Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Ripper strikes!

Jack the Ripper is without a doubt the most famous serial killer of all time, thanks as much as anything to the lack of real information about him. He was never caught, or even identified. What's more, his short murder spree took place in Victorian London, a time and place given mythic status thanks to iconic tales like Bram Stoker's Dracula, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, and countless others.

I sometimes wonder if a series of brutal murders is an appropriate subject for a game, but the Ripper's legendary status trumps any sordid reality, and as I mentioned earlier, there is precious little reality surrounding the crimes anyway. So why not, especially if games about the Ripper focus on the mystery rather than the carnage.

Mr. Jack is a two player board game in which one player takes the role of the Ripper, and the other player tries to catch him. The board is populated with a cast of eight possible suspects varying wildly from serious Ripper suspect William Gull to the fictional Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, illustrated in a cartoony style that undermines any possible morbidity and keeps the game's tone nice and light.

Players take turns moving the suspects around the board, with the goal of manipulating them so that certain characters are either in light or shadow at the end of the round. After each round, the Ripper player (who knows which suspect is the real Ripper) must declare truthfully whether the Ripper is in light or in shadow. This allows the detective player to use a process of elimination to figure out who the Ripper is.

To keep things interesting, on any turn after the Ripper was in shadow, the Ripper player can attempt to have him escape by moving him off the map. Both players have the ability to manipulate terrain features on the board in order to make it easier or more difficult for the Ripper to escape.

Once the detective player feels certain he knows who the Ripper is he can accuse, but if he's wrong, the real Ripper "escapes in the confusion"' and the Ripper player wins.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) Mr. Jack is quite amusing and involves a surprising amount of tactical decision-making for both players.

Date played: May 27, 2014

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper takes a more serious, scholarly approach to the material. As the title suggests, it is a rummy game, with a standard playing card deck's suits replaced by evidence cards supporting the different popular Ripper suspects: Montague Druitt, Prince Eddy, Dr. Gull, Dr. Pedachenko, George Chapman and Jill the Ripper, representing the idea that the killer could have been a woman.

Players play melds of evidence cards against the different suspects, along with cards representing the five victims and their respective crime scenes. At the end of the game, the suspect with the most evidence in play is revealed as the Ripper, and cards associated with that suspect are worth double. However, there is also an alibi card in the deck for each suspect, and naturally, the suspect can't be the Ripper if he has an alibi in play.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper adds some interesting extra elements to the standard rummy model, and the game's structure fits the theme particularly well.

Date Played: June 1, 2014

UPDATE July 20, 2015: Another look at Mystery Rummy, Lost Cities, and Camelot Legends

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