I've been wrestling with the Mr. Jack question for some time now. On the one hand it is one of the best two player games I've seen in a while. In addition it's a terrific deduction and logic game. On the other hand the subject is Jack the Ripper! Now, granted the game revolves around one player hunting the fugitive and the other player trying to escape, but parents may wish to consider how they're going to address questions regarding the overall subject of the game. For some families this may prove impossible and for others this may not be a deal breaker.
Mr Jack begins with a game board depicting London Streets from above. The board is divided into spaces, some of which have houses in them, some have streetlights, and some are empty to represent streets and alleys. The game also includes 8 tokens. Each represents a fictional character from the period - Sherlock Holmes, Watson, Inspector Lestrade and so on. Through the course of the game the players take turns moving the tokens around the board. One token is chosen randomly at the beginning of the game to be the criminal. The person playing "Mr. Jack" knows which token this is. His or her goal is to get the token off the board edge through one of the marked exits. The other player has to discover which token is the criminal before he or she escapes.
The specific rules for the game are fairly simple to learn. In the most basic sense at the end of each round the "criminal" player must say whether "Mr. Jack" is standing next to a streetlight or not. Now assume that somehow All the tokens but one are next to streetlights. The "criminal" player say "Mr. Jack is not next to a streetlight." The detective player would then say, "aha! The sole character not next to a light is the criminal!" What makes the game so fun is that the two players take turns moving whichever tokens they choose. As you could guess the "criminal" player tries to avoid just the situation mentioned above. The detective tries to move tokens so that suspects can be eliminated in a speedy fashion and also keep an eye open for any tokens which are edging towards an exit. The deduction element is similar to Clue, so if you child can grasp that game they can do fine at Mr. Jack.
One of the many things I like about Mr. Jack is that it's a lot easier to play than to explain. It's also a lot easier to play than the rules are to read. I would encourage parents with an interest in deduction games to take the plunge and then give the game a playtest. I'm confident that one play will demonstrate how well the game flows.
I was also very happy with how exciting Mr. Jack turns out to be in play. I find Clue to be fun but hardly thrill-packed. Further, the players have limited ability to mess with each other. Mr. Jack is lively and tense. The very essence of the game is player interaction. In addition, it's a nice fast paced and quick game. Finally, every game will play slightly differently and you can absolutely improve over time.
There's no denying that the subject matter of Mr. Jack will put it off the list for some families. If this does not seem like an issue for your family then I would highly recommend this inexpensive, well produced, and clever game. I've seen copies at Pandemonium Books and Games People Play.
Pros: Exciting, elegant, fun
Cons: Couldn't we have done Mr. Expired Vehicle Registration instead?
Beyond the Basics: Lots of room to learn and one expansion set available.