Despite what readers of the Daily Mail (one of the UK’s more delightful national newspapers) may tell you, the past isn’t as jolly as some might have you believe. It’s simple human nature to paper over the cracks and look forward, ignoring the dark times and recalling the days when everything was so much better. The old cliche goes that history is written by the victors, and in their writings they’ll work their hardest to give everything a glossy sheen to prove that what they did was for the good of the people. Except we all know that it isn’t always that simple, don’t we? Humanity is always fascinated by that dark side. Everyone is drawn to it in some way, and I’ll be the first to admit that playing the bad guys is always a lot more fun, no matter what you’re up to…
Despite it being an era of many technological and social advances, Victorian England was also a time of darkness. Rampant poverty amongst the lower classes saw crime rates rocket, with one of the most notorious villains of the day being Jack the Ripper. Famously elusive, he was never caught despite murdering at least five women in the Whitechapel area of London in 1888. There have been many theories as to who the killer was, from paupers to members of the nobility, but Jack’s true identity has never been discovered. And that’s essentially the meat of the game I’m looking at today: Mr Jack Pocket.
As part of the Mr Jack series, this two player affair retains many of the themes while implementing a few small changes to make the game more portable. One person takes on the role of the notorious killer, the other the detective searching for his secret identity. In this Pocket version, the board and tokens are exchanged for a set of nine tiles that represent the Whitechapel streets, while the team of detectives roam around the outside. As usual, it’s probably easier to explain with a picture, so take a look…
The game plays really simply, with the Jack player taking a suspect card (which tells them who they need to protect on the board). Then four double-sided tokens are flung into the air – whatever they land on denotes the actions available that turn. This could be moving a detective token one or two spaces clockwise, rotating one of the tiles, switching the location of two tiles, or drawing a suspect card. This last action is a little different for each player: the detective shows it, immediately eliminating someone from the list and flipping their tile, while Jack keeps it secret and adds it to their tally of hourglasses – and should they manage to collect six of these, they win the game (the idea being that they’ve wasted enough police time and have made a getaway). Turns always follow a pattern, with Player A choosing their action first, player B taking two, then player A having the remaining token – whoever goes first is denoted by a magnifying glass or knife on the turn tokens.
Once the four actions are complete, the tokens are flipped to show their opposite sides – these are the actions to be used on the next turn. The detective player then asks if any of their three characters can “see” Mr Jack – this is done by having being able to look down one of the streets. If the way is blocked a suspect is considered safe, so the Jack player must optimise their choice of actions and keep as many hidden away as possible. If Jack says they can’t be seen, they take that turn’s token and flip it, another way of gaining an hourglass. The Detective can then work out whether they can eliminate any of the street tiles, hopefully getting down to a single suspect before the game ends.
And that’s it. And despite being a very simple little game, it’s quite engaging. Initially I thought that this was very much in favour of the Detective player, but strategies soon became apparent to show that it’s actually a rather impressively balanced game of cat and mouse. Quick to play (even if you follow the directions to play twice, experiencing both roles) it’s an entertaining little experience. Sure, it doesn’t have the depth of play that the earlier games in the series do, but this is a well designed re-imagining. If you’re after a quick filler, Mr Jack Pocket is ideal if there’s only two of you, even if it’s based on a very strange property. It may well be steeped in a dark piece of Victorian history, but Mr Jack Pocket is a fun game that offers much entertainment despite it’s small size.
Mr Jack Pocket was designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, with art from Jean-Marie Minguez. Published by Hurrican in 2010, it’s only playable by two people and is available now for around £10 / $15 .