Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mr. Jack makes a first impression

One of my PrezCon auction store acquisitions was Mr. Jack (designers Bruno Cathala and Ludovic
(c) Hurrican Games
Used by permission
, artist Pierô, publisher Hurrican).  I'd run across it in a number of people's list of favorite two-player games, and reviews really impressed me.  The only reason I'd hesitated in the past to pick it up was its association with Jack the Ripper.  I've written a couple of times about the ethical implications of game theme, and I was concerned that, like Letters from Whitechapel, this game would cross a line for me.  But I recently read a review that indicated that Mr.J does not have the "Jack" player trying to perpetrate murder (as does LfW) but instead attempting to escape apprehension for an unspecified (if tacitly understood) crime.  In this respect, Mr.J is strictly a cat-and-mouse deduction game, and with that understanding, I thought I would pick it up and give it a try.

I am not at all disappointed.  In fact, after two playings I believe that Mr.J is a brilliantly executed game of logic and deduction.  Each character's abilities can be used either to help identify and trap the fugitive or to help him or her escape.  Each turn, the detective player learns whether the fugitive is visible to witnesses or isolated in darkness.  That knowledge alone can serve to exonerate some number of characters, and since there are eight characters and eight turns, the detective might reasonably establish the culprit's identity at some point.  But then it becomes necessary to apprehend the perpetrator, and if the fugitive player has managed to arrange an escape route, he might get away before one of the innocent characters can make a citizen's arrest.

My misgivings about theme and tone were entirely unfounded.  The identity of the perpetrator, referred to as "Mr. Jack," could actually be any of eight characters on the board, four of whom are associated with law enforcement (Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Inspector Lestrade, and Sergeant Goodley) and one of whom is a woman (Miss Stealthy).  Nothing in the game refers to the specific crime for which the fugitive seeks to escape justice.  The characters themselves are drawn in a cartoon style - not comical, necessarily, but certainly fictional.  So I feel as though the tone and theme of the game are entirely within reasonable bounds of propriety.

In our first game, Sergeant Goodley was the guilty party, and I used his whistle to call other characters out from under the streetlights so that most were in darkness.  Thus the fact that the culprit was not visible to witnesses exonerated only a couple of characters and left about six suspects open.  On the same turn, he moved within range of an exit, so that on a subsequent turn, I was able to effect his escape.  But in that first play-through, we learned a lot about how the characters work and how they can be used either to help catch Jack or to thwart the law.

In our second game, my wife asked to play the detective again.  This time the guilty party was Sherlock Holmes himself, but unfortunately he managed to get himself identified and cornered, so that my wife was able to use Sergeant Goodley's whistle to close the distance and arrest him.

In both games, every turn was a tense exercise in trying to outguess each other and logically control the movements of the characters.  The game was a great find, quick but exciting, and I look forward to playing again soon.

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