Note: This board game review is done by Spilled Spagehtti Janitor in our now defunct group blog Tuesdays with Bison.
Letters From Whitechapel is a deduction board game set in Victorian Era with themes of Jack The Ripper and the Whitechapel murders. God, I really don’t like writing introductions, so let’s just jump right in, shall we??? None of the other writers are taking this blog seriously anyway. -__-
Design and Artwork
You can tell right off the bat that this is gonna be the dark game. The color schemes imply that imply that this is not gonna be a lighthearted fun game. Suits it. The story of the game centers around one of the biggest and most popular unsolved mysteries of all time. It will demand srsbsns from its players because of its attention to detail and meticulousness from its players.
The board is designed to be movement areas of Jack (the numbered circles) and the police (the square spaces). Super-imposing it against the backdrop of the a street map of Victorian London is a nice touch, but that’s all it is: a touch. While it is good for setting the scene and all that, it has little features other than the murder areas and the sites for the letters. There are no special places of interests to help or hinder the movements of all players involved. The places for movement within the board could have been set any other backdrop and it wouldn’t have made a dent of difference to the game mechanics.
Jack has nothing but a black token, which is fine as Jack’s real identity has been played around to be anyone from a German sailor to an Irish laborer and even the Prince of Wales! It adds appeal to the character that Jack is cloaked in mystery as he has been.
The police force… well, the game comes with those cards identifying who they are amongst the multi-colored copper tokens. That’s all they’re there for. We don’t use them at all. Mostly because the characters do not have special abilities. I appreciate the short, condensed history lesson of who are involved with the Ripper murders, but if I wasn’t a history buff, I wouldn’t have cared to read the flavor text to any of them because none of them are actually essential to the game play.
Whitechapel requires a minimum of two people and a maximum of six. One of the players will play Jack while the others become the peelers or the newly-created police force… still mostly composed of the neighborhood watch and other community members, if you cared to even Wiki any of them. One thing about playing Whitechapel is, even if there are only two players, the person playing the peelers can play all five characters at once. When our board game group play, we always play the maximum number of police force members regardless how many we actually are there. Just playing one in a two-player set-up is a just the most annoying thing in the world, especially when you two end up on opposite sides of the board. Read: It will literally go nowhere.
In an accompanying tracking pad, Jack selects a “Home”. Home is any number space on the board and will be so until the remainder of the game. With 200+ spaces to move from, the re-playability of the game is very high.
Jack will then plant white wooden pegs facedown onto red numbered spaces. These wood pegs consists of four marked ones and two blank ones. The red-numbered spaces denote where the Ripper murders happened in the history, but the gameplay allows Jack to start killing at any red-numbered space. Two of these white pegs are actually blank to serve as decoys when the police would set up their own pegs.
Afterwhich, the police will set down their own black wooden pegs on highlighted black squares on the board. I don’t really understand why the spots where the highlighted black squares are so limited. The only thing I can logically come up with is to give Jack ample time to get away, hence, giving chase to actually have a game. Like Jack’s white pegs, two of the these black pegs are also blank.
Jack will then reveal his own pegs by turning them over. The red marks on these white pegs will be where he will put in “The Wretched” or the white tokens to represent the victims he may kill. Then, he has the option to kill the first victim or to wait. If he waits (and he has the option to wait for a total of four times before he must kill because reasons), “The Wretched” are moved to one numbered space by the police. Logically, the police may move them closer to to where they are and that is the risks Jack takes. Why he would like to do this? The only logical thing I can think of is because Jack only has fifteen chances to go home and this is a method of accomplishing it.
Anyway, once Jack has chosen a victim to kill, he replaces the murdered victim with a clear red marker as his start point. Then he moves away. Jack can only do one move per round, but he has aids like a coach and an alley way. The coach token allows Jack to move two spaces instead of one per round. Jack then records his movement on the tracking pad. While the Alley token allows him to move through buildings to jump from one street to another without having to go the long way. Each round, he is only allowed a certain number of opportunities to do either.
Then, the police will also turn their own round pegs around to reveal their own start point. They will also be replaced by tokens to correspond to the color of what’s painted on the black round pegs.
On their own movements, the police will move their tokens to adjacent black squares and call out numbered spaces in their immediate space. The purpose is to either look for clues or to make an arrest. To make sense of the game, Jack can never lie. If he has been or is currently on the space, if the police calls for a clue, he has to say “Clue” and put a clear yellow marker on that space. (We have the second edition. I think the first edition had clear white pegs that were revised to yellow because it was hard to look at it when placed on the board.) Once a clue is given, that copper’s turn is done. He can no longer call for other numbers or make an arrest if Jack is currently on that space. Also, if he gets an arrest space wrong, a constable’s turn is done. This is a simple deduction game which is easy enough, but I take issue it Jack’s movement pattern. He is able to backtrack (meaning go back to spaces he’s been to) and, for me anyway, it takes me out of the game when he does because a space with a yellow marker has already been done and cannot be done with two clue token stacked onto each other to imply he has backtracked his movements.
This must be done over and over until Jack declares himself “Home!” or he runs out of turns. He only has fifteen turns to get home. If he doesn’t… well, he loses. Just does. There is no other story as to why that is so.
Whitechapel consists of four rounds and five murders. The third round has Jack committing two murders, but it will be unknown to the police which one came first so the start point can be from any of the two. Jack wins the game by being to escape arrest in four rounds.
There are additional rules like setting up false clues (with clear blue markers) using the Dear Boss letters for following rounds. We tried this and didn’t like it. We played them more as optional rules (which they are) rather than make it part of it when either Jack is getting too cornered too much or the police are not getting anywhere. Still quite ironic turn considering the name of the game is Letters from Whitechapel.
I really like this game. But only if I am in the mood for actual thinking. It’s not the kind of lazy fun game you can play when you have and don’t want to have anything better to do.
It can get draggy though, especially on the first few turns when you are getting nothing. Setting up false clues with the letters doesn’t help any, which is why we rarely use it. The game is not really something a person playing constable can get into until you get your first clue. I guess, being Jack is more fun.
This is a cooperative game, unless you’re obviously playing Jack. The police can think up of strategies, especially when deducting the route Jack has made, where he might live, and/or when Jack has been cornered. However, they have been cases where an uncooperative cop would go on vigilante mode (coughs)Batman(coughs) and start arresting spaces like no one’s business. Then other times, one player becomes that lame cop who just lags behind everyone… mostly because he was situated in a place so far away from the scene of the crime.
As it relates to Ripperlore, well… it is a good backdrop and selling point. The fact that story is widely-know the world over, it is a good setting the story, as opposed to creating your own story and getting people to care about the murdered or the story as a whole. However, apart from an actual set-up, control is given to the players and very little of the story actually happens. I guess that’s not such a bad thing. If I want the facts and the history, I’ll go read a book.
Still… Set-up is nice. Rules are straightforward enough. I find little to complain about and I know I did, but for the most part, it’s just little tweaks.
Our Overall Stats:
- Viscous Vega still remains supreme as Jack, mostly because Viscous Vega is a massive troll.
- Together with Bitter Balrog, they are almost unstoppable as the cops.
- Spilled Spaghetti Janitor must never be Jack because an airhead Jack doesn’t have the brains to get away with it.
- Dandy Dan continues to be Batman’s Robin. This will never be a good thing because the Batman analogy here would imply a Christian Bale Batman having a Burt Ward Robin sidekick… Good luck with that.
…I guess you had to be there.
Robin image credit from wattstrending.wordpress.com