Monday, December 10, 2007

Mr. Jack


Mr. Jack is currently my favorite 2 player game. Want to know why?

1) The theme is fun: One player is Jack the Ripper. The other is the Inspector. Jack the Ripper is pretending to be one of 8 suspects. The Inspector has to figure out which one he really is before Mr. Jack can escape.

2) The components are quite nice: Little wood pieces with stickers on them for the suspects. Nice thick cards. And great artwork. As you can tell from the box picture, it's somehow dark and cartoony all in one. Fun yet...menacing! When I look at the board, I feel like the artwork fits the game perfectly.

3) Games play pretty quickly: The Inspector has only 8 turns to figure out which suspect is Mr. Jack. The box says that the game length is about 30 minutes. When Mrs. BigKat and I play, it's usually more like an hour (but we're playing at a pretty casual pace, making snacks, chit-chatting about the day, etc.). This works out great for us because we can easily fit it in during the evening after the kids go to sleep and not go to sleep too late.

4) A variety of characters: Each of the 8 characters in the game has unique special abilities. Not only does this help tie the game to its theme, but it also makes repeated gameplay much more interesting, as you figure out different ways to use each character more effectively.

5) Gameplay is easy to pick up, but has some depth (you can go here to find out the details of how the game is played): At first glance, this looks like it's a deduction game. Each player has access to all 8 suspects. As the suspects are moved around the board, the Inspector eliminates some of them from suspicion. This is done by moving the characters into or out of 'the light' (characters that are either next to a lit streetlight, or next to another character are in the light, all others are in the dark). At the end of each turn, Mr. Jack tells the Inspector if his character is in the 'light' or 'dark'. The Inspector then eliminates the appropriate characters from suspicion. In other words, if Mr. Jack is in the dark, then the Inspector knows that all of the characters that are in the light are innocent, and vice versa.

Now, clearly, this is not much of a deduction game. Knowing that a character is innocent because they are next to a lightpost when you know that Mr. Jack is not next to a lightpost is not a great exercise in logic. What you end up with is more of a puzzle game. The Inspector is moving pieces around so that they are split up evenly between light and dark, in order to get rid of as many suspects as possible. Mr. Jack wants to limit the number of suspects that can be eliminated as much as possible. In addition, if Mr. Jack can maneuver his character correctly, he can actually escape from the board before the 8 turns are up. It's hard to do, but it's something that the Inspector always needs to be aware of.

So now we have a fun puzzle game right? Well, not really. It turns out that near the end of the game, even if the Inspector doesn't know exactly who Mr. Jack is, he should have a 50-50 guess (or possibly at worst a 1 in 3 guess). The trick then becomes to figure out which one of the remaining suspects is guilty based on the previous actions of the Mr. Jack player. Is there one player that Mr. Jack always played? Is there a character that Mr. Jack seemed to need to protect or try to put near an exit? Are there any characters that Mr. Jack didn't seem very interested in protecting? This is where a lot of the fun comes in to play. As Mr. Jack, you not only need to protect your character from being revealed, you also need to keep them out of suspicion. Which makes the game into an interesting bluffing game! Do I make this move, knowing that it's the safest move because it will protect Mr. Jack, or do I do something riskier because it will cast more suspicion on another character? I remember one time while playing as Mr. Jack, I needed to allow Mrs. BigKat to control the guilty character because if I didn't, she would easily figure out which one he was. Fortunately, the bluff worked and she suspected the wrong person. But she could've easily move my character to a spot where I would be unable to hide his guilt and lost immediately.

And this is basically why I love this game. A nice puzzle, with some depth. Not too light and not too heavy. Great replayability with a fun theme. For me and Mrs. BigKat, it all adds up to a fun evening together.

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