NOTE: For information on me as a gamer and my background, check out the blog post entitled Reviewer Background
I'm always hesitant to buy two-player games. Any time I can get together with people to game, there is never just one other person (it's a terrible affliction, I know). So when I buy these, they just never get played and sit and languish on the shelf. I'd love to buy more BattleLore or Memoir '44 expansions or get Twilight Struggle to the table more often, but there is always too many people to bring out these games and they never get pulled out to play.
I was hesitant about buying this for this regard and due to the fact that I already own Mr. Jack and Mr. Jack in New York. I found myself, however, in a brand new game shop (only 8 days old) after an out-of-town conference and always want to make a purchase to help support them (we've lost our last Brick and Mortar store in our area). Its price point and box size seemed like it would be a good choice.
So what did I think about Mr. Jack Pocket before I played it?
Prior view of the Deduction Theme: This is a hit or miss system for me. Some games do it great and cleanly (Sleuth is my favorite) but some fall flat with too many variables to work through or ways that players can unintentionally give the wrong info, making all your work useless (like has happened to me in Mystery of the Abbey).
Some prior experience with Deduction Theme: Shadow Hunters (5), Mystery of the Abbey (5), Stratego (5.5), Battlestar Galactica (6), Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War (7), Bang! (7), The Resistance (7.5), Shadows Over Camelot (7.5), The Fury of Dracula (8),, Sleuth (10)
Prior view of the Murder/Mystery Theme: First of all, I'm not super into murder mysteries, with the exception of the Jack the Ripper mythos. I love reading and researching about that (personal suspect: Francis Tumblety) and want to try all board games related to that specific set of cases. Outside that, it's a pretty so-so subject to me.
Some prior experience with Murder/Mystery Theme: Inkognito: The Card Game (3.5), Clue (4), Kill Doctor Lucky (6.5), Mr. Jack in New York (7), A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game (7), Mansions of Madness (7), Mr. Jack (8.5), Letters From Whitechapel (8.75)
Prior view of the mechanism of Modular Boards: Modular boards allow for so much re-playability and challenge that every game experience can be vastly different. This is actually a mechanism that can tip the scales to help me purchase a game.
Some prior experience with Modular Boards: Settlers of Catan (5.75), Hey, That's My Fish! (6), Betrayal at House on the Hill (6), Wiz-War (7), Twilight Imperium, 3rd Edition (7), Nexus Ops (7.5), Survive! Escape From Atlantis (7.75), Wrath of Ashardalon (8), Notre Dame (8.5), Deadlands: Doomtown (10)
Prior view of the mechanism of Variable Player Powers: The idea that I can 'break this rule' and you can 'break that rule' are the basic tenets of this mechanism. Setting the players apart within a game allows for variable challenges when played from a different side or character next time.
Some prior experience with Variable Player Powers: Summoner Wars (5.5), HeroClix (6), Stronghold (6.75), Forbidden Island (6.75), Small World (7), Formula D (7), Arkham Horror (7.25), Cosmic Encounter (7.5), Age of Gods (7.5), Star Wars: Epic Duels (8)
Review of Mr. Jack Pocket
This game is a slimmed down version of the eponymous Mr. Jack. I was hesitant to pick it up when I read it was being released. I felt this would be just a distant shadow of a better game or was targeted as an entry level version of the same game.
Components: () I was immediately impressed by box size. Any game I can fit in my glove compartment (4.5" square by 1.5" deep) means I can take it anywhere, and I'll have no trouble fitting it on my game shelf. Upon opening it I found the components to be of equal quality to both of its predecessors. Hardy cardstock pieces, no cards at all (I expected some due to the box size). Everything was pre-punched which was somewhat unique for games too.
Artwork/Layout: () Artwork is quite good and every character is drawn in a way to lend suspicion to them, Familiar characters make a re-appearance and I explained what they did in the base game when playing it with new players to the series. Sherlock Holmes and Watson return again, but this time as investigators, not as potential suspects. And their little dog, too! The iconography is very easy to understand after just the first round of play.
Theme: () Although not on the level of Letters From Whitechapel as far as Jack The Ripper themes, it does a passible job. As deduction games go (and the Mr. Jack mechanisms that are present, though altered) it does a great job.
Rulebook/Player Aids: () The rulebook looms as daunting as it is super thick, but initial fears are removed as it is the same rules presented in 5 languages. actual rules are 9 pages but most of that is graphical images and examples. Fans of the Mr. Jack series will pick it up in about 3 minutes; those without previous experience, maybe twice that.
Gameplay: () Mr. Jack Pocket takes one type of deduction theme and distills its essence down to very basic principles: categorize the characters into groups of innocents and suspects and keep winnowing the field until only one (of nine) suspects remain. The investigator must achieve this goal before one of two timers runs out. The Mr. Jack player tries to delay the investigator and escape into the night. It is the basic gameplay of the rest of the series, but taken in a lighter and more approachable way. Not just a rehash of the series' rules as I thought it would be.
Overall Rating: () Congrats to the designers for taking their excellent original game and producing a great jumping-off point for new players to both the series and to deduction games in general. I can see using this as a gateway game for players new to the hobby game market and as a filler to established game groups. It even makes a nice lunchtime activity with a co-worker or family member. Its size allows for play in the back of a car or on an airplane, so the hunt for Jack can happen practically anywhere. I am totally keeping this in my collection.