Table Top Review: ‘Letters From Whitechapel’
Review based on the 2nd edition.
Length of Game: 1-2 hours.
The Gameplay: One player takes on the role of the infamous serial killer known as Jack the Ripper and other players work together as the police and vigilante committees to catch the murderer. Over four different nights the Ripper strikes and must make his way through the city to their hideout while the police seek out his trail and, eventually, trap him.
Review: There are few other infamous figures in history that have resonated through pop culture like Jack the Ripper. Perhaps this is down to his elusive nature, always being giving the slip to authorities, or it’s the brazen and horrifyingly grisly nature of his crimes. It is also the first widely reported case of a serial killer in action, with the media playing a large role in contributing to the myths surrounding the mystery man. In fiction he has become the target of everyone from Sherlock Holmes to the Doctor to Batman. If it were anyone else but Jack the Ripper a historically themed game about a serial killer would feel distasteful, but the notion of catching the uncatchable, faceless monster from the past is an exciting one.
After one player is selected as the Ripper they set up behind a small screen to keep their movements secret from other players. The board is covered with hundreds of numbered nodes, representing spaces to move between, and the Ripper chooses one that will act as his hideout. The goal for the Ripper player is to return to this spot within a set number of moves after each murder. This player then places a number of tokens representing potential victims (some being bluffs) in designated spaces while the police players set their tokens (in addition to some bluff tokens) on patrol routes.
There’s a bit of back of forth before murder most foul. The Ripper can opt to bide their time, giving them extra turns to make their escape and try and reveal a bluff token while the police have the chance to move the potential victims. Once the killer strikes players alternate their turns, with movements of the Ripper being secretly recorded behind their screen. The police are in greater numbers but their movements are on the board. The police can search for clues on each turn, and can reveal where the Ripper has already been. This is an essential gameplay mechanic has catching the devil is near impossible. Instead the law enforcement agencies have to deduce where the Ripper is heading and try and head him off in subsequent nights.
In order to give the police the slip the Ripper can use carriages and alleys. The former always extra movement while the latter can slip between buildings. The number available decreases each round so the Ripper, while practically a ghost on the first night, becomes more and more at risk with each murder. There is a method to the gameplay but it comes down to a game of wits as the two factions try and out-manoeuvre each other. This makes it a game suitable for a one-on-one match or a group game, especially if the players know each other. Bluffs, tricks and a good poker face are important tools for any player.
There are some optional rules for experienced players to include. Strangely enough the titular letters only come in to play with these rules. A set of cards featuring the letters sent to police and newspapers are included and can be used to send the pursuers on the wrong track. The other rule is false clues, available to the Ripper if his track is being uncovered, used to block the police from searching an area.
The design of the game is exceptional. The board is printed with a historical map of Whitechapel from the era decorated with police notes and comments from the Ripper, and nicely designed counters for moves. Carved wooden tokens and figures to represent the victims, police and Ripper fit in perfectly. The box feels pretty big for the small number of pieces (especially for the often over-designed releases from Fantasy Flight) but a large board is essential to the scope of the grave.
This is a recommended addition to players who prefer their games to test their wits and brain power rather than their luck.