Radio Review #11 – Mr. Jack

Mrjack_cover

(Hurrican Games  2006)

 

“I woke up in a Soho doorway….a policeman knew my name….”

 

Originally self-published as Une Ombre Sur Whitechapel (A Shadow Over Whitechapel) in early 2006, Mr. Jack (published and released by Hurrican later that same year), is a 2-player deduction game where one player takes the role of the Investigator attempting to find and capture Jack the Ripper during an 8-hour period at night, while the opposing player takes the role of Jack the Ripper, trying to elude capture and escape by sunrise. Designers Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc are no strangers to each other, having since worked together on titles including Cleopatra, Dice Town, and Cyclades. Dice Town artist Piero (also famed for his art design on Ghost Stories and Yggdrasil) lends his unique and beautiful style to the title as well. Though it has seen many expansions in the 7 years since its release, the base game still remains atop the community’s list of 2-player Strategy games. Before we look at an overview of Mr. Jack, let’s first take a look at the components.

 

 

Components:

mrjack_board

– Mr. Jack game board

 

mrjack_character_cards

– Character Cards (representing movement & special ability of each Character)

 

mrjack_alibi_cards

– Character Alibi Cards

 

mrjack_jack_card1

– “Seen” vs. “Unseen” Mr. Jack Card

 

mrjack_character_markers1    mrjack_character_markers2

– 2-sided Character Markers (with Suspect and Innocent sides)

 

mrjack_gaslight

– Gaslight tokens

 

mrjack_sewer_cover

– Sewer Cover tokens

 

mrjack_police_barricade

– Police Blockade tokens

 

mrjack_round_marker

– Round Marker

 

 

 

Overview:

Mr. Jack consists of 8 rounds, with each player controlling 2 of the investigators each round. Each investigator has a number of spaces that it can move on the board as well as a special ability that it can take on its turn. This movement and special ability are noted on each Investigator Card. I’ll briefly go over the different abilities for each of the investigators, but first let’s take a look at the initial setup of the game and how turn order works.

mrjack_start

Each game will be set up as seen above. Other than the tokens that represent each of the 8 investigators, the board will be comprised of Gaslight tokens, Sewer Cover tokens, and Police Blockade tokens. Round sequence along with the turn order for each player is displayed along the right side, and a Round marker is placed on the current round.

mrjack_round_marker2

 

 

Seen Vs. Unseen:

In Mr. Jack, it is the Investigator’s job to discover who Mr. Jack is, as well as capture him/her before the end of the final round. The person playing as Mr. Jack will have to inform the Investigator player whether or not Jack is “Seen” or “Unseen” at the end of each Round. A Character is “Seen” if that Character is directly beside another Character or gaslight (or is seen by Watson which I’ll explain later). If a Character is neither beside another Character or directly beside a gaslight, that Character is defined as “Unseen”.

mrjack_seen1

In this example, Sherlock Holmes (red), Miss Stealthy (green) and Jeremy Bert (orange) are considered “Seen” at the end of the round since Sherlock and Jeremy are adjacent to one another, and Miss Stealthy is adjacent to a Gaslight. Sergeant Goodley, however would be considered “Unseen” since he is neither next to another Character or Gaslight.

This will help the Investigator player in trying to deduce the identity of Mr. Jack. Mr. Jack does this by flipping the Mr. Jack Card to the particular “Seen” or “Unseen” facing at the end of the Round.

 

 

Seen

mrjack_jack_card2

 

Vs.

 

 

Unseen

mrjack_jack_card1

The Investigator player will then flip the Character Markers to the “Innocent” facing if they have deduced that these characters are in fact, not Mr. Jack. So, for instance, if Round 1 has ended and Mr. Jack has informed the Investigator player that Mr. Jack is “Unseen”, then the investigator player knows that any character currently “Seen” (beside another character or gaslight) cannot be Mr. Jack, and will flip their Character Markers from their “Suspect” (colored) facing, to their “Innocent” (black/white) facing to represent going forward, that they are not Mr. Jack.

mrjack_seen2

In this example, the Mr. Jack player informs the Investigator player that Mr. Jack is “Seen” at the end of this Round. Therefore, among these 4 Characters, the Investigator can only deduce that Sergeant Goodley is innocent (since he is “Unseen“). He will then flip the Goodley Character Marker to the “Innocent” facing, along with any other Characters on the board whom are “Unseen”.

 

 

Gaslights

mrjack_gaslight2

As discussed above, Gaslights will make a Character “seen” if they are adjacent to one of these tokens. There are 6 total Gaslight tokens, but only 2 of them do not have numbers on them. The remaining 4 Gaslights are numbered 1-4, and 1 will be removed at the end of each of the first 4 rounds (remove the #1 Gaslight at the end of Round 1, #2 and the end of Round 2, and so on…). Thematically, this represents the gas running out on the light, and will make it a little more difficult to narrow down the identity of Mr. Jack as the game goes on.

 

 

The Sewers

mrjack_sewer2

As Characters are moved around the board, the Sewers provide shortcuts throughout the district of Whitechapel. Once a Character lands on an open Sewer, they can move onto another open Sewer space on the board (as long as they still have another point of movement). There are 2 Sewer covers that can be moved on top of open sewers to block Characters from moving in and out of that particular space.

 

 

Police Blockades

mrjack_police_barricade2

Even if the Investigator player has figured out the identity of Mr. Jack, Mr. Jack can still escape. If Mr. Jack was “Unseen” at the end of the previous round and is able to move off of the board, Mr. Jack escapes and will win the game. In order to protect the 4 possible escape paths (top and bottom corners of the map), 2 Police Blockades can be moved and placed to impede Mr. Jack from leaving. Mr. Jack can never escape through a path with a Police Blockade.

 

 

 

Gameplay:

At the beginning of the game, the Mr. Jack player will shuffle the 8 Alibi Cards. Each card represents one of the individual characters on the board. After doing so, he will draw the top card off of this pile and look at it. This card represents the identity of Mr. Jack. The remaining 7 Alibi Cards remain to the side, face down and make up an Alibi Deck that can be drawn from by using Sherlock Holmes’ special ability (as I’ll explain in just a bit). After the Mr. Jack player knows his identity and has placed this card down in front of him, the game begins.

A round is very simple. Mr. Jack and the Investigator player will take turns choosing Character Cards to control the different characters on the board and take their corresponding actions. The goal of the Investigator player is to capture Mr. Jack by the end of the 8th and final round. The goal of the Mr. Jack player is to either escape off the board or evade capture by the end of the final round. In order for the Investigator to capture Mr. Jack, he must land another Character marker on top of the Character marker which matches the identity of the Character he wishes to accuse, and must correctly accuse that Character.

 

There are 3 ways that a game can end:

1.) Mr. Jack is not caught by the end of the final round. (Mr. Jack wins)

 

                   2.)The Investigator captures and accuses a Character of being Mr. Jack. If the accusation is successful, the Investigator wins. If the accused Character is not Mr. Jack, Mr. Jack wins.

3.)Mr. Jack escapes the city (Mr. Jack wins). Mr. Jack must be “unseen” for this to take place.

 

At the beginning of each round, 4 of the 8 total Character cards will be flipped up and laid out in front of the players. Only these 4 Characters can be used this Round. Players will choose and play the selected Character cards in turn order as follows:

Round 1, 3, 5, & 7:
– The Investigator will choose the 1st card and resolve it (movement and/or special ability)
– Mr. Jack will choose the 2nd card and resolve it.
– Mr. Jack will choose the 3rd card and resolve it.
– The Investigator will choose the last card and resolve it.

Round 2, 4, 6, & 8:
– Mr. Jack will choose the 1st card and resolve it.
– The Investigator will choose the 2nd card and resolve it.
– The Investigator will choose the 3rd card and resolve it.
– Mr. Jack will choose the last card and resolve it.

mrjack_character_cards3

All 8 Characters must be used before reshuffling the Character Card deck will occur. Because of this, shuffling will only be done after Rounds 2, 4, and 6. For instance, as seen above, Sergeant Goodley, Miss Stealthy, Sir William Gull, and Jeremy Bert are the 4 Character Cards that are flipped up and played in the 1st Round. Therefore, the 2nd Round will contain the remaining Characters (John Watson, Inspector Lestrade, Sherlock Holmes, and John Smith). Only after the 2nd Round is complete, are all 8 Character Cards reshuffled into a draw pile for Rounds 3 & 4. Because of this, the strategy from round to round remains quite high, since most of the time you’ll know which Characters will be available to you (and which order you’ll be choosing them) during the next round.

I’ve talked quite a bit about how the game is won, the selection of Characters and turn order, as well as the aspect of “seen” vs. “unseen”, but the meat of the game is the Character Cards and how they differ. The game will be won and loss depending on how you can use the Character’s special abilities to either capture Mr. Jack (as the Investigator) or elude capture (as Mr. Jack). Let’s take a look at each Character and what they can do.

 

 

Characters:

Each Character Card corresponds with a Character Marker on the player board, and each Card includes two different icons at the bottom of the card. The leftmost icon represents that Character’s movement, while the rightmost icon represents its special ability. You’ll also notice that in most cases, there are arrows around the special ability icon. These arrows represent when a Character’s movement and special ability can be resolved in relationship to each other. For instance, Sherlock Holmes’ ability can only be used AFTER his movement (as seen below), because the arrow around the special ability icon is pointing away from the movement icon. Had it been pointing towards the movement icon, he would have had to take the special ability before his movement.

 

 

Sherlock Holmes

mrjack_sholmes

Movement – 1 to 3 spaces (must move before ability)

Special Ability – The player using Sherlock Holmes secretly looks at the top card of the Alibi Deck and places it in front of him face down. This is one way to further help deduce the identity of Mr. Jack. Since the Mr. Jack player drew a card out of the Alibi Deck at the beginning of the game, you know that any Character now drawn from this deck has an alibi, and cannot possibly be Mr. Jack. Of course, it is a good strategy for the Mr. Jack player to use Sherlock Holmes’ ability to collect more Alibi cards, making it even harder on the Investigator.

mrjack_alibi3

(If the Investigator chooses Sherlock Holmes and uses his ability, he chooses the top Alibi Card from the deck. In this example, he secretly knows that Sergeant Goodley is innocent, but does not flip the Character Marker for Goodley on the board.)

 

 

John Watson

mrjack_jwatson

Movement – 1 to 3 spaces (must move before ability)

Special Ability – After moving, the player can face Watson’s lantern on the Character Marker in any direction. The light from the lantern creates a beam that will shine in a direct line and will illuminate any characters standing in that line, as long as an object (building, unlit gaslight, etc) doesn’t block its path. Therefore, Characters that may have otherwise been “unseen” at the end of a Round, will now be “seen” by Watson’s lantern. It is important to note, that Watson does not illuminate himself in this way.

mrjack_watson_ability

(In this example, Miss Stealthy would be considered “Seen” at the end of the Round because of John Watson’s Lantern ability, even though she is not directly adjacent to another Character or lit Gaslight.)

 

 

Inspector Lestrade

mrjack_lestrange

Movement – 1 to 3 spaces (can be used before or after ability)

Special Ability – Before or after moving Inspector Lestrade, the player can move one of the Police Blockades from one city exit and place it at another exit.

 

 

John Smith

mrjack_jsmith

Movement – 1 to 3 spaces (can be used before or after ability)

Special Ability – Before or after moving John Smith, the player can move one of the Gaslight tokens and place it on an unlit Gaslight space.

 

 

Jeremy Bert

mrjack_jbert

Movement – 1 to 3 spaces (can be used before or after ability)

Special Ability – Before or after moving Jeremy Bert, the player can move one of the Sewer covers from one Sewer opening, and place it on top of another.

 

 

Sergeant Goodley

mrjack_goodley

Movement – 1 to 3 spaces (can be used before or after ability)

Special Ability – Sergeant Goodley will blow his whistle. When this happens, the player in control of Goodley is allowed 3 movement points in which he can move other Characters closer to Goodley. These 3 movement points can be used on 1 Character or on 3 different Characters, but only 3 total movement points between the Characters are allowed.

 

 

Miss Stealthy

mrjack_mstealthy

Movement – 1 to 4 spaces (is used along with an optional ability)

Special Ability – Miss Stealthy is different in that her special ability occurs during movement, and the ability is only optional. Characters in the game can only move along the light gray spaces (streets) on the board and are blocked off by buildings, gaslights, bushes, etc. Except for Miss Stealthy. Not only can she move up to 4 spaces on her turn, but she can also move through any space on the board as long as she ends her movement on a street space.

 

 

Sir William Gull

mrjack_wgull

Movement – 1 to 3 spaces (either movement OR ability is used)

Special Ability – Sir William Gull is also a bit different. Instead of using his movement, he may switch spaces with any other Character on the board.

 

Using these special abilities will help to manipulate the location and positioning of Characters in the city. Even if the Inspector figures out the identity of Mr. Jack, he still must capture him. So positioning is very important. In order to accuse a Character, another Character must be moved to the same spot as the Character that is to be accused. Otherwise, no Characters can take up the same spot on the board. If the Investigator can find and accuse Mr. Jack correctly, before the end of the 8th round, he’s won the game. Otherwise, Mr. Jack has eluded capture, and will escape out into the black night.

mrjack_final

(What??? Jack the Ripper is….Sherlock Holmes?!)

 

 

 

Thoughts:

There are many reasons that Mr. Jack succeeds both in its longevity as well as in its depth, but most notably is the manipulation of Character special abilities mixed with the opposing goals of the two players. There are distinct advantages in each of the particular special abilities, whether a player is the Investigator or Mr. Jack. Even so, it must be noted that players may find the game is not 100% balanced for both sides. This has been a common complaint, and although I tend to agree, I find that it is not so much unbalanced mechanically as much as it is unforgiving for newer players that take on the role of Mr. Jack. The game leans more fairly in its simplicity towards the Investigator, and it’s not until you have two experienced players where you’ll find that the game’s depth open itself for more of a 50/50 win ratio.

On the artistic side of things, Piero has created another set of gorgeous character animations and artwork. The Character and Alibi Cards are printed on thick cardboard stock, and present the artwork and details much more vividly than any playing card would. The thick wooden tokens for the Character Markers are a nice touch as well. There aren’t a lot of components to Mr. Jack, but the ones that come with the game are nice and high quality.

Mr. Jack is quite easy to learn and can be taught in the time it takes to explain each of the 8 special abilities. A game normally doesn’t last more than 30 minutes, and most of my sessions has included the other player and myself switching roles a few times before closing the box. Since the Investigator and Mr. Jack roles play so differently, it’s something I would suggest to those that end up purchasing a copy. Playing both sides during a session really opens up all there is to see in the game, and mastering both sides will make for a more strategic and equally enjoyable experience. Since the game is so easy to teach and quick to play, it shouldn’t take long before you’ve gotten past the simple mechanics of the gameplay and explored its depth, as if peeling back the layers of an onion.

Much of one’s enjoyment from the game will be fueled by the opponent in which they play it with. In this regard, I find it to be a better game for those that have a consistent gaming partner. As such, it shines, and should fill a gap for those that lean toward head to head 2-player deduction/strategy games.

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