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HURRICAN's 'MR JACK' has been around for several years now, since around 2013 I believe, but it is only recently that Hurrican have found themselves a distributor in the UK prepared to push their fine range of two-player and family games. Designed by Bruno Cathala & Ludovic Maublanc with striking illustrations by Piero, MR JACK is a two player cat & mouse game set on a map depicting the Whitechapel District of 1888 London; the name and the location pointing towards the infamous 'Jack the Ripper'  

One player takes on the role of JACK and is attempting to get away from the DETECTIVE, the other player, who has the assistance of any/all of the other characters when it comes to making an arrest. Jack can move characters around to try to confuse the Detective whereas the Detective moves the characters around to catch Jack. The game suggests a tense balance between Jack and the Detective but this truly depends on the two players and how they approach the play and use of the characters.

When playing again with the same opponent it may be a good idea to alternate which characters you play so you get the feel of the game from both sides, they are actually similar but also distinctly different. By this I mean that both players have similar options but they use them in different ways.

 

The pieces in the game represent the local Whitechapel characters from the Victorian legend and fiction surrounding the tales of Jack the Ripper. These include Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, Inspector Lestrade, and the amusingly named Jeremy Bert, a nod to the excellent actor who played the great detective in a TV Series from 1984-1994.

The setting for the game is a District of Whitechapel shown as a hex-overlaid map with some buildings but without roads. The map is lit by 8 Gaslights, though only 6 can be alight at any one time and generally it will be less than six, which means folk moving around in the darkened areas have to be careful of the open manholes - only two of which are ever covered.

The characters are positioned as shown on the map - this is the same set up for every game - and the two decks of cards, Characters (Green) and Alibi (Red) are shuffled face down and placed near the board. These cards are of thick card, rather similar to that used for beer mats, which makes them a little difficult to shuffle but a lot easier than normal cards to pick up off the table.

 

Each character card shows the illustration of the character surrounded by the colour of its associated game piece. It also two circle-style-shapes, one Gold, one Silver, in which there are Action icons specific to the character, and it is these that indicate up to how far a character may move and what their (the character) special action is. The Golden circular shapes may have one or two Arrows attached to them,  For example Inspector LeStrade has a Silver Circle with 1-3 in it, meaning he can be moved 1, 2 or 3 spaces (hexes) and a Golden circle with Arrows attached East & West pointing. The Arrows mean that the Special Action/Ability must be used before or after movement, the Police Helmet in the Gold circle means that the Action is moving one of the two Police Blockades from one exit street to another - Jack cannot leave Whitechapel if the street is blockaded.

 

The mechanism for who (player) moves which (character) is decided by two factions - the four cards from the deck that are flipped face up at the beginning of each Round and the number of the Round. On odd numbered Rounds (1, 3, 5, 7) the Detective player selects one card, moves the character and activates its special ability; there are only two characters whose Actions are not mandatory; Miss Stealthy (Green) and Sir William Gull (Purple) whose Specials are optional. Then Jack activates one of the other cards, moves the piece and activates it as necessary and then proceeds to select a second card which he also moves and uses; the fourth card (the one remaining) is then selected by the Detective and then the rest of the Round continues.

The second part of the Round is when Witnesses are called for. The Jack player now declares whether his 'piece' is visible on the board. According to the rules being visible means that the character piece is in a hex adjacent to a lit Gaslight or next to another character but I believe that if a character piece is in a straight unblocked line from Dr Watson then Watson's lantern also illuminates them. It is mentioned in the descriptions of the characters about Watson's lantern but not in the section determining Jack's visibility, but I cannot see the point of Watson having a Lantern if it isn't for this very reason.

 

The pieces on the board, round wooden counters, have stickers on each side (placed there at the beginning of the first game) which show the character either in full colour (as a Suspect) or faded on a white background (Innocent). They all begin as Suspects but once declared innocent they remain faded side up. The character cards all show the 8 characters in full colour whereas the Alibi cards show them as innocent, black & white like a newspaper cutting with the character's name and the word 'Innocent' boldly declared. At the beginning of each game both decks are shuffled separately and the Jack player takes one of the Alibi cards and keeps it secret from the other player. This is 'Jack' in disguise and thus the piece that has to be moved from the board via an exit street; Jack can only leave the district if the Witness card is on its 'invisible' side.

 

Once the Witness call has been made all characters that are the opposite of Jack's reply are flipped to their Innocent side. Thus if Jack is visible all characters not illuminated are innocent and if Jack is not visible then all illuminated characters are turned to innocent; once a character has been declared innocent they are never flipped back over - it is fairly good practise for the Detective to move innocent characters to within 2-3 hexes of the exits as they are then in place for when Jack makes his bid for freedom. Jack's player needs to keep as many Suspects in the same light situation as he/she is (ie Visible or Invisible).

At first the game seems to be a bit too easy for the Detective to win especially as they can move any of the characters onto their main Suspect and accuse them - there is no need to move any of the Police characters onto Jack - plus Jack has to try to not be easily discovered while running for an exit and keeping out of the light to escape or in the light to avoid obvious detection.

 

Played over 8 Rounds, these being marked by moving the Clock Tower counter up the track in Phase 3 of the Round - Phase 1. Moving/Ability use, Phase 2. Call for Witness, Phase 3. Turn off the Gaslight associated with the Round number and Round 4. End of the Round. There are 6 Gaslight counters, four (marked 1, 2, 3 4) are removed from the board after Phases 1, 2, 3 and 4 while the other two are not numbered and thus during Rounds 5, 6, 7 & 8 they remain in play, though they may be moved around.

The Manholes can be used to move characters around the board quickly, taking one movement point to move onto the Manhole and onto any other Manhole on the board that does not have a covering tile. Characters can stand on hexes with Manholes, covered or not, and are only deemed to use the tunnels beneath them if the Player so wishes during movement. Manholes can be useful for Jack but the Detective isn't averse to using them either.

One of the fun things in this game is that any one of the 8 characters can be unmasked as Jack, even Sherlock Holmes, Watson or LeStrade. The important thing is that when you take the secret card to be Jack you don't make a face to give it away - though of course a facial movement may well be a clever bluff. 

There are a couple of things that we do occasionally that you might like to try. They affect the game slightly but not in a negative manner. The first is to let the Jack player select rather than randomly draw a character to be Jack - this can, after a few plays introduce an additional amount of bluffing into the play, especially if your opponent knows you well. The second is during the set-up when placing the characters on the board keep the positions the same but change the character's positions around randomly - clarifying this the setup is always the same and there is a board map in the rules booklet that shows exactly how the pieces should be placed. I am just suggesting that, before the Jack character is drawn, the character pieces are randomly placed in the positions shown on the map - the barricades can be placed wherever you like as they generally get moved around quite a lot. If you like these ideas use only one of them per game.

 

As I said earlier, at first it seems too easy for the Detective player to win, but after a few plays the Jack player should have a much better idea on how to manoeuvre the characters on the board to their advantage. There is a reasonable amount of luck each Round, especially as the game end nears, when the cards are shuffled and dealt out. If the Detective has guessed who Jack is and that character card is in the first four after the Shuffle then the Detective gets first go (as this will be an odd-numbered Round) and can move Jack away from any exit - as Jack will not move again for two Rounds the Jack player has no options.

Also, if the Jack player makes even a simple mistake, especially early on in the game, then it is likely they will have given the Detective too easy a task. For example, on one of our early games where I was again playing as Jack (I had decided from the start that I was going to play Jack until I escaped - I eventually won playing Jack but I have had more winning success as the Detective) and it was the second Round when I 'cleverly' moved Jack out from under a gaslight and away from Watson. My opponent used their turn to move two characters under Gaslights leaving me to move the last character away from the light, inadvertently putting them in Watsons unobscured view. When we Called For Witness I was dismayed to see that only Jack and one other character were the only ones invisible. The visible characters were flipped to their Innocent sides and it was soon curtains for me, thus what I am saying is that one simple error can be the cause of a quick end.

 

MR JACK is a family game in appearance, rules and complexity, but as it is a 2-player game it cannot truly be given the 'family game' tag. Suggestions are for 9 year olds and upwards but the gameplay would suggest a slightly older low end on the age suggestion.

My only fear for MR JACK is that core/very experienced board games players may quickly discover a winning strategy that they can use every game. The most fun we have is playing Jack, trying to get him safe without making a mistake you cannot get back from. As I say, I haven't seen the expansion, but if I was designing it I would add a second Detective and an accomplice/rival for Jack to make it for 2-4 players and thus to cause more mayhem on the streets of London E.1. 

Retailers can obtain copies of the game from David Westnedge Ltd players should be able to find it on the shelves of their local game store. I have seen it online from around £25.00 - £36.00 so it's worth punting around before purchasing. Apparently there is a £25.00 expansion available that adds 8 new characters to the game. Whether these are in place of the original 8 or add to the confusion of the streets by having twice as many Suspects I have yet to discover, but if you enjoy MR JACK it is an avenue worth exploring - I do know it is an expansion not a stand-alone game.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015