Forensic science interests me to no end, and it is no secret that I find the whole history of Jack the Ripper and his grisly crimes fascinating. To see how far we have come in detecting the guilty is nothing short of mind blowing. The investigators of the Whitechapel murders only had their instincts and deductive reasoning, along with a bit of questioning and fingerprinting, at their disposal. Since Jack wore gloves, their only real hope of solving the crime and having him brought to trial was to have a witness.
Present day detectives have many tools they use to detect the culprit, but the core of their investigations remains the same.
Letters from Whitchapel puts you in the shoes of those first investigators, or of Jack the Ripper himself. The chase is on as you either try to make an arrest or evade capture. It creates an amazing experience that you won’t soon forget!
How to Play
Letters from Whitechapel is a deduction and bluffing game for 2-6 players. The goal of the game is for the detective players is to catch Jack the Ripper before the end of the game, while the player who is Jack must take five victims and make it back to his hideout before being caught or running out of time.
A game is divided into four nights, and each night is comprised of two parts that are composed of different phases. Each phase is completed by either Jack or the police. Each phase plays out the same, expect for the “third night” when Jack takes two victims instead of one.
First Part: Hell
Jack the Ripper begins by preparing for the night and identifying targets. He gets a few special movement tokens specific for the night, and a set of woman tokens which he distributes face down on the map. These tokens are a mix of red (victim) and blank (fake) to throw off the police.
The head of the investigation for the night then places police tokens, which like the woman tokens have fakes mixed in to keep Jack on his toes. After the police tokens are placed, all the woman tokens are revealed, and the true victims are marked with Wretched Pawns.
Jack can then kill or wait. If he waits, he receives more time in which to escape during the second part, the Police get to move potential victims closer to themselves, and Jack gets a chance to flip up one of the hidden Police tokens to find out if it is a fake. This allows Jack to choose his victim with greater ease, especially if one of his potentials is close to only fake police patrols.
When Jack finally kills his first victim, he records on his movement pad where they are located, and replaces the victim with a Crime Scene token, The Police then reveal their tokens (and true positions). Play then continues to the second part.
Second Part: Hunting
Jack now must try and escape the police. He keeps track of his movements secretly by writing down his current space on a movement pad (and can use his special movement tokens if desired). Then, the police can move their own pawns and search for clues or make an arrest. By searching for clues they will mark any adjacent spaces Jack has traveled through that night. If they attempt an arrest, the investigator must declare a particular space adjacent to them – if Jack is there, he’s arrested and he loses the game.
If Jack makes it back to his hideout, he escapes and the game continues to the next round – or, if it’s the fourth round, he wins the game!
Innocent or Guilty
Letters from Whitechapel is in essence a deduction game. The rules flow together seamlessly, and they become effortless to follow after a couple of turns. They get out of the way and allow you to focus on the other elements and overall atmosphere that make this game great. It is more about the chase and evasion, the deduction and intuition, and the escape or the arrest. It offers a lot of replay value since it plays well at any of the player counts (I especially like it with just two players), and that the decisions you make throughout the game will always be different from play to play. The structure of the game will always offer a fulfilling experience.
Variants that are included in the game are used to tip the favor to the police or to Jack. Using them will depend on the skill of your game group and who plays which role. Sometimes variant rules can feel tacked on, but in Whitechapel, they don’t; they include the same historical detail and theme as the core rules.
Tension in this game is palpable. You progress from night to night with an ever shrinking number of victims; the police are closing their net around Jack and this creates an intense climb to the climax. It leads to an extremely exciting experience.
As Jack you are constantly on the run, trying to dodge patrols and avoid being arrested. The decisions you make of which way to go, how you will get there and if you will push for extra moves just to confuse the police, all create a heart pounding experience for the player. You are constantly in fear of giving something away. The police are watching your every movement and reaction, no matter how subtle. Keeping those reactions to yourself is the hardest part of being Jack. As the police plot their movement and discuss which paths to check in their search, you have to keep a straight face even though you may be freaking out on the inside. Even scanning the board to plot your next hidden movement will be scrutinized, and it is harder than you think to consciously not start your scan with the location you want information from. The screen that comes with the game does have a mini map, but without the pieces on it, it can be difficult to visualize everything together.
No less exciting, the police tension is a bit different. You feel as though Jack is always one step ahead, which means you really have to work as a team in order to trap him. Jack can move quickly and has lots of tricks at his disposal, so starting at the murder scene and working your way out isn’t the best way to be effective after the first turn. Police players need to take risks, rely on intuition and read Jack’s reactions in order to succeed.
It is an incredibly thematic experience, and the whole game feels as though it humanizes the tragedy of the events. They aren’t just part of a story. These were real people who had to live in constant fear and danger; you learn a lot about their history through the rule book and components. Yet, although thematic, it is not a theme that everyone will enjoy, and it may be inappropriate for younger players.
I found very little downtime playing both Jack and the police. It feels like Jack makes his moves relatively quickly, and while the police analyze and try to plan, that Jack would be bored throughout the game. However, I found that to be far from the truth. Since the police need to communicate with one another, Jack gets to listen in and hear their strategies. He gets to think about how this affects him and sometimes it will make a carefully planned move obsolete. This causes him to have to rethink his entire strategy and perhaps even go on the defensive. During one game, I ended up having to make a whole new loop in order to escape. If the investigators had gone left instead of right, I would have been home free! Luckily I still had enough movements to ensure my escape, but if I hadn’t over-budgeted those moves I might have been in serious trouble.
With the two player game, Jack loses out on the eavesdropping part of the game, but it does speed up the turns quite a bit.
For the police, there is a lot of potential to over-analyze their options. The police are in the dark about Jack’s location, and it becomes possible to catalogue every possible route he might have taken and every decision he might have made. If they do this, their turn will drag on. If only one player has this problem, the best solution is probably just to let them play as Jack so the entire game isn’t slowed down, but it’s even better if the police simply focus on trying to read Jack, use their intuition, and outguess him.
Beautiful is the only way to describe the components of Letters. Theme oozes from every piece. The pawns are wooden and chunky, and they just feel good moving around the board. The police pawns look like little “bobbies” and the Jack pawns sport top hats. The board is comprised of an accurate representation of Whitechapel at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, and just feels as though it came from the turn of the century. It also has a non-glare coating on it, which is perfect for taking in the whole board at a glance, especially when you are playing as Jack.
Clue and murder tokens are made out of plastic, which may conflict with the wooden pawns, but being plastic serves a purpose. They need to be see through so you can read the numbers underneath. Jack’s movement pad is easy to use – the only worry is that eventually it will run out of sheets, but you get a ton of paper so it isn’t a very pressing worry. Lamination of one of the sheets along with a dry erase marker may be one way to extend their use.
The police “first investigator” tokens all depict the actual photos and names of all who were involved in the investigation, which adds to the humanization element of the game.
Letters from Whitechapel can be enjoyed by casual and experienced gamers alike, so long as you are ok with the theme. It tackles the deduction genre while avoiding any dryness that so often plagues these types of games. The tense and exciting experience is complemented by the theme. If you are looking for a heart pounding experience that will leave you sweating, then this game is for you.