Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Crypt Monkey Studios. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay, though the art, layout, and other things are mostly finalized, as far as I’ve been told.
So we’re hitting Kickstarter Season (or we might be in the middle of it already? I’m never sure), so I’ll also be doing the occasional preview for an upcoming Kickstarter game. Since you can’t spell “preview” without “review” this will likely read mostly the same, however I probably won’t comment on various things that I mentioned above (or box / component quality) since I am not sure if those sorts of things are going to be changed drastically in the Kickstarter (people love stretch goals, as someone who loves stretch goals). (I have since been informed that some stretch goals could include card upgrades, box upgrades, or even a custom app!)
That said, in Jack the Ripper, you play as a few aristocrats who apparently went on a scavenger hunt and then got locked in a warehouse (as you do) with the infamous Whitechapel People Killer, Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, you don’t really know who he (or she!) is, so anyone in your group could be Jack the Ripper. Will you manage to defeat the Ripper before you get killed? Or will you, as Jack, trick your foes into killing each other before you finish them off?
Setup is pretty trivial. There are three types of cards:
Separate them out and shuffle the Item Cards and Ripper Cards.
For the Character Cards, remove some characters randomly (so that nobody knows who is removed) before starting:
- With 3 players, use 2 Characters + Jack the Ripper
- With 4 players, use 3 Characters + Jack the Ripper
- With 5 players, use all characters.
You’ll also notice some cards with health on them and some quick start cards — you can use them for health reference. I have a playmat and some tokens, so I’ll be using that for this review. Deal each player a Character Card, face-down, from the Character Card set you’ve made, give each player 3 Item Cards, and make sure everyone has 15 Health. Once your setup looks like this, you’re ready to start:
So, much like The Resistance: Avalon has a Good and an Evil team, Jack the Ripper has Jack and the non-Jacks. You can ask someone, “are you Jack the Ripper?” and they will almost always say no, because you do not want to be outed as Jack the Ripper because everyone else will try to kill you. While you might note that your Character Card has a name and some flavor text, please don’t force players to try and read that out loud to prove that they’re not Jack the Ripper; it makes the game not fun.
In Jack the Ripper – your goals are straightforward:
- If you are Jack the Ripper, you win when everyone else is dead.
- If you are not Jack the Ripper, you win when Jack the Ripper is dead.
Pretty easy. However, this is complicated because you have no idea who is or is not Jack the Ripper, so, you figure, you might as well flail wildly.
Jack the Ripper is played in a series of rounds, starting with the first player. After each round a Ripper Event is drawn from the Ripper Card deck, which adds a new, exciting, and probably murder-y effect to the game (similar to how BANG!’s High Noon cards are used).
Your turn starts by drawing an Item Card, and then, generally, you have to play an Item Card. There are three types:
- Straight razor cards are attacks. You use these to injure other players (or yourself; that’s a totally valid thing you can do).
- Street light cards are advantages. Advantage cards, as you might guess, give yourself or another player a boon or advantage.
- Elixir (or flask) cards are special advantages. Special advantage cards are not only excellent advantages, but they can be played at any time, even when it’s not your turn.
Some play rules:
- If you start the game with Pint of Irish Whiskey in your hand, you must immediately play it, even before the first turn begins. Welp.
- With one exception, you must play an Item Card from your hand on your turn. The exception is that if you have no straight razor (attack) cards, you can pass. If you do have straight razor cards, you can play other cards, but you must play something.
- If you play an elixir card during your turn, you can play another card if you want to. You can choose for that to count as your “played card” during your turn, or you can play another card (since elixirs can be played at any time). Note that this does not happen if you play an elixir card on another player’s turn or during a Ripper Event.
- If a card says “Target player”, you may choose any player, including yourself. Sometimes that makes sense.
- There’s no card priority order other than that all cards must be resolved. This means that if I were to attack another player at 2 health for 3 damage (killing them) and another player played a card to heal them 5 health, they would heal first, and then take the damage to be at 4 health.
If you happen to murder a player (dropping their health to 0), reveal their Character Card; if they are Jack the Ripper, the non-Jacks win!
If you revealed a Character Card via a card effect (but that player is still alive), flip their Character Card back face-down at this time.
Once you’ve done that, your turn ends. Pretty straightforward. Once the round ends, as I mentioned previously, a Ripper Event occurs. This could be anything from changing the identity of Jack the Ripper (so you might end up as a new character), damaging some / all players, or just straight-up murdering a named character (Jack the Ripper murders Walter Bennett, for instance). Be careful with that. To make things worse, Jack the Ripper can occasionally reveal during a Ripper Event and really make things bad.
Play continues until either Jack is dead or all non-Jacks are dead, at which point the non-dead team wins!
Player Count Differences
At 3 it’s a bit chaotic, especially because it’s pretty easy to reveal one Character’s card, so generally it’s a fight between two people both saying “no, kill him! He’s Jack the Ripper!”, which is kind of amusing in the same way that it’s amusing for the Sheriff in BANG! / BANG! The Dice Game to have to choose between the Deputy and the Renegade. It’s pretty funny. This also means that you’ll see a lot more Ripper Events, as there are fewer people so the rounds are generally shorter.
At 4 it feels somewhat balanced (though it feels about the same as at 3), since there are more items distributed between more players so it’s a bit more likely that SOMEONE will have a Pint of Irish Whiskey or a card that reveals Character Cards or something. Generally, fine at 3 or 4.
I find that personally, 5 feels a bit tilted towards the non-Jacks because now it’s highly likely that Jack will be revealed, and then four players can gang up on him (meaning if each of them has a 4 or 5 damage card, unluckily, the game is basically over). The major counter is that the Ripper Events (if you can make it that far) will WRECK the other players since there are more players that can be targeted. If you can get a couple rounds without being revealed, you’ll almost certainly be playing a three- or four-player game, as it’s highly unlikely that every player will survive. It’s winnable; it just feels a bit more stacked from the get-go, so you might get unlucky if you’re Jack.
First and foremost, I think the primary, optimal strategy to enjoy this game the most is:
- Don’t take this game too seriously. It’s a primer game (usually a good way to start / end a night) and it’s pretty luck-based. If you’re expecting this to be Terra Mystica or a strategist’s dream, you’re going to be disappointed. I know this isn’t a strategy tip per se, but I think that enjoying a game is as important as, if not more important than, doing well in it.
Anyways, other strategy tips:
- (Jack) Keep cards that reveal a Character Card; don’t play them. There is at least one card that lets you pull Items from the discard pile, and you don’t need to know who the other characters are; you just need them dead.
- (Jack) Don’t try to claim to be another player. If you have to claim, just claim you’re not Jack the Ripper. Generally I don’t think this plays well as a “claim your Character Card” game (sort of like BANG! The Dice Game in that regard), as if you clash with another player then everyone knows that one of you two are Jack the Ripper and then only you two will get attacked, which seems less fun. Plus, if no such clash occurs then you learn nothing and that was a pointless gesture. Generally, I wouldn’t do this.
- Hold on to the Large Black Cloak. This is a special advantage card that prevents damage and getting murdered. This is especially handy during a Ripper Event if you’re a non-Jack or if you’re one turn away from a Ripper Event as Jack and trying to save yourself.
- In general, there are some extremely useful cards. Keep an eye out for them. The Large Black Cloak, the Fine Toothed Comb (pull any card from the discard pile), the Spinner’s Whistle (delay a Ripper Event by one round), Another Man’s Shoes (two players must switch Character Cards), and the Soapbox from Hyde Park (if you are the target of an Item Card, redirect that effect to a different player) are all amazing cards that are highly situational, so make sure you’re aware those exist and can be used. For instance:
- Soapbox from Hyde Park can force a player to redirect an attack onto anyone, even themselves. All that matters is that you redirect the effect from you (that’s an important caveat — you can only use the Soapbox if you are the target player) to a different player. Imagine their surprise when they try to attack you but end up hurting (or killing) themselves! It’s pretty solid.
- (Jack) I’d say avoid revealing yourself for as long as possible, if there’s any doubt as to which player you are. I wouldn’t recommend revealing yourself for the first Ripper Event, for instance, unless it kills half of the other players. What you don’t want is the other players ganging up on you when they could be slowly whittling down each other. By the time they figure out that you’re Jack the Ripper, it should hopefully be too late. That being said, there’s sometimes a method to your madness — maybe you want to reveal yourself as Jack the Ripper, only to swap Character Cards with another player? Or maybe you just like mind games. Either works, really.
- (non-Jacks) Sometimes there are ways to imply you’re not Jack the Ripper. Generally attacking someone with a 1 damage card is a pretty not-Jack thing to do (unless Jack’s cards are terrible), but my personal favorite play is to use the Hypodermic Needle (reveals a player’s Character Card) on myself, so that other players know I’m not Jack the Ripper and they won’t atack me. If you have it as Jack the Ripper, just … don’t play it. See above.
- It might occasionally be useful to attack yourself. Some Ripper Events target the players with the highest / lowest health, so it usually pays to be firmly in the middle. Some players will hit themselves for 1 damage specifically so that they either A) won’t be hit by other players for more damage, and B) aren’t tied for max health when the Ripper Event is revealed, just in case. This is helpful to Jack since you’re attacking yourself, but … it might help you, too.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like the named Character Cards and having Character-specific events. I think that’s a really interesting design choice, as it gives players the ability to bluff if they want to (though I’m not a huge fan of that, as noted in Strategy), but I like that specific Characters can get killed by Ripper Events. Unless I’m the character that gets killed, in which case, it’s a bummer.
- Has some cards that lend themselves well to comboing, which is fun. I generally like card combos. I won’t mention too many of them (beyond what I already mentioned about the Soapbox in Strategy), since I think that part of the fun is figuring out what works and what doesn’t for yourself, but generally I like that the combos exist.
- Generally is pretty fun. I think that it, as mentioned, does a good job of adding meaningful dilemmas for every player since generally you have to attack someone; do you try and guess who the Ripper is with dire consequences if you’re wrong, or do you just try to distribute your attacks evenly? It’s also fun to hear players try to appeal to other players to not attack them. It has a good social element to it.
- Ripper Deck adds a nice level of dread. It’s essentially a timer (since there is a “Murder X Character” for every Character in the game, if you manage to make it that long, but it seems pretty unlikely that the game would take that long. Instead, it’s just a “what terrible thing will happen now”? With the knowledge that at least one person is pleased about it. That being said, I’m a big fan of the Ripper Event that changes Jack’s identity. I generally think that’s pretty fun, even though it kind of sets the game back a bit.
- Short, but in a way that might not always feel meaningful. This occasionally happens with the Lost Legacy series, too — you’ll get a few turns in, someone will win, and that’ll just be that. Sometimes the game can take 2 minutes, if Jack gets unlucky. It’s uncommon, but it happens.
- Random, but it’s mitigated a bit by how short the game is. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of luck-based games, but honestly given that the game is so short, who cares. It’s part of the reason I also like games like Dragon Slayer, which is pure dice-chucking. It’s random, yeah, but it’s a quick game you can pick up with a few friends while you wait for people to arrive.
- In general I kind of wish there were more item cards. The vast majority of them are just “Deal X damage”, which is fine, but I would love to see Advantage Cards that could be substituted in to maybe help tilt the balance of the game in one direction or another (think of how, for instance, the Mystic Wolf / Dream Wolf in One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Daybreak can buff or debuff the Werewolf team). I’d love to see more pro-Jack items or anti-Jack items, though I’m not sure how that’d look in the game.
- It’s totally possible to have a garbage hand and be incapable of doing anything meaningful. This can happen occasionally, as you draw all the “Deal 1 damage” cards and nothing else. If you’re an outed Jack the Ripper, this basically loses the game for you, since you can’t really do anything other than take hits for an entire round. Oh well, short game.
- The theme is pretty dark. I think it and The Grizzled are currently taking top-billing for “heaviest themes”. This is probably not the game I’d bring around for family game night unless you’re okay with family game night getting pretty murdery. (Which, I suppose, depends on the family.) That being said, it doesn’t bother me all that much, it’s just something that might be a con to someone.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think this is a solid little game! I like a bunch of the player interactions, it can get a bit shouty if you want it to, and it invites a certain level of metagaming to emerge with your group, as you try to decide what actions taken by players might imply that they’re secretly Jack the Ripper, out to get you all. Note I’m giving this score based on the game as I played it, as I’m not currently aware of the project / stretch goals, and there could be additional things added to this game.