Letters from Whitechapel: open at your own risk

It’s Halloween. By now everyone has had their fill of pumpkin spice lattes and reviews and playthroughs of Mysterium. For me, I’m opening a blood drenched box holding a half-eaten human kidney and a letter that reads:

From hell.

Mr Lusk,
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

Which is weird, because my name’s David.

Letters from Whitechapel box art. A shadowy figure standing above Whitechapel blueprints.

Name: Letters from Whitechapel

Players: 2-6

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Designer: Gabriele Mari, Gianluca Santopietro

Artists: Gianluca Santopietro

Letters from Whitechapel is a one vs many hidden movement board game. One player takes the role of the notorious murderer, Jack the Ripper, while the others are the confused and desperate detectives trying to stop the murder spree.

Each night – or round – starts with the police patrolling the city, while the whores of Whitechapel put their wares on display. The police know a murder is coming, but they don’t know where or when, and must spread out through the city accordingly.

The hunt is on, the detectives have found traces of Jack the Ripper in a game of Letters from Whitechapel.
The detectives have found something!

Jack starts each round by killing a lady of the night. From there, Jack spends the rest of the night getting back to his home base, where presumably there’s a hot cocoa with a side of marshmallows waiting. Jack wins the round if he makes it back, and loses the game if he’s caught, or is still out in the street when the sun rises. If Jack survives all four nights it’s GG, and his unsolved crimes live on in infamy.

At the beginning of the game, the inspectors have nothing to go on but a crime scene. They’ll gain information throughout the game about Jack’s current whereabouts, and his destination. The more information they uncover the more the tension grows as they get closer and closer to catching the vile villain. Compounding this tension, is that there’s only one person who knows when the round will end: Jack. Which creates unsure footing for the detectives in a game that thrives on logical and calculable gameplay.

As part of the police team, you must use every ounce of your deduction skills to win. Fortunately, you do have the following to go on:

  • Jack must move one space at a time – unless he uses a special move.
  • Jack’s goal each night is the same – to reach his hideout.
  • The crime scene – where Jack begins the round from.

The limitations of Jack’s movement, along with any clues you’ve found, and the above set of rules, allow you to deduce a web of spaces where Jack could possibly be. The more clues you find, the narrower you can make this web.

Round 3 of Letters from Whitechapel. The investigators are closing in, and now trying to stop Jack from reaching his hideout.
Closing in on the killer

To find a clue you move to a spot, and then call out the surrounding spaces one by one until you either find a space where Jack has been previously, or you’ve exhausted all available spaces. This is then done by every detective. It’s important that this process is followed as it allows Jack to confuse the detectives with a well-placed turn – sending the cops the wrong way. This process is clunky at best and is begging to be streamlined, as calling out numbers becomes tedious and bogs down the game.

In terms of player count, I much prefer to play Letters from Whitechapel at two players. I like to have full control over the investigator’s thought process. Otherwise, additional players make it harder to execute your strategy fully. Which is more frustrating than watching a scary movie with me – which I need to pause every 10 seconds for sweet sweet stress relief.

As Jack, the pressure builds after the cops have found a few clues. Your mind begins to conspire against you with thoughts like: how do they know where I am? Can they read my hidden sheet? You will sweat as you calculate and recalculate the path you need to take towards freedom, and whether you’ll win that race. Before that though, the mind games and strategy begin at the scene of the crime. Choosing your victim is important, because killing someone close to your hideout makes for an easy getaway but lets the investigators know the location of your hideout. Likewise, killing someone far away only increases the risks of being found, and caught.

Behind Jack the Ripper screen we see the sheet of paper the Jack player fills out.
The view from behind the curtain

Figuring out how to lose the tail and avoid all the road blocks the investigators set up creates an interesting moving puzzle. But because you’re sitting on perfect knowledge of the game state, and the mano a mano nature of the game, you’re put under a lot of competitive pressure. A different kind of pressure the police will be feeling. This is the reason why this game is so amazing. Its asymmetry creates two completely different games, yet both create a unique sense of tension that builds throughout. It creates more pressure than I’ve ever felt in any other game, and the reason why, years later, I can still vividly remember games won and lost.

There is a reason I don’t pull it out so often anymore, and that is time. All in all, it takes about two hours. Which is a long time to be annoyed by clunky clue detection, while putting all your effort into solving one puzzle in one way for so long is also quite draining. Whereas in other games you might consider different ways to victory and therefore different ways to think, Letters from Whitechapel has no such escape.

Letters from Whitechapel is an incredible board game, the suspense and tension it builds rivals movies made by the master director: Alfred Hitchcock. Using deduction to either capture, or escape is extremely satisfying, and the rules are simple enough to introduce to your friends and family. As long as they don’t mind the lengthy playtime, and the odd murder or two, this is a game I highly recommend and the perfect fit for a very spooky Halloween.

Smiling Corgi with the Letters From Whitechapel box on his head.
Hiding from bath time

The only reason this missed being a Critical Hit was due to the length. However, they released a sequel called Whitehall Mysteries, which is also meant to be excellent, and it cuts the playtime in half. Otherwise,  what games you’re playing this Halloween?

David Norris

Lover of dogs, books, comics, movies, anime, television, video games and most importantly board games. My site is all about the latter, and my journey through the glorious hobby.

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