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Written Review – Letters From Whitechapel (Revised Edition)

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Originally produced by Gabriele Mari and Gianluca Santopietro, a board game focused on the kills by and hunt for Jack the Ripper called Letters From Whitechapel came onto the market. Earlier this year, Fantasy Flight Games announced that they would be producing a revised edition in 2013 with the heart of the game intact. Making its way to our game table at the first chance we were given, we scour the streets of the Whitechapel district searching for clues on Jack’s whereabouts, while Jack sneaks through the city, avoiding the patrol at all costs. Let’s take a look at how Letters From Whitechapel works!

In Letters From Whitechapel, 2-6 players sit down to track down the notorious killer. One player acts as Jack the Ripper, and the others control Police Detectives surveying the Whitechapel district in search of clues and trying to arrest Jack. Jack’s aim is to kill 5 victims before the end of the game and escape to his hideout without being caught, while the Police player(s) work to capture Jack and end his brutal murdering streak.

Out Of The Box

Inside the box you will find the rulebook, Jack’s screen, the Whitechapel district game board, 6 reference sheets, 4 “Jack’s Letters”, a punchboard containing the 5 Head of Investigation tiles and 5 special movement tokens (coach and alley), and a pad for Jack the Ripper’s movement. Also included are many pawns including 7 black police patrol tokens (2 false and 5 colored), 8 white woman tokens (5 marked red, 3 fake), 1 red Time of the Crime marker, 5 white Wretched pawns, 5 colored Policeman pawns, and 2 black Jack pawns. Lastly you will find transparent plastic markers, 3 blue False Clue markers, 19 yellow Clue markers, and 5 red Crime Scene markers.

Playing The Game

Before we jump in, the game must first be set up. The game board is laid out, and you will see a variety of numbers in white circles on the board, as well as black squares all connected by dotted black lines. Jack and the Wretched move through Whitechapel on the numbered circles, while the Police move on the black squares.

One player is chosen as Jack the Ripper, and the rest are Police. All Police pawns are used in every game, so any extra pawns are distributed among the Police players as they choose. Jack will set up his screen and place the move track sheet inside it. Not included with the game is a pencil, which Jack will need to track his movements and any additional notes he may want to take. A black Jack pawn is placed on the first Night space on the Night track. Jack must then choose a hideout. Looking at the large game board or the replica board printed inside Jack’s screen, this player chooses a numbered circle on the board. This is the location (s)he must return to each night in order to successfully get away for the night. This location is marked in the space at the top center of the move track sheet. He will take all of the transparent markers, movement tokens, Time of the Crime marker, and the Women markers. Each player receives a reference sheets for turn order, including Jack. The Head of Investigation tiles are shuffled and placed face down on the board, the Police players collect the Police Patrol tokens and the Wretched pawns, and the game begins.

Part One : Hell. In this phase, Jack prepares the scene. On each night, he gets a different number of movement tokens. Coach tokens may be used to move 2 spaces in one turn, and Alley tokens may be used to move through a block to any other number next to that block’s buildings. He then identifies his targets. During this phase, using the number of Women tokens he is allotted, places the white Women tokens face down on the red circles on the board Some of these are marked for death, others are fake. These tokens cannot be placed on a space already marked with a crime scene markers, as these stay on the board between nights.

Next, the Police players flip a Head of Investigation tile, and the player controlling the Detective with that color goes first. Likewise, the black Police tokens are also placed facedown across the board, but on black squares with a yellow border. On the second and subsequent nights, 5 of the tokens must be placed in positions where Police tokens were located at the end of the last night. Police tokens also contain colors corresponding with the officers, and fake ones. In an optional rule, Jack may play one of Jack’s Letters on the second and subsequent nights, which instruct Jack and the Police where to place Police tokens.

Once the Police tokens have been placed, the Victims are Chosen. All Women tokens are turned face up. Fake targets are removed from the board, and those marked red are replaced with the white Wretched pawns, and the red Time of the Crime token is placed on the Roman numeral “I” on the time track on the bottom of the board. At this time, Jack must either kill or wait.

Once he kills, the chosen pawn is removed from the board and replaced with a red Crime Scene marker, and the rest of the Wretched leave the board, safe for one more night. If he decides to wait, the Time of the Crime token moves to II, then the Head of the Investigation moves each of the Wretched along the dotted lines to another adjacent circle. It cannot cross a Police token, end its movement on a Crime Scene, or be adjacent to a Police token. Then, Jack looks at one Police token and reveals it. Fake patrols are removed from the board otherwise, it remains faceup. This continues until Jack decides to make a kill, but cannot wait and he must do so when the Time of the Crime token hits V.

Jack marks the location of the Crime Scene on his move track in the corresponding space for the night and the Roman numeral that the Time of the Crime token was on. He places his pawn on “1” on the move track at he bottom of the board. The police sound an alarm, and all Police tokens are revealed, replacing colored tokens with their corresponding pawns and removing the fakes. Then, the game moves to Part Two : Hunting.

Jack then moves. He may move one numbered circle space away from the crime scene. Referring to the map inside his screen, he moves secretly and writes down every number that he enters in its space on his move track sheet. Each time Jack moves, he must move his Pawn on the move track one more space. He may also use the special movement tokens we discussed earlier, but note that a special movement token may not be used to land on the hideout location.

The Head of Investigation player moves his pawn up to 2 black square spaces (must be connected by a dotted line), but may choose to not move at all. Police may move through other pawns, but cannot end in a space with another Police pawn. The Police may then search for clues or make an arrest, and each Policeman may only make one action. Searching allows the officer to declare numbered circles directly attached to his current location are being searched. Jack then checks his track sheet and places yellow Clue markers on the spaces in which he has been, or is in. This player calls out a number to which Jack will respond with yes or no as to whether has been there that night or not. Once a numbered circle gets a yellow Clue marker, the search immediately ends, no matter how many other numbers are adjacent to him.

An optional rule allows Jack to gain a blue False Clue token for every 5 yellow Clue tokens that have been placed. Jack places this wherever he wants on the board, and this space cannot be searched or arrested on for the rest of the night.

If a Policeman is confident in where Jack may be, he may declare one numbered adjacent space to make an arrest on. If Jack is not there, he will tell the player. If he is, Jack has been caught.

If after all the Police have taken their turns, Jack has not been caught or escapes, turn order begins again with Part Two.

If Jack is on the numbered circle he originally declared as his hideout, he escapes into the night, and the Night ends. All clue markers, special movement tokens, Jack Pawns, and false clue tokens are removed from the game. (If False Clue tokens are included in the game, these are discarded after the Night ends). The next night is set up the same way as the first night (except for the third night in which Jack must kill 2 Women and then choose which Crime Scene he is fleeing from), and play continues.

Jack wins the game if he escapes to his hideout all 4 nights without being caught. Jack will lose the game, however, if during a night he cannot escape by the end of his last possible move (move 15) at the end of a Night. The Police/Detective players win the game if Jack is caught!

Final Thoughts

I had fun playing Letters From Whitechapel, regardless of what side of Jack’s screen I was on, no matter if I won or lost. With the right gaming group, this could be a great group game, but I feel that at its core that Letters From Whitechapel is much better as a 2 player game. It could be advantageous to have more than one set of eyes making conclusions on Jack’s location, but if one player is certain that Jack is on X and another player doesn’t arrest there, frustration can certainly rise.

Something I really like is the layout of the rulebook. Background information on the original game designers are in it, as well as the modifications that were made to the original by Fantasy Flight Games. Historical details about events that actually happened in Whitechapel rest along the border of much of the book, and reading them gives players more of a sense of involvement. There is even information on a mobile app for a random hideout generator that Jack can choose to use.

Overall I think that the gameplay is wonderful, and while at times it is in Jack’s favor, using the police to track down the murderer is fun and suspenseful. If you are up for a challenge and enjoy the element of secrecy, I would recommend looking into, and picking up, Letters From Whitechapel. This game retails for $49.95 and is just waiting for its chance to strike your game shelf.