Picture the scene. It was a dark and stormy night (only metaphorically, it was actually a disappointingly pleasant afternoon) and in the area of Bob’s living room designated as ‘Whitechapel’, four frightened looking bloggers and blogger-friends looked on as Lizzy cackled maniacally behind a cardboard screen and took up her role as Jack The Ripper.
Letters From Whitechapel is a mostly co-operative board game. Between one and five of you will play the noble detectives, trying to hunt down and stop the ruthless, psychotic killer before it’s too late. Another of you will play that very same ruthless, psychotic killer. That was obviously going to be Lizzy. Lizzy ‘always-the-cylon’, ‘never trust her in any board game’, ‘what the hell lizzy leave my goddamn skeletons alone’ The Ripper. Suits her.
She first saw this game on a Shut Up and Sit Down review and had wanted to try it ever since. She incessantly insisted that someone buy it for Gavcon- a mini gaming event hosted by some friends – until eventually the eponymous Gavin relented. She ended up winning the game in a raffle at the end of the night, and went on to play it eight times the following week. You get the idea; Lizzy really likes the bloody game.
The game uses what most people (more on that later) would call some very simple hidden movement mechanics. Jack The Ripper moves on circles, the detectives move on squares. Jack tracks his (or in this case, her) own movements secretly on paper hidden behind a screen-of-doom and tries to get from the murder scene to her house without getting caught. The detectives try to catch her first. They can do this by ‘searching for clues’ on the circles nearby to see if she’s passed through that spot in that round, or by ‘making an arrest’ if they think she might be there.
With us so far? You are? Good, perhaps it’s time to introduce the game from the other perspective. The detectives have all chosen their period-accurate roles. Chief Inspector Donald Swanson (no relation to Mr. Ronald Swanson, and played in this game by our own Dr Photographer) gets the role of Lead Investigator to start with. Everyone has excellent faith in his leading abilities, since as long as they’re half as good as the moustache in his portrait then it’ll be an easy round. The team quickly scrabble through the fairly administrative first half of the game – the instructions describe this as ‘HELL’ – and Lizzy The Ripper needs to decide when to make her first kill. Oh, yeah, that’s right. She gets her first kill before anyone gets a chance to try to stop her. The game isn’t about saving lives, it’s about the egos of the detectives and the serial killer.
She’s mildly indecisive about when to make the kill, possibly for suspense, viz: “… and suddenly! Through the cool summer night’s air you hear a scream… wait, no… sorry guys. CA-CAW! It was actually a seagull. Carry on.” Or possibly it’s just for a chance to make seagull noises. It will forever remain a mystery.
The murder happens at last and an apt transparent red counter is used to mark the pool of blood that’s spilling into the gutters of Victorian London. The team’s faith in C.I. Donald Swanson may have been misplaced, since it’s now revealed that none of the inspectors are very close at all to the crime scene. He’s promptly renamed ‘Chief Inspector Whoops’. There’s already discussion of whether or not they should give up and pretend that they didn’t hear the scream. It’s very far away. Probably nothing to concern ourselves with, nothing to see here folks.
As it became apparent when we played Quantum, Lizzy loves a game with some good and unexpected roleplaying potential. Letters from Whitechapel is one of these games. By the end of her first week of playing each of her housemates had developed a personality and a backstory for each of the detectives.
Poor Detective Inspector Edmund Reid’s wife has been arrested several times by mistake, and let’s not even go into the kinds of things that Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline has got up to. Those mutton chops hide a multitude of sins, folks.
You remember earlier we mentioned that The Ripper moves on circles and the detectives move on squares? And that the detectives can try to hunt The Ripper down by looking for clues on adjacent circles? Well, it’s time to have a few words about Bob.
Bob is a competent human being. Bob runs places, plays a damn good game of Glass Road and is doing a bloody PhD. She also has a rare condition called Letters From Whitechapel Blindness (in addition to a serious case of Turn Narcissism, as describe in Caylus). For the love of all that is good in the world, Bob cannot remember which numbered circles she’s supposed to be searching on. Really. It’s embarrassing for all of the players on the game. She’d never see us. Bob’s detectives must just have a really good sense of smell or something. They can apparently check for clues through walls and two streets away.
Coincidentally, Bob isn’t such a fan of this game. You may find her lying on the floor proclaiming that this game is ‘like Minesweeper, but shit’. It’s definitely one that has polarised The Misery Farmers. Briony enjoyed it rather a lot, maybe she’s just pretty good at ignoring the horrific murder of prostitutes disguised by a white wooden game piece, or indeed distracted by the intrigue of what could possibly be in Jack’s house? She reasons what if it’s totally normal, and he has like an elderly mother sharing the house, and has lace doylies, and flushes the toilet like a normal person? What if he has a pet cat? Was that the clue-cat all along Lizzy? Holy shit, Lizzy, was your cat trying to guide us to your capture?
Meanwhile, another prostitute has been murdered and another round has begun. The team have decided that the best way to make the game fair is to introduce a new rule: for every successful space The Ripper moves, she takes a small swig of gin. Only way to even things out.
“I search for a clue on 68!”
“You find a cat. It miaows.”
“Does the cat have any clues?”
“No, you fool, it’s a cat.”
“I search for a clue on 86!”
“Nothing here but a gentle breeze and a sense of bitter disappointment.”
“I search for clues on 75!”
“No you don’t, Bob. For goodness’ sake, that circle is miles away.”
“Oh, so it is.”
“I search for clues on 70!”
“It’s that same cat from before.”
“Oh damn. Does it have a clue this time?”
“Why yes! It’s playing in some entrails. YOU FIND A CLUE!”
The detectives eventually employ some excellent guesswork deduction and have narrowed down The Ripper’s hideout. They’re certain it’s on 78. For sure. They don’t have any clues pointing in that direction but they sure are confident. It just looks a bit shifty. Bob, meanwhile, continues to get confused over circles and squares. We decide that if Bob were a supervillain, we could all just infiltrate her lair by dressing up as a black square. She’d never see us.
The team gather their wily crew of detectives round 78 and are “staking out the joint”. No amount of darting through alleys will save our slightly tipsy antagonist now. She has to get home in a certain amount of moves or presumably she just falls asleep where she is on the streets and gets arrested in the morning, losing the game. Time is nearly up. She makes one final dash for it but the detectives have employed a reckless but effective strategy of making random arrests on every circle in the vicinity. Most of Whitechapel has been loaded into their van so far, included several pigeons, the cat from earlier and the baker’s son. Finally, she weeps and Briony makes the fatal arrest.
Lizzy took five victims: four of whom were in the game and the fifth of which was Bob’s gin supply. It was a victory for the good guys.
Lizzy loves the game. Bob does not. Briony is narrative-distracted.
Overall, it was a game that polarised the team. It’s not incredibly high on strategy, but can still be an awful lot of fun. Originally we worried that it might get a bit boring after a while, but the evidence shows that if you like the game then you’ll get a lot of play out of it. We awarded it only 1/10 on our ‘Brutus Scale’ because it’s not really the kind of game for dicking each others’ turns up at all. At least, not on purpose, and not easily.
Credit to Dr Photographer (C.I. Donald Swanson) for the photographs