GAMES: 221B Baker Street & Mr. Jack
LOCATION: London, England
ASSIGNMENTS: Solve various mysteries in the style of Sherlock Holmes, and ascertain who Jack the Ripper is disguising himself as.
First, let’s look at this classic game from 1975: 221B Baker Street
So, how does it work? In 221B Baker Street (the famous address of Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth Sherlock Holmes), the players travel around to the different London locales acquiring clues to help them solve a particular Case that is chosen at the beginning of the game. There are 20 different Cases included in the base game, with many more that were released as expansions later on. Each Case is a completely separate storyline with varying questions that need answered. Some may be a simple whodunnit, others are more complex, or may involve secret codes, like the one I’m going to highlight here. The gameplay itself is incredibly simple, but putting the clues together to solve the puzzle is where the rub is. Now, some of the Cases are much simpler than what was usually found in Doyle’s writings, but fun nonetheless. Everyone starts with 1 key and 1 badge. Badges let you block other players from entering an establishment, unless they possess a key to open them. How quickly you are able to travel around the board all depends on how well you roll the dice, and that can be annoying. But for what the game is, and when it was released, it is an enjoyable time. Move around, collect clues, then be the first to return to 221B Baker Street and announce the solution. Be warned—I know that it is unlikely that many readers will pick up this old game anyway, but there will be major spoilers about the Case #5 story specifically: The Adventure of the Coded Message. Let’s get to sleuthing!
“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.”– (Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Conan Doyle – The Sign of Four
In summary, Rafer Harmon, the proprietor of a pawn shop, was found dead when his canary’s song alerted the landlord. Harmon was in reality a petty thief whose real name was Rudolph Hickel. He was involved in a grand heist at the London Museum some years ago where he made away with the famous Eyes of Lucifer pearls. Before he died, Hickel penned a note that presumably was meant for an old friend set to be released from jail soon. For this game, the only thing we need to do is crack the code:
As we set out from Holmes’ place, I try to determine the best place to stop first. I assume that the Pawnbroker building is crucial to the solution, so I move straight ahead, down the street a couple blocks and knock on the door (and refer to Clue #196 in the booklet)…
Of course! The code MUST reveal where the Eyes of Lucifer pearls are hidden, which Hickel was trying to relay to Harry Blake, his old friend.
Just around the corner is the Boar’s Head Inn & Pub. This is an old mainstay of the town—the musty air filled with smoke and of course, gossip. It is here that I find from a former accomplice who was familiar with Hickel’s methods that the code will most likely need to be read backwards.
The Boar’s Head Inn was a tavern that existed by the time Shakespeare was writing and was featured in his play Henry V as Falstaff’s meeting place. An amphitheater was installed on the premises, and was a popular venue for playgoers. This is likely why the inn was a particular inspiration for the bard. The building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, then rebuilt, and eventually demolished much later in 1831, and the Boar’s Head sign was moved to the Globe theater. You can visit where it once stood near 20 Eastcheap street in London.
This is good. I already know what the message is meant to reveal and how it must be read. I head over to Scotland Yard to grab another Badge and see what those numbskulls can offer in the way of information.
Turns out Scotland Yard has already given me all they know (which admittedly isn’t much). Meanwhile, my wife has gone completely in a different direction to the west side of the board—a path that she’s fond of—that leads by a couple businesses in short succession and features a narrow bridge that puts you right at the entrance of the grand Hotel. You can really knock out a few locations very quickly this way.
Next, I turn the corner and head into the Apothecary’s. Aha! A clue to the code that suggests it might be a simple shift cipher…
After a couple more clues, it becomes clear that this IS just a simple shifted alphabet style of code.
So, when you shift every letter up 1 in the alphabet, the code becomes:
Then, when reading it backwards and adding spaces, it reads:
PEARLS INSIDE CANARY
Should’ve known the canary would play a part here. Hickel, you old predictable bird. I beat my wife back to 221B Baker Street and announce the correct solution. Because she went to to the other side of town first, she didn’t see the crucial clue that the code must be read backwards, so she was close but not quite there.
Arthur Conan Doyle used many real-life locations in his Sherlock Holmes adventures, including the street itself where the famous sleuth resides. Baker Street at the time Doyle penned his stories did not go as high as 221 though, but later, when the street was extended in the 1930s, 221 came into existence! Just down the street is the Sherlock Holmes Museum [of course!], and there is also a popular Beatles memorabilia shop on Baker Street. Beginning as a classy residential area, it is now mostly lined with businesses.
Final Thoughts: 221B Baker Street provides high replayability that fits inside an incredibly simple frame of gameplay. Too simple really. You’re just rolling and moving, and the Cases provide the flavor. Its mechanics lack depth and interest, so that drags the game down a bit in my view. So it doesn’t blow you away, but its puzzles and race-like pace still make for a enjoyable time.
Next, let’s look at Mr. Jack, a cat-and-mouse game of deduction for 2 players only. One player is Jack the Ripper and the other is the Detective chasing him. The game is set up the same every time with 8 characters in designated spots on the board, which is a small generic representation of London. Before the game starts, the player controlling Jack randomly draws one of the 8 character Suspect cards to determine which character he is disguised as. This is secret information and what the detective is trying to ascertain. On each turn, the player draws a character card and performs that character’s actions. Each character has movement and an ability. There are lanterns, manhole covers, and police cordons that all can be moved by different characters. At the end of each round (thematically represented as an hour), the Jack player must reveal whether his character is seen or unseen. “Seen” means that Jack’s character is next to a lantern or directly adjacent to another character. By revealing this information, the detective may rule out certain characters and continue to narrow down the suspects. After the first few rounds, lanterns are removed from the board, making it easier for Jack to remain unseen. Jack may also move through the sewers by entering/exiting any manhole, but NOT through ones that are currently covered. There are 4 open corners of the city, but 2 of them are blocked by a police cordon at any point. Mr. Jack wins if he is able to escape out of one of the non-barricaded corners of the city following a turn where he was unseen, or if he remains undetected the full 8 rounds. The Inspector wins if he is able to find the identity of Jack and capture him by moving one of the other character tokens on top of him.
I play as Mr. Jack, which my wife usually prefers. The card I draw is Sir William Gull, which means that is the character that I’m disguised as for this game. This is of course kept secret from my opponent. Sherlock Holmes’ special ability when played is that he allows you to draw from the deck and eliminate a character from suspicion, which is why the card says “Innocent” underneath his name. Oh, Sir William Gull is all but innocent tonight, I assure you.
Right after the first couple rounds, my wife is able to narrow down to only a few characters already. Yikes. It is also important to note that she has already used Sherlock Holmes’ special ability to secretly confirm someone’s innocence, unbeknownst to me.
You can see I camped myself near an open manhole in case I need to make a quick escape through the sewers (Gull is the purple token at the bottom of the board). After the next few turns, I try to make all the suspects Seen, which works. She is not able to eliminate anyone this time, but I feel a sense of urgency. Now, to slip into the shadows and hopefully on my way outside the city…
For a brief period in 1888, 5 gruesome murders rocked the area of Whitechapel in London. The killer was never identified, only nicknamed as Jack the Ripper. “Jack” has been studied extensively, written about, portrayed on film, and parodied, and the supposed evidence of his crimes investigated still. Because of the media attention, pop culture legends and fluff, we have probably become desensitized to the heinous reality of his crimes. His victims were mutilated in an extreme manner that suggest that Jack had a severe amount of hatred in his heart, presumably directed at women in general. At the time, Whitechapel was already not a stranger to crime: you know, your “everyday” variety of robberies, violence, public drunkenness, and prostitution. So you know the murders in 1888 must have been that much more disturbing and different than the commonplace crime, as all the major newspapers were feverishly covering it on their front pages. This effectively notified the public of potential danger, but also sent some into a frenzy of fear, and spurred others into unhealthy vigilantism. The last murder widely believed to be performed by Jack was just a couple months later than the first one on November 9, 1888. So just as mysteriously as they started, they ended. And a sinister legacy was left by an unnamed individual.
Modern-day Whitechapel is more hipster than gangster, the flophouses & whorehouses of the old East End have all but given way to art galleries, great ethnic food, and has undergone some gentrification, though still retains some of its grungy past, which to many has a rough attractiveness to it. If you’re there, crave then rave about some good Indian food at the famous Tayyabs restaurant, visit the Whitechapel Gallery for some of London’s best art, or tour the Whitechapel Bell Foundry that made the historical Big Ben bell AND the Liberty Bell!
The Detective narrows it down to just me and Jeremy Bert (the orange character). Uh-oh, time to escape. She still is not certain which of the two I am, right? I get near an exit, out of the light, to prepare to escape in the next hour or so when WHAM! She uses Sherlock himself to accuse my character. Turns out that 1 card she had drawn early on confirmed that Jeremy Bert was innocent. What luck. It was an exciting finish to a great game though.
Final Thoughts: This is such a great cat-and-mouse game. It is very different playing as either side, and there is always a great tension as Jack sneaks and the detective snoops. Playing as Mr. Jack, the trick is how and when do you blend in with the crowd, staying in the light, or try to stay in the shadows and make an escape. Sometimes things just don’t go your way depending on the cards drawn, and you have to just make a break for it. As the detective, you are playing a game of deduction, trying to position the characters in a way that you can rule out some of them and keep narrowing down the suspects. The game rarely makes it the full 8 rounds, as Jack either escapes or is captured. We have found that the game seems skewed in the detective’s favor, which is actually fine. It makes for a good challenge, and a little more special when Jack escapes. And in this way, you can maybe account for skill level too, letting the more experienced player be Mr. Jack.
I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting these two deductive games with me.
Le Havre, France