Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English man of letters, once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. And indeed the most famous city in the world is an endless cornucopia of diversions with a fascinating and varied history that stretches back to Roman times. Let’s explore a few games set in the iconic city.
One subject that generation after generation finds fascinating is Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who stalked the streets of 19th century London, but whose real identity will forever remain a mystery. Mr Jack is a thrilling game for two players by Bruno Cathala (co-designer of such classics as Shadows over Camelot and Cleopatra and the Society of Architects) and Ludovic Maublanc (and together they designed the excellent Cyclades).
In Mr. Jack, eight investigators have gathered to catch the cunning Jack the Ripper—but Jack is cleverly impersonating one of them! One of the players is one of the investigators—Jack in disguise—and is attempting to flee the board as soon as possible, or avoid being accused for eight turns. The London night covers the gloomy alleys with darkness and only a few corners are still illuminated by the gaslights. By moving each character into light or shadow, the other player (the detective) makes successive deductions to uncover which investigator actually Jack, then tries to catch the infamous ripper.
Mr Jack has been a great success and spawned serval expansions: the Mr Jack Expansion, which adds five new characters and rules for a new way to set up the game; the Mr Jack Pocket Edition, which introduces a smaller board, revised rules and the classic crimefighting characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; and even Mr Jack in New York, which is a more complex version—a complete game—with even more strategy, when Jack the Ripper escapes to Manhattan Island!
Staying on the Jack the Ripper theme, another excellent game that follows the nefarious killer through the fog-shrouded streets of Old London is Letters from Whitechapel, a crime and investigation game. Night after night, the player who controls Jack commits a new murder and tries to reach his hideout, while the other players, in the role of detectives, try to track him down, collecting clues that can lead to his capture.
Enter the poor and dreary Whitechapel district in the London 1888, with its crowded and smelly alleys, hawkers, shouting merchants, dirty children covered in rags who run through the crowd and beg for money, and prostitutes—called ‘the wretched’—on every street corner. One player plays Jack the Ripper, and his goal is to take five victims before being caught. The rest of the players (1 to 5) are police detectives, who must cooperate to catch Jack before the end of the game.
Talking about Scotland Yard, that classic game has one player as the elusive ‘Mister X’, while the other players are Scotland Yard detectives searching for him throughout modern London. Every move is either by taxi, underground, or bus, but Mister X moves secretly, while the detectives cooperate in an effort to close in on him. But if Mister X makes 24 moves without being caught, he wins!
By the way, the London Police Service is known as Scotland Yard because its original headquarters had a rear entrance—that became the public entrance—on a street called Great Scotland Yard. When the headquarters moved, its new location became known as New Scotland Yard.
London lying devastated after the Great Fire of 1666 is explored in Martine Wallace’s London. In this fascinating strategic game, you have the opportunity to build a new city on the ashes of the old. It is up to you how you employ the talents of the people of London to this end. Will you favour the business classes, who will earn you money? Or would you prefer to spend more money than you can rightly afford on grand monuments and sumptuous palaces? You must also deal with the problem of rising poverty and how to employ the many paupers of the city. Throughout the game you will be forced to make tough decisions; to achieve one aim you must sacrifice another, which may open an opportunity for a competitor.
For a comprehensive look at this game, check out Jimmy Castelli’s video review.
For something completely different, why not explore London in three dimensions and in time with the London 4D Cityscape puzzle? Build the iconic city of London in three dimensions and learn about its history through the fourth dimension of time, from 1734 to 2015. Starting with the infamous Tower of London in 1078 the included time line poster will guide you through the changing face of this famous city right up to the London Eye Ferris wheel and beyond with 1,230 pieces. And, the puzzle features glow in the dark streets!
Surely, for every fascinating subject, historical context, or theme, there is an interesting and enjoyable boardgame dedicated to exploring it.
Indeed, we might almost say, when a man (or woman) is tired of gaming, he is tired of life!