Don't Fear the Ripper--A Review of Letters From Whitechapel

By Firestone I’m not sure what the fascination is with Jack the Ripper. Is it because the murders were so gruesome? Probably. Is it because he was never captured? Almost certainly. All I do know is he’s been the genesis of some good books, stories, and board games. Letters From Whitechapel is the latter.

One person plays Jack, while the other players are detectives trying to track Jack down. The board is a map of London that has nearly 200 individual circle spaces that Jack uses—along with at least as many black squares that act as intersections the detectives use. At the beginning of the game, Jack secretly picks a space as his hideout. His goal is to commit a murder each night for four nights, and then make his way to his hideout. The detectives are trying to ferret out his hideout and make an arrest.

While a simple game, it would take a long time to explain exactly how a turn functions. Basically, Jack has a few turns to delay murdering a woman, but he eventually has to. Once he does, he has ~15 turns to make it back to his hideout. We weren’t quite sure why Jack would want to delay, unless he really needed the extra time to make it back. On nights one and two he kills one victim (it’s completely abstracted). On night three, he kills two, so you’re not sure which one he’s starting his Run from. And on the final night, he’s back to one murder. Jack has a couple of unique movement options that help hide his trail a bit.

Each turn, the detectives each move, and then they either make an arrest on an adjacent spot, or they look for clues on a spot. If Jack has been on that spot during that night, he has to say so. That’s how the detectives are able to slowly tighten the net around Jack.

There were some clever and interesting decisions to be made as the detectives. There’s lots of trying to figure out where he could be and where he couldn’t. There was a narrative feel, as toward the end we knew we were in the right area, but we just couldn’t be quite sure where his hideout was. There’s just a lot of tension. (I never played Jack, so I can’t comment on how “fun” that was.)

I’m not thrilled about the length. The box says it plays in 60 minutes. THE BOX LIES. With good players, I could see this going at least two-and-a-half hours—probably more. There are also times when one or more detectives will end up WAY away from where the action is. One great house rule I’ve read about gives detectives the option to move three spaces (rather than two), if they’re not going to look for clues. That just seems clearly better.

Gameplay aside, it’s hard to ignore the subject matter. Someone will be Jack, and that someone will be “killing” someone. It’s abstracted completely, but it’s still there and it’s still morbid. I can’t really say this is a great family or youth group game. It simply has a darker feel than other Jack the Ripper games, such as, say…Mr. Jack.

It’s a clever and unique game that might be the best deduction game I’ve ever played.

Thanks for reading!