Ripper & West (to shorten that enormous title) is the sexiest game on the market. The soft whisper as you slide it from its case is almost intimate, seducing you with the promise of something special. The blood-red casebooks are as ominous and alluring as the most forbidden lover; one that demands you bring candles and liquor in tribute. It holds mystery and uncertainty, and even danger, but that just makes it all the more thrilling and irresistible.
If you’ve already fallen for Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective in the past (now being rereleased in its own sultry package as The Thames Murders), you’ll know just what kind of charm the game has and are likely eager for another dalliance. This stand-alone sequel contains four brand new cases based on the infamous Whitechapel murders of history, and reprints six more fictional cases last seen in the ’90s. And it still has the moves, honey; oh boy, does it still have the moves.
Ripper & West’s presentation alone sets the bar for quality. The difficult fancy fonts are removed, the annoying spelling errors are gone, and the solutions are either printed upside-down at the back of the casebook or sealed in delightful little envelopes so there’s no chance of accidentally reading something you shouldn’t before time. The map is now more colourful and the reverse shows the Whitechapel district, expanding the city. Even the directory has been cleaned up and reinvigorated (now with only one list for Public Houses, thankfully).
Box dissection courtesy of Sir Jasper Meeks.
Best of all, the newspapers are more exciting than ever. As wonderful as Thames Murders is, after a few missions the various copies of The Times all start looking the same and keeping track of them becomes a ruddy chore (especially once you spill white wine all over them…). Ripper & West introduces different publishers, such as The Star and Pall Mall Gazette. The best is The Police News with all the slander, scandal, and sensationalism one could expect of that notorious rag. The variety is well appreciated and makes each new paper a treat.
I’ve only played one of the fictional cases so far (Doctor Goldfire) but found it to be equally as enjoyable as anything found in the Thames Murders, and possibly moreso. I played it with a brand new team of investigators and we not only managed to do very well but also still be surprised by the solution, which is exactly what I want from a good mystery.
But look at me. Chattering away like a nervous schoolboy, afraid to admit his own desires. We all know why we’re really here, don’t we?
We’re here to step into the gloom and the muck. We’re here to gaze into the abyss.
We’re here for Jack.
Smoking kills. Elementary.
You Little Ripper
Jack the Ripper is arguably the most infamous serial killer of all time, and this isn’t the first time he’s been the subject of a board game, nor is it the first time someone has thought to match 221B Baker Street’s celebrated sleuth against him. But it is the first time that we’ve seen a Consulting Detective game based on true crime, and Asmodee are pulling no punches. Rather than romanticise the murders as many have done before, the designers have gone to great pains to present the murders as authentically as possible, which means we’re in for a darker journey for these cases.
Though this is no frivolous frolic, it’s no ghoulish guignol either. The facts are presented with a detached professionalism when you are confronted with them, and that simple approach makes the horror all the more human and appalling. Opening any of the Ripper cases has a sombreness that the regular cases lack, and it comes down to knowing that the victim of the crime you’re investigating was a real, living person. As soon as you read aloud the date and the name of the victim you feel as though you need to be respectful; as if you’re attending a funeral or walking through a graveyard.
Fans of true crime and the Ripper crimes in particular will appreciate the effort gone into researching the Whitechapel murders, and the justifications and revelations offered in the notes of each case are intriguing. As we investigate each case we discover more of the ugly underbelly of London, of a police force out of its depth, of a populace goaded by a gleeful press into a paranoid frenzy, of impoverished and vulnerable women who died inside long before the Ripper butchered them. Of all the ways to study the Ripper murders, this would have to be one of the most immersive.
As played by Hugh Jackman.
New Methods and Old Tricks
It isn’t only the subject matter that makes the Ripper cases exciting. You see, Consulting Detective games owe a lot to the Choose Your Own Adventure style of gaming, and many of those old “paragraph books” developed little tricks to play with the format. An example that you’d likely find in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook might be that you discover a copper key with the number 62 on it. Later you encounter a copper chest and the book would instruct you that if you have a copper key you can unlock the box by turning to the paragraph number printed on it. That seems the exact kind of system that Consulting Detective could play with, and I always wondered what would happen if some of those clever devices were explored.
Without going into details, the Ripper cases do indeed borrow a few of these tricks and do so quite well. Furthermore, the designers have been happy to warp the format at times, with the first Ripper case having a different end condition to the base game. It’s fresh and exciting and full of suspense; just like any good murder mystery.
The Consulting Detective format has been adopted by various other designers with varying degrees of success, however none have significantly improved on the formula. The design of the Ripper cases likewise might not be called a vast improvement, but it is an improvement nonetheless, and one that should be applauded.
The Thames Murders & Other Cases
I’m only halfway through the Ripper cases (and still only one case into the West End Adventures) so I can’t yet attest to the eventual payoff, and that payoff is really the essence of any great mystery. This is curious, because the Ripper cases are another kind of mystery, and a sinister one at that. How can we have a satisfying narrative resolution to what legend and authority tells us is an unsolved case?
I trust the Consulting Detective team, and the Ripper cases are not only decent cases but the very best on the market (yes, even better than the original cases/Thames Murders). And lets not forget just how downright sexy it is.
However, there’s still a slight room for improvement, and if I could offer Asmodee my wish list for a new box set, maybe for next year, it would be threefold:
- More props! Have a sealed envelope for each case with extra handouts, such as train timetables, written notes, and the like. Maybe steal some Legacy concepts…
- More limited campaigns, or at least more standalone cases. The purpose is to minimise the intimidating stack of newspapers later on. In a single box, two campaigns of four cases each and two other standalones would be a solid set of ten cases.