Back to the Streets of London, 1888
Letters From Whitechapel was released originally back in 2011 and has subsequently been in and out of print over those years seeing more than a handful of very positive reviews and ratings. It has settled in (at the time of this writing) at a 7.5 rating on BoardGameGeek by nearly 9,000 of the users of the site.
Here we are in 2017 and an expansion is released which to me it is kind of curious. First off, nothing new has actually taken place in the real “story” of The Whitechapel Murderer, Old Leather Apron or as he is most famously known and supposedly self-penned, Jack the Ripper. I would further argue that if a game has been printed, re-printed, and re-printed again time and time over but still finds itself going out of print after each one, then it has maybe proven itself as a solid product. To be fair I am a fan of expansions for good games, and I was quite happy to see an expansion for this game coming down the pipeline and made sure to have a copy of it in my filthy, blood covered hands as soon as it was physically possible.
With that being said, what you get that adds to the game is actually a pretty nice addition that will see play in my set but to be honest is far from necessary. What I am talking about here are three decks of cards that act as modules that you can add to your games of LFW. These cards can be used to change the difficulty of the game and they add a healthy dose of flavor and interest to the game. Let’s take a look at these sets of cards and find out what the meat of this expansion really is all about.
If you find you have a really good Jack player who breezes through games easily you can add in the 25 Jack Suspect cards. The first decision is how difficult to make things for the poor butcher of the streets. There are four levels of difficulty to choose from and you pull out the cards of the level you want to use. Next, the Jack player will randomly draw a single card and place the other 24 cards back in the box. The cards are parameters for Jack that kind of put him at a bit of a disadvantage in that the card dictates your hideout, and gives you limitations on which of the wretched you can murder on specific nights. These are well-implemented cards as they force the player to play differently than they might be used to. Additionally, most of the cards will feature some sort of limitation that gets more and more difficult depending on the level about using coaches or alleys. The part I like the most about these cards is the historical “fluff” text as they give you some interesting detail of the person who was being considered by Scotland Yard as a possible suspect. It’s interesting that the text is written as though 1888 is the present time and not just historically presented. The range of possible suspects is vast and far reaching from regular Joe’s of London, to Prince Albert and even Lewis Carroll.
Next up are a dozen cards called the potential victims whose role is to add a bit of difficulty to the player(s) playing the dutiful, hard-working beat cops of the streets. What these cards do mechanically speaking is change the locations of the murders. The red circles on the board are no longer used and are replaced with the numbers on the eight of the twelve cards and when the body if found on the sidewalk during phase eight the victim’s special ability is triggered, which will impede the police investigation a bit for this round. These are, like the Jack Suspect cards, really well implemented and add just a nice touch of flavor to the game. They also have a nice paragraph of “fluff” based on some of the street walkers of the time again in a game like this flavor is always a welcomed thing for me.
The last set of cards is known as the Policeman Cards and give each of the bobbies a special ability that can be used only when that particular cop is head of the investigation. These again are designed to help the police in their hunt for the killer.
The only other game altering piece to the Dear Boss expansion is an optional rule called Cry Havoc that the police can implement. Simply put, the head of the investigation and choose one detective who moves his figure one single crossing then he chooses another patrolling constable and moves that figure one single crossing even if that figure has already moved this turn. However if the figure has not moved this will consume its movement. So clearly, the Cry Havoc action should be carefully considered to maximize the benefit.
Now comes the rest of the expansion. Plastic molded figurines and a newly printed and updated Jack player screen. Sigh! We all know Fantasy Flight loves its plastic, look at just about any of their games and you will find gobs of plastic modeled figurines (I hesitate to call these miniatures as the box labels them as I tend to think of Warhammer, War Machine and games like that as being miniatures.) So now we have details for our wretched, though they all look alike, and constables, though they all look alike and two Jack figures which both should and do look alike. Yet when I pull these out and show them to players alongside the original wooden pawns that were in the base game, people prefer to play with the wooden pawns. They just have a more elegant look to them and the artwork being as subdued and dark like it naturally just seems to lend itself more to those pawns than the figures. As a result, these don’t get used. I am certain people will paint these up and make them look gorgeous and perhaps that would make the difference but even still I feel this to have been an unnecessary addition.
Now to talk about the updated player screen to make things easier to navigate for Jack….but does it? The newly added information is – the number of wretched pawns to use each turn. Really? You use all of them to start the game, then when you commit the horrendous act of murder if you simply put the wretched pawn and one of the red circle markers on the turn track on the blood splat where it seems to make sense to go, then it naturally means you use all of the markers in the next turn minus the one you just set aside. Then there is the highlighted sections of the map to help Jack see the positions better, and ok that might be something but I don’t really see it. No, this whole printing a new player screen really feels like it was done to add perceived value to the expansion to justify it’s MSRP of $29.95. That’s right this giant 12×12 box is damn near empty when you rip the shrink off the package. Yes, I do quite enjoy what the cards add to the game but let’s face it these were pretty easy to put together and playtest and if they had been released just by themselves they could have been packaged in a cardboard tuck box with a price point of like $14.95.
Expansions bring attention previously released games and a big box expansion does look sexy but I just feel like Fantasy Flight is fleecing fans of this amazing game by charging this much for an expansion that gives so little substance. Is this for you? You have to really feel that Letters From Whitechapel is one of your top games of all time. If it is then this is going to be the kind of thing you need in your collection as it will add variance and interesting elements to your future plays. However, if you feel like you don’t play the game all that much chances are there is really not much value here for you and honestly I feel you would be better off taking this 30 bucks and buying something else to scratch your gaming itch.
~ J. Neil Edge
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