Mr. Jack is set in 1888 London as the police are trying to capture Jack the Ripper. One player is Jack, trying to escape from London; the other is a detective trying to deduce Jack's identity and capture him in time.
The game's co-designers, Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, gave the eight characters in the game (each of whom has an equal chance of being Jack the Ripper each game) different abilities, allowing them to move around the city in different ways.
At the end of each turn, all of the characters are either in the light or in the dark, and the player who is Jack the Ripper must announce whether Jack is in visible or hidden. If Jack manages to escape the city or to survive eight turns, he wins. The detective wins by accusing the correct character of being the Ripper.
In 2009, Cathala and Maublanc moved Jack across the Atlantic Ocean with the release of Mr. Jack in New York. Like the original, I enjoy this deduction game quite a bit. So much so, in fact, that it made my list of the best board games of 2009.
Cathala took some time to answer a few questions for us about Mr. Jack in New York.
Can you tell us a little about the background of Mr. Jack in New York? Why did you decide to set a sequel game in New York City, and what goals did you have in terms of gameplay?
When Ludovic and I designed the first version of Mr. Jack, we never imagined creating expansions later. It had been so hard and so much work to fine-tune the topology of the board connected to the abilities of the characters that we thought that we could never do something else.
When the game was published, we had the surprise ability to play it online, due to the fantastic work of Stefan Esch (see the online adaptation on hurricangames.com). I played more than 1,000 games online, against high-level players coming from all around the world. This gave us a lot of experience, and some wish to play with other strategies. And this leaded to the creation of Mr. Jack's expansion.
At that time, we only introduced new characters, new abilities into the initial game. The other thing we liked to do was to play on a new board, with a completely new topology.
But the action of Jack the Ripper takes place in London, in Whitechapel, and the Whitechapel board was still designed. So, why do another one? From a marketing point of view, it was a good idea, but not from a thematic point of view.
I did some bibliographic research about Jack the Ripper, and I discovered that one suspect, Tumblety, was first arrested in London, then freed and took the first boat to flee to the States. Some time later, English policeman went to New York to try to catch him but without any success.
And that is still one credible hypothesis, even if it's not the most well known, concerning Jack the Ripper's real identity.
After reading that, a light came into my head and I immediately imagined the title: Mr. Jack in New York.
How did you decide which new characters to include in Mr. Jack in New York, and what their special powers would be?
Our intention was to offer new tactics, and not to keep the general feeling of the game. That's the reason why you'll fing in Mr Jack in NY characters which are a variation of the initial one (Smith/Latimer, Bert/Beach, Lestrade/Callahan, Gull/Tumblety) and some other which are completly new (Smith, Ema Grant, Eastman, Cloud Rider).
Many of the abilities have been chosen to offer gamer a board which is in perpetual evolution: this led us to "building" characters. (Latimer builds lamposts, Beach builds metro stations, and Cloud Rider builds buildings, and Emma Grant destroys what has been built to create parks.) The board represents Manhattan, and this led to the idea of boats , which are moving exits.
And to offer some possibilities to change characters' location on the board, we had to create Eastman and Tumblety's abilities.
Concerning playtesting, in fact, Latimer, Beach, Callahan, Cloud Rider, Grant and Smith have not changed since the first telephonic discussion between Ludo and me.
Tumblety needed more work (our main discussion was to decide if this ability had to be mandatory or not), but the most difficult one was Eastman. This one led to a lot of variations before the final cut!
But frankly speaking, main of our work was to design a board in relation with all these new abilities.
Going back to the original Mr. Jack, how did the idea of a game about capturing Jack the Ripper come about?
The idea came late... very late at night, during the Cannes game festival in France. I was with Ludovic, and he asked me if I was interested to work with him on a new idea.
I answered, "Why not? Explain to me what you would like."
And he told me, "Light and darkness."
I said, "And...?"
And he said, "That's all. I just would like to design a game focused on like and darkness mechanisms... but I have absolutely no idea what to do with that!"
This general idea was really interesting for me, and we began immediately to brainstorm around this idea.
First thing was to find a storyline: what story to tell, justifying things able to do in the light but not into the darkness. We spoke about vampires, but finally we agreed that the best scenario was to have someone trying to escape the police.
And this led us to Jack the Ripper's mysterious story.