Bruno Cathala &
Ludovic Maublanc


International Gamers
Awards 2007



Scanning the halls of the SPIEL 06 for outstanding games from smaller publishers, I remembered Mr. Jack from HURRICANE GAMES since their booth looked both attractive and crowded. It is a new game from the well known authors Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, produced by the new swiss publisher HURRICAN GAMES and it takes up the famous story of the Jack the Ripper who committed his crimes in the district of Whitechapel in London 1888.

In this two player game one player takes up the Role of Jack the Ripper, whereas the other player is named "the Detective" and will try to capture him. The gameboard shows the district of Whitechapel and is divided into hexagonal spaces, most of which are open streets but a few of them showing open manholes or gaslight lamps (also considered to be street hexes) or houses and parks (considered as blocked hexes). When the game is set-up, several gaslight counters with glowing lights are distributed on several of the gaslight spaces, and also two of the open manholes are covered with tokens. Also distributed on the board are the eight character figures, half of them standing on spaces next to lit gaslights ("illuminated hexes"), whereas the other half is occupying hexes away from gaslights ("dark hexes"). There also exist four streets leaving the district, but two of these will be closed at the beginning of the game by police barriers. To finish the preparations two decks of cards are separately shuffled - the character cards and the character alibi cards. From the deck of character alibi cards the Jack player will draw the upper card, look at it and then keep it face down in front of himself. It is the character shown on this card whose identity Jack has assumed for this game, and it will be the task of the Detective to find out Jack's secret identity before Jack either succeeds to leave the district or the night ends after eight rounds of play.

At the beginning of each turn, four character cards from the shuffled deck are revealed. In turns 1, 3, 5 and 7, the Detective now may chose a character and performs an action with him, then Jack goes with two characters, and finally the Detective plays the last of the four available characters. In the other turns, the order is reversed, with Jack taking the first character, then the Detective choosing two characters, and again Jack playing the final one.

After each two turns, when all eight characters have been activated once, the deck of character cards is reshuffled so that again all eight characters can act in the two turns to follow. However, at the end of each turn, the Jack player also must tell the Detective whether there is a witness or no witness, meaning that the character Jack is impersonating either stands next to a lit gaslight or next to another character token. Thus, for example, when Jack says that there is a witness the Detective now may deduct that all characters standing on dark hexes are innocent, and to keep track of their innocence he may turn their character figures to their other side.

A final point which needs to be observed at the end of the first four turns is the fact that the gaslights in the district are running out of gas, so that in the first four turns the gaslights situated closer to the outer edges of the district one by one will shut down. In the end, this leaves only two active gaslights in the middle of the gameboard, and it will then become more probable that Jack may announce at the end of a turn that there is "no witness", meaning that the character he impersonates stands in the dark and not next to another character. Getting to announce "no witness" is very important for the Jack player, since only if he succeeds in making this announcement he may try to leave the district through one of the two open exits during the next turn.

As said, Jack wins the game when he succeeds in either leaving the district or is not caught within eight turns. On the other hand, the Detective wins the game if he succeeds in moving a character onto the same space occupied by Jack's character and raising an accusation. If the accused really is Jack, the Detective has won, but if he isn't Jack it will be the Jack player who has won due to the Chaos arising from the wrong accusation.

However, we have not yet touched the central part of the game rules - the characters and their abilities together with the covered manhole tiles and the police barriers. Each character has a movement allowance (in most cases to move up to three hexes), but each one also has a special ability:

  • Sherlock Holmes: After his movement, his player secretly draws the upmost card of the alibi deck and places it in front of himself.
  • Dr. Watson: Has a lamp, illuminating a row of hexes in front of him and thus turning them into "illuminated hexes".
  • John Smith: City Lamplighter, allowing his player to move one of the lit gaslights to the hex of an unlit gaslight.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Moving a police barrier to block another exit of the district.
  • Miss Stealthy: May move through blocked hexes.
  • Srgt. Goodley: Blowing his whistle for help, allowing other characters to be moved towards him.
  • Sir William Gull: can exchange his location with the location of any other character
  • Jeremy Bert: moving a closed manhole hex to another space with an open manhole. (As you might guess, you may move from an open manhole hex to another open manhole.)

As you might guess, it is these special rules for each character from which the game draws its main attractiveness, but already the rules for the illuminated areas around the gaslights and their stepwise darkening is not only an interesting rules twist but a fascinating way to carry the feeling of this dark and foggy night directly to the players. During the game, each player will try to make most effective use of the available characters, but especially the Jack character must be careful neither to expose his character too early nor to leave a possible early exit from the district out of calculation. The players each will try to move the characters in a way suitable for him, and the more the game progresses the more characters will be proven innocent for the Detective.

This game is famous in France since it was first released as a limited edition of 250 copies under the name Une Ombre Sur Whitechapel, but now it has come in a revised edition from a new publisher in order to make the game available to a bigger audience. My friend Jean-Marie from France was able to provide to following information: "The game was displayed as a prototype to some events in France and even got a review in "Des jeux Sur Un Plateau" even before being completed as a game. Despite the authors' reputation it found no editor since no one wanted to publish a 30€ two-players game. So there were but no choice than to self-edit it, but the 250 copies of the limited edition were sold very fast. Soon enough, the very few copies sold by owners were reaching top prices but still no editors would bet on a two-players game, especially considering there are only 3 or 4 editors in France and two of them don't do games, they just translate them. So HURRICAN was founded, almost especially to publish and edit "Mr. Jack".

And about the name change ? It has two reasons:

  1. The edited versions have rules in four languages and more to come. they needed a game which name wouldn't need to be translated in any language.
  2. Neko Corp, the French editor which edits "London 1888" is working on the first expansion to be released upon Xmas. The nickname of "Une Ombre Sur Whitechapel" rapidly became "Whitechapel" and NekoCorp has already named its expansion Whitechapel. HURRICAN didn't want to start a mess with NekoCorp and since you can't copyright a real street name, they could both use the name "Whitechapel", but eventually, the authors made a wise decision: the entire gaming community who know or owns "Une Ombre Sur Whitechapel" would rapidly call it "Jack" and the players who never heard about it, would just know the name "Jack". there was no need to start a war between editors for something so meaningless, especially since "Mr. Jack" is not supposed to have any expansions."

The names of the authors already are a trademark for high quality games, but playing this game here at the convention revealed that it is definitely a must-buy not just because of its great artwork but also for its playability. Outside the famous KOSMOS-series of two player games there rarely was a game which would stand up to the quality of any of the KOSMOS products, but now Mr. Jack does not only offer a playability known from the KOSMOS games, but also is a very strong challenger for each and every of these games since it offers a high degree of strategy coupled with playing fun and interaction alike. Thanks to HURRICAN GAMES for making this masterpiece available, and also for including English and german rules amongst French and some other languages! That's real globalization!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

[Gamebox Index]


Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany