Episode 126: London's Calling

Release Date: May 2, 2011

Running Time:  157 min.

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From Hell. Slip into the foggy gaslit streets with us for an in-depth review of Letters from Whitechapel, a game where players try to plan or prevent Jack the Ripper's killing spree.

News & Notes: Hasbro woes, Deadwood, Uncle Chestnut's Table Gype
The List: 
Letters from Whitechapel
Table Talk:  The Game of Great Detectives - Sherlock Holmes
Back Shelf Spotlight:  Bakerstreet
Game Sommelier:  5 games Tom & Eric (The Dice Tower) are terrible at but love to play
Mail Bag:  yucata.de, TableCon, dice pics

Complete Show Notes continue after the break.

News & Notes

Hasbro Game Profits down Link

Mass market game sales are down significantly in the first quarter of 2011 while industry sales as a whole remain strong. The one bright spot for Hasbro is sales for Magic: The Gathering continue to be very good.

Deadwood  Official Site | BGG

New Western gun-dueling game from Fantasy Flight set for release this Summer.

Uncle Chestnut's Table Gype  Official Site | BGG | G.K. Chesterton


Winner of the 2011 Mensa Select Award, this game was inspired by a children's game invented by H.G. Wells and G.K. Chesterton in the late 19th century.

The List

Letters from Whitechapel Official Site | BGG  |  Buy It  -  Starlit | BG Guy


The streets of Whitechapel provide easy prey for bloody minded Jack the Ripper. A team of players (the police) try to track a single player (the killer) down over the course of four nights and bring him to justice.


The Game of Great Detectives - Sherlock Holmes  

BGG  |  Buy It  -  ArtsCow Deck 1, ArtsCow Deck 2


Each player dons the deerstalker and tries to solve a crime in this card game. Your job is to assemble a set of evidence card: crime, suspect and motive, using Detection Points as currency.

Back Shelf Spotlight

Bakerstreet   BGG  | Buy It  - Amazon.de


An ambitious card game that involves bidding, area control, set collection and memory. Play numbered cards to evidence stacks to bid/win letter cards in an attempt to assemble a continuous sequence of letters and solve the case.


The Game Sommelier

The Challenge: issued to Tome Vasel and Eric Summerer of The Dice Tower

5 games they are terrible at but still love playing

Tom's List

Battleground: Fantasy Warfare

Commands & Colors: Ancients


Incan Gold


Eric's List


Race for the Galaxy

Mystery of the Abbey


Age of Steam

Next Challenge (courtesy of Eugene Loh in Singapore):

5 games for a reality TV show where 10-20 contestants compete by playing board games each episode.

Pledge Drive 2011

Show your financial support for The Spiel. Help us reach our goal of inspiring 25% of our audience to make a contribution.  Click here to contribute.

Mail Bag

Chris Marling wanted to remind folks about yucata.de, a great free source for play-by-email games.

Mark Taylor sent us a fun pic of Spiel dice in action. Post yours to the forums here.


Music credits include:

Chronofax  by Abney Park  |  Buy It

Jack the Ripper  by Screaming Lord Sutch  |  Buy It

Jack the Ripper  by Jack & The Rippers  |  Buy It

Until the Day You Die  by Abney Park  |  Buy It

Victorian Vigilante  by Abney Park  |  Buy It

Kinderhook Hoopskirt Works  by Rasputina  |  Buy It

221 B Baker Street  by Patrick Gowers  |  Buy It

London Calling  by Urthboy (featuring Jane Tyrrell)  |  Buy AlbumYou Tube


I'm sure there are some goofs in there somewhere. Let us know if (when?) you find one!

Sponsored Links: Starlit Citadel

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game  Buy It

Skull & Roses  Buy It


Sponsored Links: Board Game Exchange

Dakota  Rent It  

Dominant Species  Rent It


Sponsored Links: Board Game Guy

Bugs & Co.  Buy It

Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game  Buy It



Thanks for the head's up on Uncle Chestnut's Table Gype.  I've always been a huge fan of Gilbert, and now it seems I have even more to appreciate him for!

Only one question though ... Where's the cheese?

It would have been great if one of the mystical symbols on the game's dice was a nice wedge of cheese. :)

Only G.K. could write a sonnet to Stilton:

Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I--
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.

Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading 'Household Words',
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

And one of my favourites on the subject ...

My forthcoming work in five volumes, `The Neglect of Cheese in European Literature,' is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it is doubtful whether I shall live to finish it. Some overflowings from such a fountain of information may therefore be permitted to springle these pages. I cannot yet wholly explain the neglect to which I refer. Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. The only other poet that I can think of just now who seems to have had some sensibility on the point was the nameless author of the nursery rhyme which says: `If all the trees were bread and cheese' - which is indeed a rich and gigantic vision of the higher gluttony. If all the trees were bread and cheese there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where I was living.

I got plenty of it here in my black plastic box.

Two thoughts about the Hasbro story. First, Magic: The Gathering is only a money pit if you feel the need to swim with the sharks. The average person who just wants the bit of excitement on the kitchen table can do just fine with a couple of starter decks for quite a while. This was true with most good CCG’s actually. I have a starter box of Mr. Garfield’s superb follow up Netrunner that I found at a used bookstore for ten bucks. Never felt the need to own a single other card. Mr. Garfield has said that if he did it today, that game would be a stand-alone along the lines of FFG’s new LCG line but really to me it already was. (By the way if you want that itch scratched the Lord of the Rings card game is indeed surprisingly good.) Secondly, I’m probably a bit more inclined than the next guy to identify corporations as bad guy in a scenario and Hasbro has done a lot that has grated on me but this specific rationale for their falling fortunes might be a little fuzzier than it looks. Let’s put it this way. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years and I work in a remote neighborhood. After the one sandwich cart nearby stopped carrying the occasional veggie soup, I asked what was up and was told that they just hadn’t sold well enough. Now even though it inconveniences me personally, I can’t really argue with that. (Although I was glad when the next place opened.)  Over the past few years, Hasbro released new “Avalon Hill” titles including Vegas Showdown and Betrayal At House on the Hill along with long-awaited reprints of Acquire and Diplomacy. They gave us Cosmic Encounter even if I personally hated what they did with the aesthetics of it. The REAL (all caps) gamers ripped them to shreds as “Hasbro Hill”, those games choked and were remaindered only to become insanely overpriced Ebait for a couple of years later. So if the corporation has decided this to be a risky market to try to invade given an audience with torches and pitchforks at the ready, well, I can’t say that's wholly incomprehensible. I hate to find myself Devil's Advocate on this one but I would point out that not all of those unsold boxes were cheap media tie-ins (although a lot of them were and their treatment of Clue in particular is hard to forgive.)- they did try to branch out into new titles for the first time since the early 1980’s. I would have thought that D&D and especially Castle Ravenloft had done better though. And a couple of “our” formerly smaller publishers are starting to bring in a few cash cow milking techniques of questionable style too, y’know… This idea resonates on into the Mensa story- again, whatever memes the larger net sites pump out, the “boardgaming community” is not just one group of people with one set of tastes. At least I hope not. After all, life would get awfully boring without new kinds of games to play. The Mensa award has in the past shouted out to things like Scattergories and Trivial Pursuit yes but also Set, Dominion, Terrace and- wait for it- Magic: The Gathering.

They brought Letters From Whitechapel by my little black Lucite cell by the way. “Fun”, eh? Star Wars quote, eh? Annie was left with her- (well, on second thought, look it up. I've reedited this post because - well, look it up. This might not be the place for a thorough autopsy account.) And yes a certain organ was removed, but so depraved was the world of the time that, although the misogynistic brutality of “Jack” is beyond dispute, no one now is quite certain whether this might have been done at the morgue by people trying to sell organs to medical science. The most horrific thing about Jack’s world is that it was almost as depraved as he was, with a press eager to jump on and exploit the case and a neighborhood so hellish that we can’t even sort out which victims were his. Starting to get why I had a problem with the Mr. Jack art? This ain’t a story you play for comedy. As history staggers on, we seem to be grimly confirming David Warner’s chilling line in Time After Time that the modern world has “caught up to me and passed me.” (You miss out the crucial joke of The Ruling Class, by the way, which is that Peter O’Toole becomes convinced that he is the Ripper only after being “cured” of believing himself to be Christ. Bonus points though for mentioning it at all. “That’s the way you do the Varsity Dra-a-a-ag…”). Aesthetically, Letters is to my mind much more appropriate; if this is going to be touched at all- which is still a very big if- let it be as a straight-ahead horror story. The box and components gave me the genuine creeps. It’s a shame that the game itself eventually proves so lackluster and far too familiar as the new ideas grow diluted through repetition. It's essentially Scotland Yard given a thick coating of clotted red paint and extended to four times the length and halfway through, that air of atmospheric horror evaporates like London fog into the desire to just see the thing end. (Indeed your “house rule” diminishing the authority of the “Boss” probably made it even worse. That rule is there for a reason. It’s odd that you cover Space Hulk: Death Angel in the same episode as it’s “instinct” rule is kind of in the same... er, vein.) I understand now why they let me play it in here. (Interesting that you move on to Sherlock Holmes, given Conan Doyle's theory that the Ripper was actually a woman who could explain the blood on her clothes by claiming to be a midwife. Childbirth must have been rough indeed in Whitechapel.)

It does however give me hope to hear the time travel vibe is still going though. I’ll see you last episode. I have a cunning plan.

Lots of interesting thoughts on various and sundry topics. Not as much time to kill here, but I'll take a stab at a few of them. :)

Hasbro: I agree M:TG does not have to be a money pit to be fun, but it seems the way the game has maintained it popularity is through tournament and league play which definitely drives the Mr. Suitcase mentality. The game would work wonderfully as a Living Card Game and I almost hope they decide to release it in some form like that to encourage casual players to invest in enough core decks to have a good time with the game.

The board game community is by no means monolithic and finding fun in games of all sorts and types is one we champion on a regular basis. I honestly don't think the howls of discontent on web sites concern or guide Hasbro's decisions in any meaningful way. They look at the balance sheet and see the "new" games aren't doing well and that's that.

I'd argue it's a lack of any overall strategy or vision for the company in this area. It seems they bought AH at first just to reprint (and in many cases, dumb down) some of the cherished classics and then when they tried original titles, they had issues with rules (Haunted Hill's scenarios books were a literal nightmare to make work correctly) or didn't know where or how to market a hidden gem like Vegas Showdown. These things get lost in the shuffle because 90% of the games on their balance sheets *are* branded spinoffs or media tie-ins. Without an overall vision, their track record with these experimental titles seems to amble all over the place. And they wonder why these experiments don't lead to more business.

Whitechapel: This title definitely captures the spirit of the times as well as the myth of the Ripper better than others. I'll leave it to individual players to decide for themselves how/when violent historical subject matter must be dealt with in a game. For instance I really enjoy Guillotine (a game about reordering a line of people on their way to the chopping block) which sounds gruesome but is done in a style that is silly cartoony and a lot of fun. Not for one minute do I feel this game besmirches the memory of those who died in France. But again, I reiterate, this is an individual aesthetic judgement and one each player has to make for him/herself. Some games want to be in conversation with the history they use; others merely use (or abuse!) it for their own purpose. You have to judge them on a case by case basis to see if they stand or fall on their own merits.

I do think Whitechapel is more than Scotland Yard with window dressing. There are significant differences in mechanics and the way in which the map is laid out and used by both sides. They do share some DNA, I agree.  But they're cousins, not long long twins.

I'll make this quick before they come to get me...

A. The "Mr. Suitcase" crowd does spook me out, but I'm told they saved independent local game stores from collapsing until the explosive renaissance of the late 90's so that's something. I think they're like Scrabble players who know every two-letter word or Go/ Chess players who have books of openings memorized- they're playing a different game. But yes, unlike Scrabble, they're so connected with the game's image that there isn't much casual play. Which is a shame.

B. Oooh, I really hate defending Hasbro, trust me. And yes, if by the time Games Magazine tips your product for Game Of The Year you've already let it go out of print, you're doing something very wrong. I do however think that there are still so few visible outlets out there for regularly reviewing table games (in fact, I can count off the ones I know on one hand...) that if they're not shaken by what gets said out there, they oughta be. It's a pretty small room. If the quote from their executive in the Rio Grande catalog is accurate, they at least know good stuff when they see it. Surely it must gall them to see those old Avalon Hill titles do well under the aegis of other companies...

C. Yes, Whitechapel brings a few new ideas and a massive amount of style to the table. If it were half the length they might distract you from the well-worn engine and feel like a completely different game in the way that Fury Of Dracula did quite well. And I enjoyed it more than the other players (except for our Jack, who seemed to be having fun.) But like you, our game was cut off after two "nights" (albeit due to time pressure in our case.) And like you we were kind of done by that point anyway.