Designed by Gabriele Mari and Gianluca Santopierto | Published by Giochi Uniti
2-6 Players | 90 Minutes
In the late 19th century, in the city of London a mysterious, diabolical character staged a series of gruesome murders. Ever eluding police, 5 murders were directly attributed to his hand while many more remain speculation. While much supposition and hypotheses have been formulated, the true identity of this villain known as Jack the Ripper may forever be lost to history. Now is your opportunity to recreate history and possibly change the outcome by serving as an officer of the law seeking justice in these unfortunate times. Or perhaps you guide Jack, committing his heinous acts while attempting to successfully flee anonymously into the night in the game of Letters from Whitechapel.
Letters from Whitechapel is a game of hidden movement where one player takes on the identity of Jack the Ripper and the additional players take on the role of policemen, pursuing clues, determining his path and seeking to capture him before it’s too late. While each side has their own advantages and disadvantages, Jack’s goal will be to return to his hidden hideout within a limited number of turns, avoiding capture.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
The notorious murders of Jack the Ripper take place over 4 nights. Each night, a murder victim and the scene are identified. This all unfolds over a beautifully rendered map of London harking back to the geography of the day.
To begin, players will decide who will be Jack and who will take on roles as policemen. While the dynamics of the game change slightly based on the player count, Letters from Whitechapel remains similar and competitive from 2 to 6 players.
Initially, a game of cat and mouse unfolds between Jack and the police. The board is made up of nearly 200 unique locations. Jack secretly chooses one location to serve as his hideout for the entire game. Jack then gathers all 8 women of the night and places them in their defined spaces on the board. While he has the option to place them at any location, only 5 are marked (secretly) as potential victims.
This is countered by the police officers doing a similar play, placing 7 officers (2 of which are fake) on their designated spaces. Similar to Jack’s move, the fake officers are unknown to their opponent.
Jack then removes the unmarked victim pawns revealing all 5 of his true potential targets. He then faces a dilemma. Should he wait and give the officers an opportunity to position themselves – moving closer to the potential victims – or choose his murder victim then and there. Why does this matter? Over the course of each night, Jack is only given so many turns to safely return to his hideout while avoiding capture. The longer he waits, the more actions he’ll get through that night. Of course, passing on a turn gives the officers a bit of a head start chasing him down.
Jack can pass only a few turns, but will eventually have to commit to the location of his crime. Once he does this, all the potential victim pawns are removed from the board, leaving the single murder scene evident to all.
The police then counter by removing the fake police tokens and replacing the reminder with actual police/player markers. At this point, the hunt truly begins.
What unfolds next is a tactical battle of wits and resources. Jack, while blind to the police, moves across the board, secretly marking his location each turn on his own sheet. After Jack moves, each office has an opportunity to move a limited number of spaces across the board and then conduct their search for clues.
On a typical police turn after their movement, they have the opportunity to do 1 of 2 actions: Search for clues or Execute and arrest.
When searching for clues, policemen will announce the spaces adjacent to their location in which they want to examine. One-by-one, Jack will then reveal whether or not he has been in the spot. Once a positive location has been identified, Jack won’t entertain any additional questions from that particular detective. Alternatively, a policeman may attempt to make an arrest. They get to define one specific location. If Jack is currently in that location, he is arrested and the game is over. If not, that policeman’s turn is over and play advances to the next officer.
Jack has a few tricks up his sleeve as well. While Jack can’t move through a location with a policeman on a standard turn, he does have tokens giving him special actions. He may take a ride in a coach, which allows him to move 2 spaces at once (moving through an officer). Jack can sneak through an alley where he typically wouldn’t be able to go. When making these moves, Jack must announce his intentions. While the officers may not be sure where Jack is, they will be able to chart his movements based on the location of the crime scene and any clues revealed.
Each night continues until Jack runs out of actions, can’t make any more legal moves, is captured by the police or safely arrives back at his hideout.
Each night plays out relatively similar with slight alterations that make it progressively harder for Jack to commit his crimes. In line with actual historical events, Jack must commit a single murder on the 1st, 2nd and 4th night while committing 2 on the 3rd night. Setup for each night varies slightly with the officers able to begin their search without completely resetting all their starting positions. This could be a good thing or bad thing for the officers. Jack loses some of his special actions, giving him less wiggle room.
Letters from Whitechapel provides optional rules to balance or enhance your own gameplay. For Jack’s benefit, he is equipped with 4 letters that serve as special actions. Jack might be able to move a police token during setup of a round to a new location or force the police to choose an officer during the hunt to relocate to a specified location. Officers, on the other hand, might be able to make area arrests (similar to searching for clues), but if Jack is caught, the game ends. Another optional rule benefiting the officers forbids Jack from placing his hideout too close to one of the potential murder scenes.
The variations to the game are a nice touch, but something you’ll have to consider after playing a game or 2 with the standard rules, in my opinion.
Letters from Whitechapel comes with a gigantic board. Keep that in mind when you plan on getting this to the table. Fortunately, the remaining pieces don’t take up too much table space. The game’s pawn pieces are simple, wooden tokens, but they strangely work brilliantly with the game. It almost feels a little timeless and that really compliments the theme. If you’re not a fan, there is an expansion called Dear Boss that comes with mini’s for each character.
Jack’s character comes with a privacy screen, pad of paper to chart his movements, cardboard special action tokens and his set of optional letters. Quality of everything here, while not exceptional, is more than acceptable and does a fine job of enhancing gameplay. There are some additional, acrylic tokens used as markers and they were just ok for me. They aren’t critical to the gameplay, but one was broken on arrival and they didn’t do the game any favors. Not a big deal – just pointing it out. Overall, I’m a fan of the components and they do a fine job of complimenting the game.
Like everything with Letters from Whitechapel we MUST start with the game board. This beautiful and impressive rendering of late 19th London looks amazing on the table. The tan and rust color theme creates a sense of uneasiness and intrigue that draws you right in. There is a nice mixture of historic elements such as portraits of the original policemen tasked with solving the murders that serve as a constant reminder you’re playing a bit of history. Jack’s privacy screen features a smaller rendering of the game board helping the player controlling Jack navigate just a little easier. The art choices here definitely get a thumbs up from me.
Playing as either Jack or the detectives each began with one common thought: No one will ever catch Jack! With so many spots on the board, it feels like he could run forever and never get caught. Of course, I was wrong. But that’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of drama along the way in each of my trial playthroughs.
To be successful in Letters from Whitechapel, you must be willing to crunch the numbers and play the odds. Playing as Jack, you can always determine how many potential moves it would take for an officer to catch up to you. From the perspective of the police officers, you’ll always know how many moves Jack has played. As each turn passes, the potential movement combination multiplies and the pressure to stop Jack before it’s too late mounts.
Overall, I felt the balance between Jack’s actions and the detectives was pretty good with a slight edge to the detectives. As the game continues, the detectives get a better idea of where Jack might be heading and the board begins to shrink. This is where the battle of wits is truly waged. With a limited number of turns available, can Jack deceive… even toy with the detectives long enough and still make it safely to his hideout? If he plays it too straight, Jack could potentially reveal his pathway and give the detectives an advantage on a future night.
Each side of the equation has ways to hold the other side in check, but I quickly found that a cocky player will fail (especially when you’re Jack). When playing as Jack, I overplayed my hand, trying to toy with the police. My savvy opponent had been carefully counting my potential movements and when she caught a sniff of my trail, she quickly took me down.
I also had an opportunity to serve on the police force against a brilliant Jack. We played multiple nights and after looking like fools for a while, through a bit of luck, were able to trap Jack in a corner of the city. If we moved in too close, he may sneak right past us, so we decided to patiently wait it out. That meant patrolling the boundaries of the area because there were still opportunities to escape if we weren’t careful. Jack brilliantly backtracked on his trail and then pushed forward nearly guaranteeing him freedom. Unfortunately, for the player playing Jack, he mis-wrote his position on his sheet and we quickly captured him. It was a technicality, but a win nonetheless. Jack wasn’t very happy, but I’d like to think we would have had him the next night for sure… maybe.
The theme, while a little gory, has a broad appeal and the simple, yet engaging mechanics of the game make this accessible to nearly anyone. The cooperative nature of getting all the detectives on the same page can be a challenge, but it’s all part of the fun.
Jack is a blast to play. Your initial feel of invisibility quickly turns to uncertainty and finally to panic as the game progresses – what a spectrum of emotions!
Playing as Jack or the detectives and additional rule options give this one plenty of replayability.
The only real negative I found was that the game could potentially take longer than the 90 minutes on the box. We agreed that placing a timer on turn actions would put additional pressure on players and help us wrap things up before midnight with our stubborn (and apparently overly analytical) group.
Letters from Whitechapel is a tight, thematic dive into the world of hidden movement. It is a game that will benefit players willing to put their mental math to work creating a true battle of cat and mouse. The historical tie-ins give the game a serious spin that elevates the entire experience. This could have been a generic detective game set in some random city, but the reality of the circumstances really got my engine revving. This isn’t a light game by any means, but if you’re in the mood for a challenging and engaging thriller, you need to check out Letters from Whitechapel. It is definitely one of the best hidden movement games I’ve played.