Mr. Jack + Mr. Jack Pocket
On Wednesday, February 15th, we posted our Valentine's Day Special: 2 Player Games, our first ever video and a quick introduction to some of our favorite 2-player board and card games. Due to timing and health issues, the video was released late and no written reviews were given for the games. We are taking the time to remedy that with these 2 Player Games: Revisited posts.
(Note: There is a new edition of Mr. Jack available with new art. The version I have is an earlier version, so the box art and pieces may not look the same as a newly purchased copy.)
Mr. Jack is one of the first modern board games I ever purchased. Anita and I were living in Arizona and planned a trip to the Grand Canyon, and I wanted something for us to play after a long day of sightseeing. A local store (that is sadly no longer in business) suggested the game to me as a different take on Clue (I understand the desire to compare the two, but he couldn't have been further off). It took some time for Anita and I to figure the game out, but soon enough we were playing the game back-to-back, switching sides and trying to outmaneuver each other.
Mr. Jack is a great intro to modern "designer" games, and learning it with a significant other was a great experience because we got to figure out the strategies together. We don't play it as much as we used to, but it's still in my collection and I don't see myself getting rid of it anytime soon.
In Mr. Jack, one player plays as the detective against the second player who is acting as Jack the Ripper. Eight characters are spread throughout the board, and the Mr. Jack player has secretly chosen a character that he is impersonating. The detective's goal: find Mr. Jack and move a character onto his space to capture him. Jack's goal: last eight turns or escape while not being "seen."
Whether a character is "seen" is a large part of the gameplay. If a character ends the turn adjacent to a) another character or b) a lit lamp post, then they are considered "seen." At the end of each turn, Mr. Jack must tell the detective whether he's been seen. Depending on the result, characters are flipped over so their "innocent" side is shown. The detective has to remember specifically who has been flipped over, because they can later be flipped back. The best method for Jack is to keep as many characters unseen (or seen) as possible. The detective wants to continuously split the seen/unseen ratio in order to deduce who the culprit in.
Each turn, four characters are split between the two players, and each has their own special ability. Some can move light sources, or move other characters, or move through obstacles, etc. In addition, a light source is removed from the game during the first four turns of the game, reducing the amount of light sources. There are police cordons that are always blocking two of the four exits, and sewer entrances that can be used to move across the board quickly (but they can be covered by manholes). There's a lot going on in this game, but it's surprising how easy it becomes after a game or too.
Mr. Jack is a personal favorite, but I wouldn't put it as high as some of the other games we covered in the Valentine's Day Special. It's not very portable, and can be difficult to learn the first time if you're not used to more complex games. But it's a fun game of cat-and-mouse that you'll want to play a second time as soon as the first game is over. And if you really love the game, there's an expansion available, as well as a Mr. Jack in New York version that I've heard is even better. There is one other version, designed to make the game a bit more portable...
Mr. Jack Pocket is a small-box, portable game inspired by the mechanics of the original Mr. Jack but with a few differences. Nine tiles are laid in a square with their suspects visible. Around the tiles are three detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, and Watson's trusty bulldog Toby. The three move around the board clockwise, trying to look down the aisles created by the tiles to see if they can see the suspects. If Mr. Jack is not seen, anyone who is seen has their tile flipped over. Like the original game, Mr. Jack Pocket is finished after 8 rounds. You'll notice that on the character cards and round tokens in the above pictures there are hourglasses. If Mr. Jack is able to acquire six of those hourglasses, or if the game reaches the end of the 8th round with no one declared guilty, than he wins. If the detective is able to flip all of the tiles except for Mr. Jack, then the culprit has been found and he wins.
It's a bit complex to explain in a quick paragraph like the one above. Like the original Mr. Jack, it's easier to explain while playing than with words. That being said, a lot of the original mechanics are still there, with characters "seen" or "unseen," with moving characters around to find others, and with players switching back and forth between abilities each turn. I'm torn about Mr. Jack Pocket, because in some ways I like it better than the original, but it's also not as intuitive and a bit trickier to explain. Either way, if you like the first one, or want a fun 2-player to take with you while you travel, Mr. Jack Pocket might be what you're looking for. The cat-and-mouse dynamic is still there, and it's as replayable as its bigger brother. If you have a chance to play it, I'd give it a shot, but I wouldn't necessarily buy it until you had a chance to play the original.