Review: Mr Jack Pocket

Posted by James (admin) on July 17th, 2011

Mr Jack is a clever 2-player game that mixes deduction with movement – I put it that way as purely saying it’s a deduction game can give the false impression that it is dry or shallow.  The original Mr Jack and it’s follow-up, Mr Jack in New York, are both games where one player is Mr Jack (the Ripper) and the other is the investigator.  Players take turns moving the various suspects as the investigator tries to deduce which suspect is Mr Jack before Mr Jack escapes off the board.  The deduction in those games is made by saying whether Mr Jack is standing in the light or not at the end of each round.

Mr Jack Pocket is a smaller and more portable Mr Jack game that encapsulates the main elements of the original games but actually delivers a different game experience. The goal of the game is to reduce the 9 suspects down to just 1 before the 8 rounds are over and before the Jack player has accumulated 6 hourglasses.

The game primarily consists of 9 square tiles (arranged 3×3) showing alleyways and streets (mainly t-junctions).  Each double-sided tile shows the same same streets on each side but one side shows a suspect and the other doesn’t.  The game starts with all suspects showing and the Jack player determines which suspect is actually Mr Jack.  Around the edge of the 9 tiles are the 3 investigator tokens – Holmes, Watson and the dog.

During each round, players take actions determined by 4 double-sided action discs which are thrown in the air every 2 rounds.  The face-up actions are those available that round and the actions on their other sides will be those available next round.  In the first round, the investigator player uses 1 of the 4 actions, then the Jack player uses 2 of the remaining 3 actions, and finally the investigator player uses the remaining action.  Next round, it’s vice versa.

Many actions allow the player to move the investigators clockwise around the outside of the tiles, swap/move tiles and take an alibi card (which tells the investigator one suspect that is not Jack, or adds 1 to Jack’s hourglasses).

At the end of each round, the Jack player says whether the suspect that is Mr Jack can be seen by (i.e. is in line of sight of) any of the investigator tokens.  If Mr Jack is visible then any suspects not visible by the investigators can be eliminated from the investigation (and their tiles are flipped over so those suspects are no longer shown).  If Jack is not visible then any suspects who can currently be seen are flipped (plus Jack receives an hourglass).

Overall, Mr Jack Pocket is a simple and very quick game which offers deeper decision-making than it would first appear.  The available actions are very important, and working out which actions you want to deny your opponent is equally as important as working out which you want to use yourself.

The elimination process can be brutally quick.  Having half of the suspects visible and invisible means the investigator player will quickly whittle down the suspects, so Mr Jack needs to be with the majority of suspects so only few (preferably zero) can be eliminated each round.  As a result, Mr Jack must use actions very carefully and some bluffing (i.e. moving a suspect so it looks like that is Jack when it’s not – or is it?) can also play a part.

Turn duration fluctuates as the player choosing 1 action out of 4 will almost always need longer than the player using the final action in a round because there are so many options and consequences to consider.  Picking 2 of the remaining 3 actions can also take time because you are working out how to combine 2 actions.  Also, the combination of actions available makes a big difference too.  I don’t see this aspect as a weakness, but it took me a while to get used to as it’s not common.

Missing a fatal flaw in your plan (i.e. not realising a detective would have line of sight after using an action, etc) is part of the game (and, in fact, any game).  However, I did find it’s hard to quickly work out the potential visibility of suspects at a quick glance, especially when there are lots of suspects still in play.  I don’t mind making mistakes but I want to do so because I didn’t think of using actions a specific way and not because I couldn’t see the resulting situation easily.  This is the one element of Mr Jack Pocket that I find reduces its satisfaction a little bit; however, this doesn’t make it a bad game at all.

The game components are all excellent quality and well-thought out too – for example, the 8 round counters make it easy to remember which player takes the first action in each round.

Mr Jack Pocket is a very nice filler which is different to most other games.  Whilst not perfect, it does deliver a neat, portable and very quick deductive game which has more meat than it first appears.  In fact, it’s a very clever and dense game design and I find it hard to have just the one game of it.

(For those who have played the other Mr Jack games: Mr Jack Pocket doesn’t have quite the depth of the bigger versions but then it’s cheaper and shorter so shouldn’t be expected to.  The core elements from the original games – the elimination of suspects, the question whether Jack can be seen or not, the 4 actions being used 1-2-1  – are all present and game mechanics that work very well.  I was impressed how all of these have been re-used because they’re nice and definitive mechanics but Mr Jack Pocket still has a different feel to its bigger siblings.)

My thanks to Hurrican for providing a copy of this game to review.

James.

[Played with 2 players]

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