Friday, February 13, 2009

Review - Mr. Jack

After a year of waiting, Lynette and I finally pulled out Mr. Jack last night and learned to play. The rule book is thicker than I expected but it reads very easily and the game itself is actually quite easy to understand. I've always had a morbid fascination with the Jack The Ripper case and so that theme was a large motivator for me in wanting this game. It's also a great sleuthing/deduction game which is also a ton of fun.

From a high level, this game can be related to Scotland Yard in that one player is the criminal and is trying to escape while the other player is trying to figure out where the criminal is and capture him/her. Despite the high level similarities, Mr. Jack differs from Scotland Yard in many fun and exciting ways.

One of the most unique elements, which also adds immensely to the challenge, is that you can't fully predict which characters will be available to be moved on any turn. All 8 characters are always on the board in full view of each player. On each turn, 4 of those characters will be moved...2 by the criminal and 2 by the detective. Thus, either player can and will move the "Jack" pawn (often to the dismay of the 'jack' player). Each character has a special ability that slightly changes the layout of the board (both for movement and for visibility/invisibility) or the movement of the characters. Because each player takes turns moving all of the various characters, you'll often find yourself needing to change your planned strategy after a character has been moved.

I found the victory conditions of Mr. Jack to be more balanced than Scotland Yard for the most part. With Scotland Yard, the only way for Mr. X to win is to wear down the detective's ticket supply and the only way for the detectives to win is to land directly on the space occupied by Mr. X (which can sometimes happen through dumb luck). With Mr. Jack, the time element comes into play in that after 8 turns, if Jack is still free, then he escapes. We never made it through all 8 turns (though I'm sure it could happen). The victory condition for the detective is (like SY) for the detective to move one character on top of the "jack" character and make an accusation...if correct, the detectives win, if not, Jack wins. For Jack to win, he must first be "invisible" and then move out of one of the four exits on the game board (two of which are always barricaded). Each of these victory conditions is deceptively simple. While playing, we found it difficult to maintain a strategy that would carry out a "simple" victory since each turn changed the layout and the strategy for both players.

I really liked the turn mechanic in that each player (with small exceptions) moved in the same manner for the same number of spaces. However, each character (again with small exceptions) has a special ability that is Mandatory on each turn. Each ability provides distinct advantages to whichever player uses the ability. In addition to having your intended character moved by the other player, you can have your strategy change dramatically when the other player moves a manhole cover, a barricade or a lamp light. It's intriguing how much depth these actions bring to the game.

The quality of this game is fabulous, both in terms of game balance and strategy and in terms of quality components. The cards are thicker, high quality, cardboard...the tokens are colored wood with colored and B&W stickers...the attention to artistic detail and creativity is wonderful.

This is a game with a lot of potential. We started playing later at night and said that we'd play 2 games, swapping roles so each of us could play each side. After the second game, Lynette declared that she didn't think the Mr. Jack player could win (in each game, the detectives had won), so I vowed I'd prove her wrong and she demanded an immediate third game with me as Jack. About 20 minutes later, Mr. Jack escaped the Whitechapel district and proved that there was a strategy for Jack to win (although now that she's seen that one, I'll have to think of another). As we put the game away and prepped for bed, she let me know that she wanted another rematch so she could tromp me the way I'd tromped her.

This is definitely a game I see us playing a lot in the future. I'm excited to find a fun and intriguing game with a lot of depth that can be played quickly by just the two of us. I'm kind of bummed that it's only a 2 player game since I'd love to pull this out for larger group gaming. But at the same time, I'm glad we've found another game for us to play on those nights when we want something deeper but don't have a lot of time.

4.5 stars

No comments: