Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mr Jack

I played three games of Mr. Jack with Nadine after lunch on shabbat.

Mr. Jack is a game for two players. One of the eight people in a city is not who he or she appears to be, but is in fact Jack Ripper in disguise. One player plays Detective and the other plays Criminal. The first game I played Criminal, the next Detective, and the last Criminal again.

Detective wins the game by landing any person on Jack and declaring him Jack. Jack wins the game on a false accusation, or if he exits the city, or if eight turns pass without an accusation.

The game board is a city with buildings, lights, manholes, and exit points, one in each corner. You place eight people on the board in set locations, and decide who's playing Criminal. Criminal starts the game knowing which person is Jack.

Neither player "owns" control over any of the people. On odd turns, a random selection of four of the people must be moved, two each by Criminal and Detective. On even turns, the people who didn't move the previous turn must then be moved.

At the end of each round, Criminal reveals whether or not Jack's character is currently "illuminated", which means next to a light or another player. All people on the board not in the same situation as Jack are therefore revealed to be innocent. So if 4 people on the board are illuminated, and Jack is not, then the four illuminated people are turned over, marked as innocent for the rest of the game. That leaves only four out of the eight possible people left who can be Jack.

A perfect division into an equal number of illuminated and non-illuminated people each round will reveal Jack's false identity by the end of round three. Through maneuvering people, Detective tries to get this to come about, while Criminal tries to have all people either one or the other at the end of each round. Failing that, to ensure that Jack is one with the larger pack.

In practice, revealing Jack's identity by the end of turn three is not that difficult. In fact, Jack's identity was revealed in all three games by the middle of round three.

Each of the people not only moves 1-3 spaces each turn, but also has a special ability which operates when you move it. The powers include: move a manhole cover (blocking a manhole from being used as a teleport), move a light, instantly know that a random person is innocent, swap two characters' locations, move one or more other people a total of three spaces, illuminate an entire row, move additional spaces, and move an exit blockage (two out of four exits are always blocked at any one time).

In practice, while the brain burn was fun for both players, all games ended on the third round. In the first two cases, Detective won without much difficulty. In the third game, Jack escaped due to overwhelming luck and some mistakes on Detective's part.

Eight rounds? You've got to be kidding me. Either I've misread the rules (quite likely), or this game is never going more than four rounds. And unless Criminal gets ridiculously lucky or Detective is a damn fool, Criminal appears to have no chance.

First of all, once Detective knows who Jack is, which is usually by round three or at most four, all Detective has to do is land a piece on Jack. Owing to the prevalence of manholes riddling the city, three steps of movement for each piece on a fairly crowded board, and the special abilities of some of the people, you would have to be amazingly unlucky not to have three or four people able to reach Jack wherever he is on the board.

Second of all, Criminal can move Jack out the exit only if the exit is unblocked, AND Criminal is able to move Jack's piece which happens once every three or four rounds at best, AND Jack was not illuminated on the previous round. This last is a rule which seems to make life even tougher for an already tough position.

Third of all, failure to move a piece out an exit when you could is a giveaway to innocence, as is which piece you choose to move into the pack of illuminated vs non-illuminated people. Bluffing is only sometimes an option; leaving Jack as the odd man out reveals his identity, so it's not an option.

The only reason I got Jack out in the last game was because I left the character who could swap places with any other character close to an exit AND he wasn't a suspect AND the suspects were all near another exit AND two of the four characters that could move that round were exactly the ones I needed AND my opponent didn't remember about the swap ability AND she left me the two characters I needed to move. After Nadine took her move, I swapped locations of swap person and Jack, and then took Jack's piece and moved him out the unguarded exit. I doubt this ploy will work again.

Now to read the reviews, strategies, and reactions at BoardGameGeek's entry ...

read read read

OK. Looks like most people agree that Detective is rather overpowered, except in lucky situations. However, here are a few mitigating comments:

- Some people think that as you get more experienced, you get better at playing Criminal.

- Some people think that the mistake trying to exit with Jack at all. It's hard to keep eight characters from being suspect, but not hard to keep two or three. Keep them on the board until the end of turn eight. If you must exit, which of course is always a threat, try after round four when most of the lights are turned off.

- Some people give up and give Criminal some help in the form of a variant.

I'm willing to try again. One thing it had going for it is that it's quick, yet still thinking, like Mastermind. There are also some expansions, although they don't look particularly interesting.

Games, Art and Fun

Board Game News reprinted my article on Games not having to be fun, and just like the discussion that ensued when the article was linked to on Destructoid, the comments on BGN continue to show me that I'm failing to make my point clearly. People continue to think that I simply mean that different people get different sorts of enjoyment out of different games.

I've added some comments to the discussion to help clarify what I was saying, and hopefully this will clarify my point.


Pair O'Dice games reviews his top party games.

Rockingham news reports that parents are concerned to find their kids playing Mafia at school. (via Mischa)



Anonymous said...

I still can't imagine the game going to 8 turns. From BBG it sounds like the Criminal is dependent on luck and mistakes on the Detective's part, which doesn't sound very strategic. It does take some thinking by each player to optimize each time, which is interesting tactically and I guess fun, but not deep enough.
- Nadine

goulo said...

If the killer was always identified by round 3, the person playing that side was really inexperienced. Having played 45 times, I can attest that the game seems hard for Jack at first, but then once you know what you're doing it becomes very difficult for the detective to identify the killer. Hint: as Jack, keep all the people clumped together and visible as much as possible, and will often end up with 2 or 3 possible suspects in the 8th round.

--russ from bgg

Coldfoot said...

I fell in love with the Mr. Jack game the first time I played. Most of the games I have played where Jack loses, last 7 or 8 rounds.

Forget about getting Jack off the board. It is generally easier for the Jack player to keep Jack seen for the first 3 or 4 or 5 rounds before contemplating an escape. If the Jack player still has 3 possible suspects in the game going into the fifth round he has an even chance of lasting to the end, in my experience.

You are correct, that if the detective can eliminate half of his suspects every round it is too easy for him. Jack should make every effort to prevent this. The easiest way to do that is to keep Jack seen.

Also consider, when Jack only has 2or possibly three suspects to work with, it is generally fairly easy to keep both of them seen. This puts the detective in a situation of having a 50/50 chance of winning the game on the last turn, if he can get to one or both suspects.

Also consider, even if there is only one suspect on the board, the detective still needs to catch him. With clever play this can be difficult.

Maybe I'm still in the honeymoon period, but I give the game a solid 10 with no chance of decreasing.

Yehuda said...

yeah, it seems like Mr Jack can't do anything but survive until at least midgame, and then leaving the board is more of a threat than a possibility.

But we shall see.