When you read a detective story, have you already figured out whodunnit by page 49? Are you one step ahead of the Scotland Yard CID inspectors, the Swedish police, or the Parisian Préfecture whenever you watch Masterpiece Mystery! on PBS? In that case, you should give consideration to Mr. Jack Pocket from Swiss games publisher Hurrican.
Mr. Jack Pocket is, as its name suggests, a pocket edition of the original Mr. Jack. There are substantial differences between the two games in their mechanics, but I won’t get into a side-by-side comparison here. Suffice to say that the pocket game is just that: a version cleverly made miniature, designed for two players, and which can be played in about 15 minutes.
In Mr. Jack Pocket, two players face off: one is Mr. Jack, and the other represents the combined forces of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and their dog Toby. It’s difficult for me to really get behind the idea of a pug as a super-sleuth police dog, but what do I know? The object of the game is asymmetrical: Mr. Jack wishes to escape from the detective forces, while they wish to pin him down and identify him.
The game board is composed of nine double-sided cardboard tiles, each of which shows a configuration of empty streets on one side, and the same configuration plus a character on the other. The nine tiles are randomly placed, character side up, in a three-by-three pattern. The round counters representing Holmes, Watson, and Toby are placed beside the top-left, top-right, and middle-bottom tile, respectively. The player representing Jack draws an Alibi card, notes which of the nine characters’ identities he will be assuming as his disguise, and places it face-down before him.
Mr. Jack Pocket is a line-of-sight game, so the detectives are trying to “see” suspects by creating a line-of-sight, while Mr. Jack is trying to evade their gaze. If the detectives can see a suspect (because no walls block their view), Mr. Jack must tell them whether he can be seen. If he can be seen, then any tiles with suspect side up that are not in the line of sight of one of the detectives are turned to their empty side.
If Mr. Jack tells the investigators that he cannot be seen, however, any area tiles with the suspect side up that are in the line of sight of any detective are turned over to their empty side.
It is the four double-sided Action tokens that drive the game. These are tossed randomly at the start of each game to determine which actions will be available during the turns. On odd-numbered turns, the Investigator starts, choosing one of the tokens and performing its action; Mr. Jack then chooses two of the remaining three actions and carries them out. The Investigator then performs the remaining action. On even-numbered turns, the four tokens are first turned over, and then Mr. Jack chooses his first action, followed by the Investigator choosing two actions, with Mr. Jack playing the final remaining action.
The game ends when: either only one suspect remains on the board (since it must be Mr. Jack!), so the investigators have been victorious; or when Mr. Jack has managed to achieve at least six hourglasses, indicating that too much time has passed for the investigators to be successful (and so Mr. Jack escapes once more!)
This is a surprisingly deep and interesting little strategic puzzle with lots of replayability. Its small footprint makes Mr. Jack Pocket a terrific game to tuck into a carry-on bag for travel. My rating: a solid 8.5 out of 10.
Mr. Jack Pocket
Designers: Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc
Publisher: Hurrican Editions SA
Duration of play: approximately 15 minutes