do use random lady placement, rather than Jack choosing where they go - which does make that last night harder for Jack - otherwise Jack can just choose a hideout next to a murder spot and walk straight in on the last night. We also don't allow more than one murder for any spot. We generally find that Jack loses as often as wins with those extra restrictions.

When playing at the club we don't use those restrictions but the most experienced Jack generally doesn't play all out to win if he knows he's playing an inexperienced team of detectives (although he often does anyway), but sets himself personal goals - all murders on the same spot; a murder far from his hideout; not entering his hideout before time 13; limiting himself to less special moves than given etc. Less experienced Jacks usually lose due to making mistakes.
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kilroy_locke wrote:

We haven't yet found the need to bring in any variants or aids to help the investigators. Using cubes/markers, laminated maps, and/or taking notes feels a little like cheating to me personally (although there's certainly not anything saying so in the rules), mostly because you're introducing something foreign into the game system that wasn't there originally. With 4-5 police players, we rarely have the problem of not remembering important details, and we find the game long enough as it is without adding more fiddlyness or record-keeping into it.


There are markers included with the game - we just found that often we were wanting a couple more (there aren't enough red ones to make out a full track for Jack for instance, which is what we generally use them for), so the owner of the club copy added in extra multicoloured discs, and at home we have similar extras. It is frustrating otherwise trying to keep track of how far along Jack's track you are, when you're having to remove early parts of it. If they'd added in twice as many discs in the first place, there wouldn't have been a problem.
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