Posted by James (admin) on May 31st, 2011
Letters From Whitechapel is a game about Jack The Ripper. If you’ve played Scotland Yard, then you’ll get a good idea about it if I say it’s like an advanced Scotland Yard; however, in case you haven’t, I’ll review this assuming no previous knowledge of Scotland Yard.
One player is Jack the Ripper who needs to perform a series of murders and the other players are the police trying to catch him before he has completed his grizzly activities and escaped. Jack takes turns moving invisibly around the board (which shows many connected, numbered spaces) whilst the other players take turns working together as the police to move around and catch him. The police do have some clues though – first, they know where the murder takes place so they know Jack’s starting point; second, Jack must say if he’s moving normally or using one of his special moves each turn; and, third, the police can detect if Jack has been through a space they investigate (next to their current position) so they can detect his trail. Each night, Jack must get back to his hideout – the location of which is unknown to the police – before each night ends.
Jack does have some restrictions though as he’s not allowed to move through a policeman (unless using a special move) so the police can block his movement. Also, instead of searching a location for Jack’s trail, a policeman can attempt an arrest on a location – the police win the game if they catch him there but it will give them no information on Jack’s trail if he is not currently there.
The gameplay takes place over 4 rounds (nights). At the start of each night, Jack has a chance to wait before he strikes so he can choose which of the potential victims on the board he kills; however, the police also have a chance to wander around and get into position. So, there’s an element of bluff and misdirection in this short phase of the game. Once the murder occurs, the chase is on. If Jack fails to get back to his hideout on any night, or gets arrested on the streets, he loses.
Overall, Letters From Whitechapel is a great deduction game. Playing as Jack is a very tense affair as you try to stay one step ahead of the other players, and playing as the police is an interesting exercise in both logical deduction (as you can deduce which spaces Jack could potentially be at each turn) but also working out if the Jack player is playing it safe with a longer path to avoid police or doing the unexpected but more risky option of trying to slip through the police.
There are two gameplay mechanics that make this a fun game as well as raise this above other similar games. The first mechanic is detecting Jack’s trail – This allows the police players to pick up and stay on the scent even though the police don’t know how recent Jack’s presence was or which direction he went in. (In Scotland Yard, Mister X has to reveal their position every 5 turns to give the other players something to go on). This game mechanic works very well thematically too.
The second mechanic is the hideout – As the location of Jack’s hideout remains the same throughout the game (and is chosen by Jack at the start), the police can use each murder/chase to build up a picture of where the hideout may be – this adds an on-going element that connects the rounds rather than leaving them as separate chases as the police can begin to try to block Jack’s path so he doesn’t make it back by the end of the night.
The board looks great and captures the theme well without being too gory (which could put some people off). The game comes with some optional rules to make things harder or easier which I look forwards to using.
It’s easy for the game to play longer than you may expect if the police players are allowed to spend a long time discussing where Jack has been and where they should go. It’s important the police have time to deduce where Jack is or is heading, but it’s also important to keep the game moving so the police don’t fall into analysis paralysis and create too much downtime for the Jack player. This is increasingly important when playing with more players because more players means more opinions which equals more time.
I like that all police figures are used no matter the number of players because, otherwise, the game would be easier with fewer players. Including Jack, I think it will play best with 3 or 4 players (and even 2 players, although the dialogue between players makes it more entertaining) as that allows all players to have a fair and engaging share of input and discussion time. With 5 or 6 players, it can be easy for a couple of police players to feel a bit drowned out and turns take longer.
One of the designers of Letters From Whitechapel designed one of the Scotland Yard games (Mister X) as well as Garibaldi – both one-versus-many, ‘hidden chase’ games. Sadly, Garibaldi didn’t deliver the gameplay I had hoped for so I was initially slightly sceptical about Letters From Whitechapel but a read of the rules before purchase swung me and I’m glad they did because Letters From Whitechapel is an excellent hidden-movement, deduction game and my favourite of this type.
[Played with 6 players]