Sunday 30 November 2014

The Downfall of Pompeii

Brought to you by the creator of Carcassonne, here's a tribute to that fateful event in 79 A.D. that has players frantically positioning and evacuating as many citizens as possible from the wrath of Mount Vesuvius.

Can you escape the inferno?

This is the Mayfair 2nd Edition (2013)

Name: The Downfall of Pompeii (2004)

Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

Publisher: Mayfair Games

Trivia: In my copy of the game I only received 25 Blue pieces and 28 Yellow pieces (where the instruction manual said that I was supposed to have 30 of each colour). I emailed Mayfair games to get the missing 5 Blue and 2 Yellow pieces.

In previous editions of the game you apparently were forced to pick certain colours depending on the number of players you had as not all colours had the same number of pieces (which, if true, is ridiculous).

Players: 2 to 4

Age: 10+

Time to play: 45 mins

Price Range (AUD): $41 to $80 (with one shop even selling it for $107 inclusive of shipping).

Availability: Quite widely available online and I would imagine many hobby stores should stock this.

  • Historical
  • Tile placement
  • Grid movement

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

8.1* out of 10. (Great game - See my Rating Scale)

The Downfall of Pompeii is one of those rare games that properly acknowledges and tributes a particular moment in history - both in terms of its gameplay, feel and artwork.

Players aim to place as many citizens in the city (preferably close to the city's exits and on the same squares/buildings as other citizens) during the first two phases of the game. Then, in phase 3, Mount Vesuvius erupts and each player must then evacuate as many citizens as possible. Through the drawing of lava tiles, each player gets a say as to how the lava enters the city which makes the game very interesting as the lava can potentially harm any of the player's citizens [see below rules and pictures].

There is therefore some degree of strategic thought to this game as you try to amass your citizens in the right areas, whilst keeping an eye out on what your opponents are doing. You are constantly checking to see if any one player is doing too well, and there will be opportunities to 'keep the playing field even' by throwing their civilians into the volcano (through the Omen cards) or threatening their citizens with lava tiles in phase 3. However, cunning players can hedge their risk by placing their citizens alongside their opponent's citizens in the same square - thus reducing the incentive of a lava attack by that opponent on that square because 'If you attack me that will bring you down with me too".

Overall this is a gem of a game and, minus a couple of annoying things I outline below (relating mainly to the setting up of the game) I'd highly recommend it to anyone.

The Good:
  • Great artwork and theme. Love the plastic volcano provided as it adds real depth to the game.
  • Gameplay is fantastic and fits the theme of the historical event well.
  • Interesting mechanic of evacuating citizens through the multiple city gates. The third phase of the game is excellent as it is the ultimate culmination whereby all citizens try to flee the burning lava. All that matters is that as many of your citizens as possible escape the ensuing destruction. The different phases of the game are interesting too and build up the flavour of the game.
  • Considerable strategy - the idea is to hoard as many citizens in the same area (as this increases movement options) whilst balancing this with ensuring that your citizens are within close proximity of the city gates (and far away from the potential lava hotspots).
  • Relatively fast gameplay

The Bad:
  • Setting up the deck is a pain - it can be annoying and time consuming to follow the instructions as the deck is configured differently depending on the number of people playing AND you need to ensure that the 3 phases of the game are properly incorporated into the deck.
  • Obviously luck-driven as cards are involved.
  • May be difficult explaining the different phases of the game to newcomers (but like all things, the first time is always going to be the most difficult and things should get easier after that)

What makes this game fun? 
If you want to relive the downfall of Pompeii, then you should give this game a go.

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

At the outset I should tell you that the aim of this game is to evacuate as many citizens as possible from Pompeii. This involves, firstly, placing citizens in the city and secondly, evacuating them when it hits 79 A.D.

The deck needs to be configured in a certain way - which I won't go into as it is a bit annoying to explain.

The board looks like this, which is really cool especially with the 3D volcano. The artwork is particularly nice.

Give each player all 30 circular pieces (citizens) of a colour of their choice.

There are 3 phases in this game, all of which have been configured into the deck at setup.

First Phase - new citizens move to Pompeii 

In the first phase, gameplay is simple - on your turn you:

1) Play a card;
2) Put a citizen of your colour down in the spot that is the subject of the card and;
3) Then draw a card.

For example suppose that Black plays the Brown 10 card.

Black can place her citizen in any of the 5 positions (circles) in the Brown 10 building [the bottom of the card shows that the Brown 10 building is split up into 2 sections: one with 2 positions and one with 3 positions - this is important for the purposes of the "Relatives" rule in Phase 2].

Second phase - Omens and Relatives

The second phase of the game occurs after 8 cards have been drawn and the first A.D. 79 card is drawn.

In this phase, play continues as it did in the first phase as stated above.

However two extra rules are added:

1) "Relatives": This is a strange rule name.

If a building is already filled with citizens of any colour (not necessarily your own), if you place your citizen in that building, as a bonus you get to add X more citizens to buildings of the same colour OR a neutral (beige) building where X is the number of citizens in that building part before you placed your citizen.

(When determining X, ignore other pieces in a different part of the same-coloured building. "Different part" meaning a part joined by a hallway or a "bridge" - like how in Turquoise 6, Brown 10 or Pale Grey 8 below their buildings are separated into two parts. As was shown above with the Brown 10 Card, your card should clarify how the building is split up. You also cannot place your bonus citizens in the same part of the building that your citizen was originally placed in.)

For example, suppose Black places her piece on the Turquoise 9 building:

There were 3 occupants already in that building before Black entered so under the Relatives rule, as a bonus she gets to place 3 Black pieces on either other turquoise buildings or neutral (beige) buildings which she does:

2) Omens: Omen cards will now appear as they have already been shuffled into this portion of the deck at the start of the game. When you draw an omen card you get to choose any opponent's citizen and throw them into the volcano. Then you draw a replacement card.

For example, Black draws an Omen card. Seeing that Yellow is her nearest competitor, she chucks the Yellow citizen from Pale Grey 8 into the volcano.

(Note that, should there be a tie at the end of the game, the number of citizens thrown down the volcano will act as the tiebreaker.)

Third Phase - Mass Evacuation!

When the 2nd A.D. 79 card gets drawn all cards get put away as they no longer matter. From now on, lava tiles are drawn and everyone's citizens will attempt to escape to outside the city gates!!

Shuffle all the lava tiles and place them in the bag provided by the game.

Now each player, one at a time, draws one tile from the bag and places it on the board according to the symbol found on the lava tile and on the board (see below). This happens until 6 lava tiles are on the board. Lava ties must be placed orthogonally adjacent to other lava tiles of the matching symbol (ie. not diagonally and they must be touching another lava tile of the same symbol).

If a lava tile is placed on a group of citizens, they all get thrown down the volcano!!

Example 1

For example, Player A draws the first lava tile and it has the white column symbol on it so he places it on the lava tile with the column on it

Note that in the bottom left corner of the picture above there is a blue mask symbol (which is another symbol for the lava tiles); whilst the right side has a bronze helmet symbol.

Then 4 more tiles are drawn and this is what eventuates.

Player B draws the 6th tile and decides to place it in the below position to destroy the Yellow and Black citizens. They get thrown into the volcano.

Phase 3 continued: After the 6th lava tile...

Then, from the 7th lava tile onwards, on their turn each player:

1) Draws 1 lava tile and places it onto the board following the rules as above;

2) Then moves up to two of their citizens.

The number of movements each piece can make is equivalent to how many citizens are occupying the same square inclusive of that citizen being moved (which is a maximum of 4).

Exceptions: If the piece is either your only citizen left in the city OR is a lone piece that is by itself in a given square in the city - a player can opt to move that piece two squares (instead of moving two separate citizens in the latter exception).

Example 2

Suppose this is the current situation and it is Black's turn.

Black wants to move her citizen from that group of 4 on the very left.

Therefore, that black piece can be moved 4 steps like so as it is sitting in a square with 4 citizens (including itself):




And 4....safely escaped!

If this is Black's first escaped citizen, Black is currently sitting on 1 point (it therefore pays to congregate citizens together!)


Whoever has the most number of citizens evacuated wins. Should there be a tie, the person who has the least citizens in the volcano wins.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Wits & Wagers

From the creators of Say Anything, here's another famous party game hit for your table.

"Not a trivia buff? It doesn't matter" say the game designers themselves...because players can bet on other people's answers.

As the game's box endeavours to inform us, it is the "most award winning party game in history".

This may be true but that doesn't mean it is the best game in history; although I really like this game I do think it is slightly overrated. 

Name: Wits and Wagers (2005)

Designer: Dominic Crapuchettes

Publisher: North Star Games amongst others

Versions: I am reviewing the standard or normal edition that comes with the yellow box. It has 7 mini whiteboards (ie. dryboards) and whiteboard markers.

The Family Edition (which comes in a blue box) only has 5 mini whiteboards and markers.

The Party Edition (red box) comes with 6 mini whiteboards and markers.

There is also a Deluxe Family Edition which comes with an extra player whiteboard and marker (as compared to the 'normal' Family Edition) and meeple stickers, but is otherwise exactly like the Family Edition.

Also, the normal edition I am reviewing only has 100 question cards in contrast to the other two versions which have 125 cards.

Both the Family and Party editions allege that they are different to the normal version in terms of their rules, questions and gameplay.

For example, according to Dominic Crapuchettes on BoardGameGeek the Party edition has questions that are lighter and "more fun" (ie. questions that are less academic or serious) whilst its gameplay involves less "accounting" in the sense that scoring is simplified (which I think obviates the need for bets to be paid out) . Therefore the Party edition is supposedly targeted at non-gamers (such as relatives or family) and removes the casino feel of the game. Whether this is so is highly questionable: plenty of "non-gamer" friends, relatives or family, including those who are academics, would enjoy that kind of environment and feel to a game. Of course, only you would know your friends and relatives the best.

Also, we are told that apparently the Family edition is better for kids.

Whether any of this is true I don't know for sure but please do be wary of the different versions out there. You are of course free to make your own rule modifications (and indeed, questions) in any event to suit.

There is also even a game called "Gambit 7" (also designed by Mr. Crapuchettes) which prima facie looks extremely similar to Wits and Wagers albeit with different (and a wider variety of?) categories of questions that are apparently not focused on the United States (although I wouldn't know for sure as I've never played it).

This game also has a Spanish Edition called "Las Vegas Quiz" published by Morapiaf, which presumably (the marketing team thinks) is a more enticing title to that populace.

Players: 3 to 7+ (The sky is the limit. How many people can you fit in a room? How many people are you willing to have in each group? etc)

Age: 10+

Time to play: 25 mins apparently. As long or as short as you like.

Price Range (AUD): $40 to $53++ (I have even seen a copy selling for $103). I got mine for about $36. That range is quite expensive to be honest.

Availability: Widely available online and in hobby game stores. Although I'm not sure it is popular enough to make its way into mainstream department stores here in Australia (the last time I checked anyway).

  • Party
  • Trivia
  • Wagering
  • Almost a modern classic?

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

8.0 out of 10. (Great party game - See my Rating Scale)

This is a pretty good party/trivia game that incorporates the classic and ever popular theme of wagering.

One key aspect of this game that gives it its kick is that you or your team mates do not need to come up with a good, or even remotely close answer to the real answer; all that really needs to happen is that your team must choose from (or bet on) one of the different answers that every team has provided. The correct answer is the closest answer without going over. Therefore if the real answer is 20, 19 (if the closest) is a winning answer, but not 20.5 or 22.

This feature of betting on answers, especially to questions that are usually interesting and diverse, is quite fun and is the main gimmick that keeps people going, especially in a party environment. My main criticisms of the game are that the questions are not only outdated (by, sometimes, more than 5 years) but they are also too focussed on the USA; however, of course, this latter issue isn't really a problem because most people think highly of the United States (whether they ought to is a completely different issue that I won't debate here =P) and therefore trivia relating to it is generally still well-received or at the very least, quietly accepted. The former issue can be resolved by just telling everyone what year they should have in mind when considering the question.

There is also the issue of paying out bets based on the odds provided (which vary depending on the answer selected - please see below Rules for a better idea); not everyone will be familiar with or comfortable with a game that uses a payout mechanism to decide points - you might think that such a system should be intuitive to most people but one shouldn't necessarily assume that. I can also imagine that some conservative families who play this game might object to the game on the grounds that it is a form of gambling, even if it is only a mild one at that.

However let me not be too harsh on this game. It is a very good one, and is one of those games that can play an unlimited number of people (in the sense of "how many people can I comfortably fit into my room?"). However, in my view, I do prefer other games that have a bit more strategy involved and thus I can't score this too highly. That being said, in the party genre of games, this is definitely up there on my list.

I will note here though that I much prefer Say Anything because I find that the variety of answers to choose from in that game is generally more creative and interesting (contrast this to Wits and Wagers where all answers are numerical); further I like Say Anything because it's a game that works quite well with your friends or if you'd like to know people better. Both are similar in nature as they involve wagering on answers.

The Good:
  • Variety of questions on interesting topics
  • Can play a multitude of people - I've heard of people hosting a large group event based around this game
  • Good crowd pleaser
  • Relatively easy to explain

The Bad:
  • Even in current editions of the game, and although every year questions are updated to reflect current general knowledge, many of the questions and answers are limited to dates that are quite some time ago (eg. There's a question on the population of Wyoming based on the 2006 US Census Bureau) - it is therefore important the group understands that the answer provided is outdated and limited to a particular point in time.
  • Although it has good replayability and there is a wide variety of questions, if you play it too much you may need to buy new questions (Wits and Wagers Expansion Pack 1) - a deeper problem is that this game relies on fresh trivia to make it interesting (contrast this to Say Anything where that is an irrelevant consideration).
  • Many questions are USA-centric, which quite frankly, can get a bit annoying at times (Eg. How many full-length feature films are produced in the USA? What percent of American adults say that Major League Baseball players who use steroids should be banished from the game?)
  • Gambling themes - would only bother the sensitive. I only add this for completeness.

What makes this game fun? 
If you enjoy a massive party game that involves placing bets on answers to interesting trivia questions, give this a go.

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

When you open the box you will see a folded cloth mat and these components:

You'll see some plastic and cardboard betting chips; 7 whiteboard ("dryboard") markers and mini-whiteboards, just like in Say Anything; a timer and question + answer cards.

Form Groups

What happens is everyone will be divided into teams - it is up to you how many groups there will be and how many people should be in each group. However anywhere from 4 to 7 groups is a good number depending on the number of people involved.

Give each group a whiteboard marker, a whiteboard and 2 cardboard chips. No one starts off with plastic chips - these are earnt during the course of the game.

(Note: The game recommends that the game be played in a particular way but I will just make up some custom rules from here on just for the ease of explanation.)


A randomly selected individual draws a card (yellow side up), careful not to expose the blue answer side to anyone, including themselves.

They read a question of their choosing (by contrast, the game's rules recommend one person draw 1 card, reading question 1; the same player draws the next card, then reads question 2 out; etc up until 7 questions have been read out from 7 different cards)

In short:

Everyone then writes down an answer and the answers are arranged on the betting mat in ascending order, with the lowest answer placed closest to the left part of the mat that says "Smaller than the smallest guess".

And then everyone bets on an answer with their 2 cardboard chips (which will never be lost) and plastic chips (which can be lost).

The "correct" answer for betting purposes is the one that is CLOSEST to the real answer WITHOUT going over.

Bets are paid out according to the odds given. Answers are rubbed off and a new question is asked, with the above process repeated.


Suppose the question is "As at early 2007, what percentage of the world's population lives in Asia?"

Every team hazards a guess and they place them on the mat:

As you can see, the lowest answer (30%) is sitting on the 5:1 payslot on the left. The middle slot (2:1) is left empty because there are two tied answers (70%) on the far right (also sitting on a 5:1 payslot).

Suppose everyone places their betting tokens accordingly:

Purple has wagered both cardboard tokens on the 6:1 pay slot, meaning that if the answer is 29.999% or less, the Purple Team will get 12 coins.

Suppose the answer is 60.6%

Therefore those who bet on the 60% answer are correct because 60% is closest to 60.6% without going over. 61% has gone over the actual answer and is therefore wrong.

Everyone gets their wagering tokens back, but Grey gets a payout of 6 red chips (or 1 blue and 1 red) whilst Yellow gets a payout of 3 red plastic chips. No one else wins anything.

The plastic chips look like this:

Red is worth $1; Blue is $5; Green is $25 (these values can be changed).

From now on, if the Yellow or Grey team bets with these plastic chips, and they guess incorrectly, they will lose the plastic chips permanently. However, of course, there is a chance to earn a bigger payout if one bets using the plastic chips.

Whoever has the most chips/money by the end of the game wins.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Say Bye to the Villains

The game's description says it all:
"A cooperative game of vanquishing villains".

Within the cooperative spectrum of games, I much prefer this game over Hanabi and Pandemic ...although the game might not appeal to everyone*.

Literally: "Punishment to the villains"

Name: Say Bye to the Villains (2012)

Trivia: Apparently the Chinese characters on the box, 成敗, are actually pronounced "Sei Bai" (Japanese Kanji pronunciation) meaning punishment, hence the pun in the title.

Designer: Seiji Kanai, with artist Noboru Sugiura

Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), amongst others

Players: 3 to 8 - arguably harder to win with more players (but that makes the game fun).

Age: 12+

Time to play: 30 to 45 minutes?

Price Range (AUD): $23 to $30 (if ordering from eBay be prepared to pay the extra $40 shipping, which is absurd)

Availability: Seems to be available online,

  • Cooperative
  • Beat the bad guys/ bosses
  • Card
  • Japanese Ninja/Samurai-themed

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.8* out of 10. (Great cooperative game - See my Rating Scale)

The classic final showdown between villain and hero is something that is well-known to video game, comic-book, fiction, and movie fans alike. That is one of the main reasons why I like this game: because the entire emphasis is on the ultimate head-to-head battle against a worthy foe.

All 8 heroes that may be selected by the group have a unique super power or trait, as do the 8 villains. The general gist of this game is that all players must defeat all of the villains in a final battle. In any given matchup, the battle is played out by comparing a villain and hero's Speed, Power and Life points. However before this happens the Heroes must spend time investigating the Villains in question to determine their strength and weaknesses, whilst boosting their own collective strength. The villains have all sorts of cunning tactics hidden up their sleeves such as hidden weapons, ambushes/traps and loyal henchmen all willing to fight for their cause.

I genuinely think this game does a good job of overcoming the main problem that Pandemic had: namely, and this is a common occurrence in cooperative games, the fact that one 'aggressive' or more outspoken person can boss everyone around by telling people what to do.

In contrast, in Say Bye to the Villains, it truly does feel like each player is in charge of their own character's destiny and is privy to the weaknesses and strengths of their character. That is to say, only you know what cards you have in your hand and whether you are strong enough to take on a villain (particularly if you are the only person who has checked on the strength of a certain villain). Therefore, it would be ridiculous, and largely impossible, for other players to simply give commands or orders to the group without at least consulting or discussing the options at hand (but of course, it is likely that a more vocal spokesperson for the group will emerge over time, but this is fine - in the spirit of cooperative games - so long as everyone is consulted).

I also find the variety of weapons and statistic boosters (for both Villains and Heroes) quite fascinating, and with the deck properly shuffled, there is almost always a tricky surprise in store for the good guys. For example, there is the Secret Passage card which gives a villain an extra 99 Life points - making him or her impossible to defeat unless the hero has the card that grants Infinite Power or a stalemate in the battle is an acceptable victory condition.

* Reduced from 8.2: Not everyone will like this game though, especially if they aren't into adding up numbers and don't relish the idea of a boss battle. Although I really like this game, my rating ought to consider the general populace - and the game might only satisfy a particular niche of people (ie. those who enjoy boss battles in a video-game type of game mechanic) for the reasons stated! But even then that doesn't stop it from being a great game!

The Good:
  • Provides a thrill of beating the bad guys and fighting evil bosses/ villains. The game has great thematic value in that respect.
  • Real groupwork required to win the game - everyone needs to contribute
  • There is considerable strategy involved. As a sidenote, some hero powers seem a bit weaker than others at first, but they actually do have their use if given more strategic thought. 
  • Can play a lot of people!! 
  • Massive variety of cards (loads of weapons and scenarios for both heroes and villains as well as power-ups)
  • Interesting combat concept of comparing statistics of to see who has won in a showdown. The Speed statistic is particularly cool, deciding who goes first (See below rules "Description of the Statistics by way of example") 

The Bad:
  • Quite hard to win (not necessarily a bad thing though)
  • The 'no communicating' rule is a bit suspect and sometimes hard to comply with (much in the same way as Hanabi) [See below "A Note on Communicating"]
  • Some of the actions are a bit difficult to grasp at first, particularly in respect of playing one card face down to represent that 1 unit of time has passed. The game may be difficult to explain to those who aren't really into games (or Role Playing Games specifically where your character's attributes are a key and familiar aspect of gameplay)
  • I kind of wish the villains and heroes had a wider array of special abilities
  • You won't like this game if you don't like adding up numbers, mildly difficult games or the idea of boss battles (which might be the case if you aren't into video games)*

What makes this game fun? 
If you are the type who enjoys a finale between villain and hero (as I suspect many of us out there are!) and if think you would enjoy that theme in the context of a cooperative game, then give this a go!

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

The general aim of this game is to defeat all the bad guys. Each hero must take on a bad guy; but before that happens, some preparatory work needs to be undertaken!

Choose your villains

Draw as many villains as there are players (Eg. if playing a 5 player game, draw 5 villains).

There are 8 villains in total to choose from, half of which are shown below just to give you an idea of what they look like:

The number in the top right corner of the villains card indicates how many black "resource" or "situation" cards each villain receives facedown. These cards generally boost the villains powers significantly.

For example, Soubei Echigoya, whilst having relatively weaker statistics (4 Speed; 3 Power; 3 Life) has 7 resource cards to compensate for these low stats.

For example, this is what the villain setup would look like in a three player game, assuming Soubei, Jingoro and Houkai are the villains:

Choose your heroes or vanquishers

Now players draw as many heroes as there are players.

Also, draw the black vanquisher cards that correspond to the heroes in question. Just to give you an idea of what they look like, three heroes and their respective vanquisher cards (the ones with 'cool' looking outfits) are shown in the example below:

Hero cards on top; vanquisher cards on bottom (what they look like when they 'transform' and are about to fight the bad guys!)

The Vanquisher cards, seen in the bottom row of the above picture, have two uses. The first use occurs towards the end of the game, where the vanquisher card itself will be used by each hero to target a villain (by placing the vanquisher card next to a villain). No villain can be targeted twice and each hero must choose their own unique villain to fight!

The second use of the Vanquisher card is fantastic: the flipside of the card is a great summary of all the actions that can be used in the game:

Each player gets a hand of 7 white player cards which should be kept secret from all other players.

On your turn you may...

1) Play an action card. Obviously some action cards are more powerful than others (see below for some examples).

Concept of time: At this point it is important that I explain the concept of 'time' in this game

  • When you play an action card it costs a certain amount of time. Each player cannot play a card if this would send their total time to over 10 units (ie. each player only has a maximum time of 10). If a player reaches their time limit of 10 units, they MUST target a villain.

2) Use your vanquisher's special ability at the cost of 1 unit of time. For example, Tatsu can reveal 1 villain's black situation card at a cost of using up 1 unit of his time by flipping over any of the black cards like so:

3) Use a standard ability. Standard abilities each cost 1 time and they include:

  • Draw 1 card
  • Draw 2 cards, then discard 2 cards
  • Pass 1 card to any player
  • Check 1 situation card

4) Target a villain


When using Options 2) or 3) above, in order to represent that 1 unit of time has been used up, a player must play one of their cards face down. For example this is what the table might look like after several plays:

Observe that:

  • Mind Over Matter has a cost of 3 time (see the top left corner of the card);
  • God Speed has a cost of 4 time;
  • One face-down card has played, equating to a cost of 1 time (this was played to use a standard ability or a special ability);
  • Special Training has a cost of 2 time.

This player's total time is 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 = 10. Therefore they must immediately target a villain as they have reached their maximum limit.

Targeting and fighting villains

When all heroes have targeted a villain, a battle ensues between each villain and hero.
The statistics of both heroes and villains are added up and compared.

Using the above picture as an example Tatsu has:

Speed = 1 + Infinity = Infinite (due to "God Speed")
Power = 7 + 5 = 12 (due to "Special Training")
Life = 8 + 8 = 16 (due to "Mind over Matter")

Suppose that Tatsu targets Jingoro the Wild Dog and that these are the revealed situation cards of Jingoro:

The final statistics of Jingoro are, therefore:

Speed = 5 + 5 (Hidden Pistol) - 3 (Debauchery) = 7
Power = 5 + 5 + 3 (Thug, and Jingoro's special ability that Thug values are tripled) - 3 = 10
Life = 8 + 3 (Thug, and special ability) + 99 (Secret Passage - a crazy card) = 110

Description of the Statistics by way of example

In a showdown, Speed dictates who attacks first. If the person defending survives, they get to counterattack. After that no further attacks are made.

To win, ALL heroes must:

1) Not die (ie. Lose all their life, which occurs if the Villain's Power > Hero's Life) AND
2) Be able to kill the villain (ie. Hero's Power > Villain Life).

In the above example, Tatsu has the higher speed (Infinite > 7) and therefore attacks first. However his crazy speed won't do him much good because his Power (ie. damage) is only 12 which is nowhere close to destroying Jingoro's Life of 110.

Jingoro would then counterattack with a Power of 10, which is not enough to overcome Tatsu's Life of 16.

This ends in a Stalemate as neither side has died. Unless the victory condition has changed (which rarely happens), the heroes lose as a stalemate is not enough for a victory.

A Note on Communicating

If you do find out information about a villain, you must never reveal the statistics or the items stated on any of the villain's black cards. The same rule applies to what you have in your hand - you can't mention the name of the cards you have nor can you mention the precise numerical statistics they give.

So you could never say:

  • "Jingoro has a speed of 13"
  • "Jingoro has a Secret Pistol"
  • "Jingoro has an item that gives him +5 speed"
  • "I have a card that gives +5 Life"
  • "I have the Meditation card"

However you CAN say things like these:

1) "I can handle that situation card"
2) "I can target Villain X"
3) "I reckon Player A and D can target Villain X, but Player C would get destroyed if they targeted Villain X."
4) "I need more Power, can anybody give me some?"
5) "Who needs Power? I can give them some?"
6) "Can anyone defeat Jingoro?"
7) "Can you investigate Jingoro for me please?"

Saturday 8 November 2014

Letters from Whitechapel

Like Mr. Jack, this is another game that explores the ever-popular Jack the Ripper theme. 
Only this time, the police will have a harder job finding him as Jack's movements are literally hidden from all...

Kudos to Sean for both showing me this game and (indirectly) providing some of the descriptions found in this review.

If my memory serves me well, it also carries the unusual distinction of being a game that Hari, Jack, Roy and Nimalan all enjoy playing.

Name: Letters from Whitechapel (2011)

Designer: Gabriele Mari/ Gianluca Santopietro

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games, amongst others

Players: 2-6

Age: 13+

Time to play: 120 minutes

Price Range (AUD): $70 to $125 (crazy prices). I got mine for about $57.

Availability: Looks like a game that is quite hard to find online.

  • Deduction
  • Mystery
  • Jack the Ripper
  • Hidden movements
  • Historical
  • Cooperative/Gang-up-on-the-bad-guy

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.6* out of 10. (Great tense deduction game - See my Rating Scale)

Letters from Whitechapel is essentially a cat and mouse game between Jack the Ripper and the detectives who are trying to hunt him down.

The premise of the game is that Jack has just committed a murder and is on the run, desperate to make it back to his secret hideout.

Jack's movements are secretly recorded in a notepad, away from the view of the police inspectors. Police have 5 constables on patrol who all can be moved and used to search for clues. Jack must be truthful and reveal if he has been on a particular spot when asked by the police. In such a way, police can deduce Jack's trail and the direction he is moving in after he has committed a murder. Jack also cannot move to a spot if a constable is blocking his path.

I like this game quite a lot because it has quite a lot of tension - perhaps I could be so bold as to suggest that the tension rivals that which occurs in a competitive chess match where both parties are forced to consider all their options and their opponent's reactions to such moves (but minus the complex strategy of course). There is also plenty of scope for Jack to muck around with the police by looping around in circles and taking risks (to keep them off his scent or to delay their finding of his house).

However as mentioned below, the game does tend to suffer from being too long in general, as well as being slightly annoying in terms of its setup phase. But this is something that can be improved upon if you play it more than once.

In a strange sense, I almost feel like Letters from Whitechapel would make for a good computer game (albeit, such a game would lack the fun derived from observing the body language and facial expressions of the player who is Jack the Ripper). This is because the movements of both the police and Jack could be simultaneously documented electronically which would look pretty cool (it would plot where Jack was and where the police was at a given point of time, and both sides could reflect upon how close they were to a loss/victory); furthermore, Jack's movements would be scrutinized and actually checked by a computer AI (so that Jack wouldn't make an illegal move or bump into the police). Contrast this to when it's played as a board game, since the detectives are forced to trust the actions of Jack the Ripper as it is only him who knows which movements he has made.

* December 2014: Reduced from 7.9. Whilst a great game, I think some of the gimmicks in this game are overly complicated and make the game unnecessarily long, particularly with the setting up/ positioning of each player's tokens before gameplay actually begins. It would make for a fantastic computer game though as these preparatory steps would be easier to manage.

The Good:
  • Game board apparently is an actual historical map of the Whitechapel district of London! 
  • Large board and sturdy components
  • Great room for deduction and deception
  • Some critics say this is a game best for 2 players?
  • Replayability - new strategies and bluffs you can use on each occasion!

The Bad:
  • The theme doesn't lend itself well to those who might not like the idea of recreating a point in history where women were brutally murdered (see also: Guillotine) - which is fair enough
  • The setup time is quite long and the positioning units phase of the game can also be quite annoying and tedious (but after a while you will get the hang of it)
  • Can take a long time to play
  • No accountability - no one can check Jack's actions except Jack (which is bad - we are all prone to mistakes). The exception is perhaps if you play with a neutral bystander who doesn't mind watching.

What makes this game fun? 
Running away, planting false trails and toying with the cops (if you are Jack); and the satisfaction of finally nailing that highly dangerous and infamous criminal everyone has been searching for (if you are the police!)

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)
[If you want to just jump to the action please just scroll down to "2: The Hunt Begins - Jack Escapes" or "Jack finally moves"]

One player is designated Jack the Ripper and will be the villain. Everyone else will be working cooperatively as detectives to catch Jack the Ripper.

The detectives take the 5 coloured detective figures (green, blue, red, brown, yellow), the 19 yellow clue tokens and the 7 black circular "bluffing" tokens.

The player who is designated Jack (usually the most experienced player) keeps the 5 red crime scene markers, the carriage and alleyway tokens and the 8 white circular bluffing tokens. Jack also receives a secret notepad as below:

Before the game starts, Jack will fill in the location of his hideout in the very top circle of the above notepad.

His location can be at any one of the numbers in the circles on the board, some of which can be barely seen above (but more are shown below). This is the location he MUST return to each night WITHOUT being caught by the constables on patrol.

The row starting with "1" indicates Jack's movements during Night 1, and the same can be said in respect of rows 2 to 4. [You will see how this works below]

The game is played over 3 nights, and in each night, there are two phases.

1 - Planning Phase

There is a preliminary planning phase that I won't go into too much detail - it can be quite confusing if you are new to the game. In short though, this phase is designed for both Jack and the detectives to position themselves: for Jack, the phase is used to decide where he will make his kill. For the detectives it is to decide where they will position their constables on patrol.

Jack does this by placing the white circular bluffing tokens onto the red circles. Those tokens that have a red underside represent places that Jack is thinking of making a kill at. Some of these circular tokens have nothing on their underside and are fake leads in the sense that they are not actually places that Jack intends to kill at.

Bluffing tokens - the black token has a blue underside, which represents where the detectives plan on placing the blue detective.

Similarly, the detectives do this by placing the black circular bluffing tokens onto the squares with yellow outlines. Like Jack's some of these are fake leads - they represent positions that the detectives do not plan on placing their patrol units.

(The number of tokens placed by Jack changes depending on which night it is.)

Jack will reveal his circular bluffing tokens, make a kill and then the detectives will then reveal the true positions of their constables. It might look something like this:

How the board looks like.
The bottom track ('the turn track') is a feature designed to help everyone keep track of Jack's moves. By default the crime usually occurs on Roman Numeral I as indicated by the red marker. (However, this is not always the case - I have not explained the more advanced rules where Jack can actually wait a couple of turns before committing the crime, but I did not want to bog down the rules with that)

In this example above, Jack has just made a kill at 65. Notice also that the turn track on the bottom has been marked with a red circle to show the time of the crime. At this point the turn track is telling us that Jack (the black figure) is currently at the crime scene. I will return to this example shortly.

2 - The Hunt Begins: Jack Escapes

Phase 2 now begins.


Close-up of the board, showing a square with a yellow outline and two potential murder scenes (65 and 84). As mentioned above, the numbers in circles are Jack's potential hideouts AND they represent the points at which Jack will move along. The black squares represent the points at which the detectives will move along.

It is important at this point to note that the detectives move their constables along the SQUARE markers. Constables can move up to 2 squares per turn.

Jack moves via the CIRCULAR numbers and can only move up to ONE circle per turn. Jack cannot move to a circle if a police officer is currently standing in the pathway that blocks access to that circle.

So, for example, if there was a police officer on the Yellow-bordered square above, if Jack is on Circle 118, he cannot move to Circle 120 as the police officer would be blocking him.

Winning Conditions

Jack has 1 winning condition:

1) Return to his hideout every night without being arrested by a constable.

The constables have one main winning condition:

1) Arrest Jack at a circle when he is currently standing on that circle. To do this, the constable must be standing on a square that is adjacent to a circle that Jack is currently on and actively make an arrest. Important: It is NOT enough for the detectives to know Jack's hideout. He needs to be actually arrested before making it back to his hideout.

However Jack can also lose if:
2) Jack is not able to return home after 15 moves  (as stated on Jack's turn track)
3) Jack cannot make a legal move (this is rare as it only occurs where Jack is blocked off by police constables and cannot move in any direction.)

Gameplay - shown through an example

What happens now is interesting.

From now on, Jack will take a turn to move one circle away from where he was previously.
Then the detectives will move ALL police pawns up to two squares away. After the detectives move their pawns, the detectives can perform only one of these two actions:

1) Search for a clue. This involves asking Jack if he has ever been to this circle for this night only. The policemen pawn must be adjacent to the circle if the detectives want to ask about that circle.

2) Make an arrest. This is the decisive action that captures victory for the detectives. Again, the policemen pawns must be adjacent to the circle for which they want to perform the arrest. An arrest can only be made on one circle, not all circles adjacent to the policemen.

This will repeat until Jack returns home.

So far, as the kill has just been made on 65, this is what Jack's secret notepad looks like:

He makes the notation '65' on Roman Numeral I, which is the starting point.

Jack finally moves

Jack moves first. He plays a carriageway token which allows him to move two circles in one go, instead of the usual 1 per turn (the number of carriageways given to Jack is reduced over each night - there is also a special alleyway token that lets Jack move to any circle that is connected to the same block of houses).

He secretly moves to Circle 82 then to Circle 80.

The Turn Track is thus changed to reflect this:

The turn track is a record that shows Jack's movements to date. At this point the turn track tells the detectives that Jack is 2 moves (or circles) away from the crime scene and that he used a carriage way to get to this position. Of course, precisely which circles he used to travel by is a mystery to the detectives.

Jack's hidden notepad also reflects this:

The Detectives move each of their policemen tokens a few squares forward (they all collaborate as to how they want to do this - no doubt they will want to attack all choke points). For example this is what they might do, crowd around the crime scene:

Using the Red detective pawn, they ask if Jack has been to Circle 67 this night. Jack says no as none of the numbers he has written above on his secret notepad match the number asked.

Green asks if Jack has been to Circle 98. Jack says no.

Blue asks if Jack has been to 46, 48 or 28. Jack says no to all of them.

The Police conclude that Jack has either gone upwards through 66 or 63 or gone west through 82 or 63

Jack's and policemen's second move

Then Jack (secretly) moves one normal step to Circle 78:

(Jack is 3 circles away from the crime scene)

The policemen move their pieces accordingly:

Green asks Jack if he has been at 82, 62 and 80.

Jack replies yes to both 82 and 80 and no to 62.

The detectives are excited as they have caught Jack's trail.

They place two yellow transparent discs on 82 and 80 to indicate that Jack has been there.

Continuation and End

This alternation between Jack moving and the police moving (and finding clues) continues until Jack gets 'home'. When this happens, a new night starts. The above steps are repeated, except that the bluffing tokens are placed on the spots where the police were present the night before.

The police need to arrest Jack - ie. be on the square adjacent to where Jack is AND arrest him on the right square - before the end of the 3rd night! As the game progresses the police should, in theory, have a better idea as to where Jack is hiding out.

Cooperative aspect and other rules

For simplicity's sake I have omitted the rules where at the start of each round someone new is the 'leader' or the 'boss' of the police - this boss has the final say as to what is done with police units.

There are also additional rules you can have such as giving Jack the ability to plant false clues (for every 5 yellow Clue markers he reveals to the Police during a given night, Jack gains a blue False Clue marker which can be used to stop policemen from looking for clues or executing an arrest at a random area of the board).

You can also give special powers to Jack to make life more difficult for the police through the optional "letters" scenario (but I don't know too much about this as I haven't played with those rules). There are also rules to make the police stronger.