Whitehall Mystery is an all vs one hidden movement game in which 1-3 detective players are pitted against a player in the role of Jack the Ripper. He will leave a trail of corpses strewn across Victorian London unless the detectives can apprehend him first.
This sort of game has a well established history: Ravensburg's Scotland Yard shares plenty of similarities, as does Fury of Dracula. Letters From Whitechapel is most directly comparable, given it's by the same designers and also published by Fantasy Flight. So how does Whitehall Mystery play and why should you think about buying it as opposed to the alternatives?
Whitehall plays with 2-4, one player takes the role of Jack and the other(s) control three detectives in pursuit.
Before the game starts Jack will record the locations of the four grisly murders he intends to commit, scattered across London with one in each of the four quadrants of the period map which comprises the game board. The detectives then place their pieces on three locations from a small selection in the centre of the board. Finally, Jack places a clear red disc on the location on the board of the murder he has chosen as his first, which his also start location, and with that, the games afoot.
Jack's piece never appears on the game board proper. Instead his turn involves recording his moves on a pad. Informed by the mini map printed on the inside of his hidden screen. Each turn he moves one spaces along a marked route. From one numbered location to an adjacent numbered location. Plotting a course towards his next choice of the remaining three numbered locations where he has planned to slaughter his innocent victims. He has 15 turns to make it to murder number two. Marked by his Jack figure on the publicly visible turn tracker. Then another 15 to make it to murder three and another 15 to make it to the final location. This will secure his victory if he can avoid apprehension. Every time he makes it to a murder spot he places another clear red disc on the board, revealing his progress and his location.
After Jack’s has played, each of the three detectives will get a chance to move and then either search for clues or attempt an arrest. They move across the board on a separate network of joined spaces, or ‘crossings’, which intersect Jack’s web of numbered spaces. They can each move up to two spaces. Once all have moved they then can either search the adjacent numbered locations for clues of Jack’s passage or choose one numbered spaces to arrest Jack. Should he be there.
Clue searching involves asking Jack if he has passed through each spot one after another, if so it is marked by a clear yellow counter on the map and the questioning stops. Arrest involves picking a single adjacent numbered space and if Jack is there he is arrested and the detectives win. They can also win by hemming him into a location so he cannot move, as the detective pieces block his movement.
Both sides also possess special abilities. Jack has three pairs of cards that allow modified or enhanced movement. Such as the ability to cross water, and help him throw detectives off the scent. The detectives have four powers between the three of them which either affect movement or otherwise enhance their turn.
What’s it like to play?
This is an excellent game and is definitely my first choice for playing something in this genre. The main reason is it is lean and fast playing. The mechanics are elegant and effective in consistently serving up a nail biting experience for both sides. It rattles along at a energetic pace, playing maybe to an hour and often to far less.
Jack has the puzzle of pregame planning and then once the game starts he enjoys moments of feeling king of the hill. Running rings around the dunderheaded peelers. But then there are close scrapes. Tortuous decisions of whether and when to play a special movement card. Or even change tack and head for a different murder location from the order you originally had in mind. Ultimately there is either the elation of pulling the final job. Or, alternatively, a desperate scrabble to escape as the net draws tight around you.
For the police detectives the game starts by feeling like an impossibility. So little information and so much space it seems for Jack to roam free. And then you stop, pause and start to plan. You know where he starts. With a bit of thinking over the first few turns, you realise there are a finite number of places he can be. You may then start to steadily close the net around him. Taking a steady step by step approach until you have (hopefully) brought him to ground. Through perhaps instead you plan a couple of bold plays and take a risk on him having gone one way rather than another – a big gamble but on occasion a big payout too.
This game can work with gaming novices. The rules are simple and digestible but it will also play brilliantly with experienced Euro players. (As long as you don’t allow AP.) as the depth of strategy supports big thinking. It also plays splendidly with any player count. I have enjoyed head to head as much as one vs all. Balance is also great. I have seen quick wins for both sides and also nail biting finishes that come close to the maximum 60 turn count. The quicker games when the detectives win sometimes have a bit of luck about them, but then their speed draws the possible sting from this. On those occasions we have just played another game straight off the bat.
Production values and design are of high quality, as you would expect from a Fantasy Flight release.
All in all this is a great purchase that should get a lot of play from a varied audience. I play it in fits and starts. It comes out, gets a lot of play and then goes away for a few months. But it always come back out. It’s the quintessential cat and mouse game and a worthy addition to any collection.