I’ve already talked about social deduction games, which I love, despite being terrible at them. I think it’s because I love puzzles, I love figuring things out.
I have some friends who find social deduction games uncomfortable, they have difficulty understanding the people at the table in the first place, and social deduction games reinforce that. As a result, they don’t enjoy playing those games because they end up feeling disconnected or alone.
Mr Jack Pocket is a great little deduction game that I like to play with those friends. It has all of the fun of solving a puzzle, and although you can approach it as a social deduction game by trying to figure out why your opponent is making certain choices, you can also approach it purely as a logic puzzle. The best part is that I can teach this game in five minutes and, in spite of that, it remains interesting well over a hundred plays later.
So, what is Mr Jack Pocket?
It’s an asymmetric two player game where one player is the ruthless murderer Mr Jack while the other is a team of Detectives consisting of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and their frequently overlooked dog Toby.
Mr Jack aims to keep his identity secret from the Detectives for long enough to disappear into the warrens surrounding Whitechapel. In practice, this means that Mr Jack wins the game by either keeping his identity secret until the end of the eighth turn, or by gathering six hourglasses.
The Detectives are trying to discover the identity of Mr Jack by eliminating all of the suspects by the end of the eighth turn and, if necessary, capturing Mr Jack before he slips away into hiding.
Setup is fast and easy: you shuffle up the area tiles representing the district of Whitechapel and deal them out on the table in a three by three grid. Holmes, Watson, and Toby get placed around the edges of the district, and then the tiles adjacent to each of the detectives is rotated so that each detective is facing a wall. Finally, the Mr Jack player draws a card from the alibi deck, this card shows the disguise the ruthless Mr Jack is using for this game.
The game is then played over eight turns with first player alternating on each turn.
To start a turn the first player (the Detectives on turn one), takes the four action tokens and tosses them in the air above the play space. The first player then picks and resolves one of these action tokens, the second player picks and resolves two of the remaining action tokens, and finally the first player resolves the last action token.
The action tokens allow the selecting player to move a detective, rotate or rearrange the area tiles, or draw a card from the alibi deck, which potentially eliminates a suspect for the Detectives or secures valuable hourglasses for Mr Jack.
Once all four actions are resolved the players check which suspects the detectives can see by tracing their lines of sight down the narrow alleys which make up Whitechapel district. Once the players have worked out which suspects the detectives can see, Mr Jack advises whether the detectives can see his disguise.
If the detectives can see Mr Jack the Detective player eliminates the suspects the detectives can’t see by flipping over the area tiles. If the detectives cannot see Mr Jack’s disguise they instead eliminate the suspects that they can see and Mr Jack takes the current turn token and flips it over, scoring an hourglass.
And that’s the beauty of Mr Jack, you can teach the game to a new player in five minutes by describing what the five different types of action tokens do, and telling them the board state that each player is aiming for at the end of each turn.
Generally the Detectives want to end each turn by being able to see as close to half of the fields of suspects as possible, they want the number of suspects which are seen and which are hidden to be the same, or as close to the same as possible. If the Detective player suspects Mr Jack’s identity, they also want their detectives to be able to see him.
Mr Jack, on the other hand, wants the detectives to either be able to see all of the suspects, or none of them. He wants the number of suspects who are seen and hidden to be as unequal as possible, and for his disguise to be in the larger group, preferably the suspects which are hidden.
Once the suspects are eliminated, and any hourglasses gathered, both players check to see if they’ve met their objectives. If the Detectives have eliminated all of the suspects except Mr Jack, they win the game. If Mr Jack has gathered six hourglasses, or if the eighth turn has ended and Mr Jack’s identity is still a secret, then Mr Jack wins the game.
If both players trigger their victory condition on the same turn then the players play out a mini game for the remaining turns with the detectives trying to capture Mr Jack and Mr Jack trying to stay out of sight.
For a game that, literally, fits in a pocket Mr Jack Pocket is surprisingly puzzly, but the fact that you can only ever crunch the next four actions at a time means it’s not so puzzly that you’ll end up neglecting your company in order to play.
It’s often a tense, down to the wire, game that will have you cursing the actions available to you, and wishing you could take just one more action than your opponent. I highly recommend giving it a shot next time you’re meeting a friend at the pub for drinks.