Games: Mr. Jack Pocket

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Hi, a few questions about games I've come across on your website. I'm thinking of getting a new game for a couple that plays together a fair amount and tend to like two minute-type games (I've already given them several from your list-- Lost Cities, etc). Do you had any thoughts on games in a similar vein to Lost Cities, which I guess I would describe as lightweight, two-player-compatible, and perhaps don't require a ton of skill/strategy/attention?

Thanks in advance for your help. T

“What are some good games for a couple?” is a question I get asked this a lot. Which is nice, because it’s one of the few in this world for which I have a ready answer. And here it is! (Many of these are reviewed here or on the Good Gateway Games page.)

That set of suggestions has remained pretty much constant over the half decade.

But then, a few years ago, Mr. Jack was released, and threatened to muscle its way onto the list. As I wrote in the 2007 Good Gift Game Guide:

There’s no shortage of games that replicate the formula of Monopoly (make money!) and Risk (wage war!). But few have gone the route of Clue, challenging players to unmask a killer via deductive reasoning. Thankfully, Mr. Jack is picking up the slack. Eight characters—ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Sir William Gull—wander the streets of Whitecastle; one of them is secretly Jack the Ripper. The Jack player knows the identity of the fiend, and works to keep it concealed; the detective strives to apprehend the criminal by game’s end. Simple, brief, and ingenious, it’s a perfect pastime for anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

The problem with Mr. Jack, though, is that it’s just a smidge too unusual to give as a gift to non-games. Well you could give it, but it would likely sit upon their shelf until the end of days.

Thankfully, the designers have released a new, smaller, and simpler version of the game that fits the bill perfectly. Mr. Jack Pocket feels like the original, but boasts fewer rules and a shorter playing time.

As before, one player assumes the role of Mr. Jack; his opponent becomes the Detective, with three Investigator at his disposal: Sherlock Homes, Watson, and their dog Toby (who is apparently canon). The game board is assembled from nine square tiles, placed in a 3×3 grid, with each tile depicting a t-intersection of roads. That means that three edges of each tile have streets leading off of them, and the fourth does not. Like so:

In the center of each tile is the headshot of one of the nine Suspects, any of which could be the killer. The Mr. Jack player knows the identity of the culprit, while the goal of the Detective is to deduce this information.

Before play begins, the three Investigator tokens are placed outside the grid. The hunt for the killer then unfolds over a series of rounds, during which the players move the Investigators around the perimeter of the grid, rotate tiles, swap the position of tiles, and take other actions. An Investigator can peer down the roads on the tiles, and see everyone until his vision is blocked by a wall. Thus, at any given moment, some of the suspects will be “seen”, and others (those that are in no Investigator’s line of sight) are unseen.

At the end of a round, Mr. Jack checks to see which of the Suspects are visible to the Investigators, and announces whether the guilty party is “seen” or “unseen”. With this knowledge, the Detective can the rule out Suspects in the opposite state. If Mr. Jack declares the killer to be “unseen” for instance, but William Gull and the Madame are visible to one or more Investigators, the Detective can exonerate these two.

The game continues until only one Suspect remains, at which point the Detective makes his collar. Mr. Jack may instead win by stalling the investigation long enough to escape. All this plays out like competitive puzzle-solving, as each player tries to figure out the best combination of actions to take to achieve his objective.

I ain’t gonna lie to you: I am dubious of this game’s long-term replayability. But that concern stems from the fact that I am playing it a lot right now. As the game can be completed in a quarter hour, it can be taught in a few minutes more, and it’s small enough to be brought to and played at a bar, my copy has already seen plenty of use since I picked it up a month ago. So it’s entirely possible that I will tire of it soon. For most folks, this is a perfect, light, two-player game, and one that I will be giving as a gift to couples for many years to come.

One thought on “Games: Mr. Jack Pocket

  1. my husband and I love Carcasonne and Lost Cities! We also play Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Zombies and Power Grid with larger groups.

    I would also like to recommend both Mille Bornes and San Juan as great two player games. Both can be played with up to 4 so there is versatility built in to the game, but they are wonderful with just two.

    Thanks for the other suggestions, I will take a look and we may be adding some more games to our collection.

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