June 13, 2012 by brennon
The Discworld is a varied and frankly insane place from the mind of Terry Pratchett and of course the very sanest thing to do is go and play games within that world surely? Well thankfully Martin Wallace has obliged and created a game set in the mystical city of Ankh-Morpork. Come along for a rip roaring ride of backstabbing and Ankh-Morporkian intrigue aboard the back of a huge flying Turtle!
The first thing that will strike you when opening up the Ankh-Morpork box is that while it’s a board game the major components are cards! The game comes with mountains of the highly detailed and artistically crafted cards showing off places, people and events from the Discworld novels. There are a variety of different types of card in the game and so it seems pertinent for me to go into each one of them to help you along.
The first cards are from the player deck. These cards come with either a Green or Brown boarder which signifies the level of power they hold. When you begin the game these cards are separated into two piles then the Green cards placed on top of the Brown ones. This means that the game starts off with very simple plays but soon develops into some very over the top actions.
Each of the cards within the player deck comes with a beautiful piece of art as I mentioned before and then a set of symbols indicating exactly what actions can be taken by the player character. I will go into more detail about these actions later on in the review but now we’re going to move on to more cards!
Next up is the Building deck. These buildings correspond to locations on the game board and have both a cost and a special action which can be preformed mostly once a turn. They can be the key to victory and other times just a nice way of getting past a players insistence on taking you down!
Then we have the Event deck. If anyone has ever read or watched Discworld related entertainment then they will know that things rarely ever go well and more than often they go beyond the realms of bad. This is that deck. When a card is revealed from here it can produce a number of effects including the burning down of buildings, floods swamping the city or even demons and trolls being unleashed onto the streets!
Last but not least are the personality cards. These relate to you the player and are the secret identity you are taking on. Much like in Lords of Waterdeep which I reviewed before this you will have a secret objective that none of the other players will know and so need to work towards that while avoiding the others creeping ahead with their own schemes.
Now all the cards have been dealt with there’s the tokens and wooden components. You will have a selection of coloured Minions that you can send out into the city to do your bidding, some wonky Buildings to stake your claim on areas of the city and then some markers for where Trouble has been brewing. There are also some wooden markers for Demons and Trolls if they should pop up during the reveal of an Event.
Last of the components are a selection of coins in both ones and fives which can be handed out to players as they make more money. You will find that money can sometimes be essential to getting through the game but you should be able to scrape by as a penniless pauper at times. There’s also a D12 (twelve sided dice) that is used for random rolling when needed.
I suddenly realise I haven’t mentioned the board! It really is a wonderful piece of art lovingly crafted onto the playing surface showing in detail the various regions of Ankh-Morpork. It will spark a few fan boy reactions as you suddenly see somewhere you remember and everything is clear and easy to understand with plenty of space for all your Minions and other markers.
Now let’s get playing!
Gameplay in Discworld Ankh-Morpork is incredibly simple but the ins and outs that drive its tactics can be deceptive and certainly add to the games appeal. At the beginning of the game each player will take a coloured set of wooden pieces as well as a secret personality from the deck. Each of these characters will be trying to take control of the city through underhanded means with a victory condition personal to them. In some cases this might be causing Trouble to erupt across the board, or if you’re in charge of Commander Vimes your simply trying to make sure the city doesn’t explode and run the games deck of cards out.
Once each player has taken both their coloured pieces and personality they set up the board with a selection of Minions and Trouble Markers. From then on play moves in a clockwise direction around the board with each player looking at his hand of cards (which starts at five) and playing one from his hand. Each card has a selection of actions that can be performed and you follow them from left to right. There are a variety of different actions and will go through them now…
- Assassination – You may remove from the board one Minion, Troll or Demon if the area they are in contains a Trouble Marker.
- Town Watch – Remove a Trouble Marker from the Board.
- Money – Gain the Money value indicated on the card.
- Scroll – Complete the text that is indicated on the card. This could be a number of different things.
- Random Event – Call forth the Demons and Floods to mess with the city of Anhk-Morpork
- Play Another Card – As it says, play another card. This can be used to chain a number of cards together.
- Interrupt – Stop an action from being performed on you or the board and out of turn sequence.
- Place Minion – Take one of your pieces and place it in a space you occupy or one adjacent to it.
- Place Building – Take a building and add it to an area you have a Minion. It must contain no Trouble Markers of other Buildings though.
There is no obligation to complete all the actions on the card but most of the time you will be going from left to right doing each action hoping it yields a reward. Once one or more cards have been resolved you refresh your hand back up to five cards and play passes on.
Something a few of you may be asking now is what is a Trouble Marker? They pop up a lot during the game and are caused when one or more Minions are moved into an area already occupied by player’s pieces. For example if an area had one Red Minion in it and was suddenly joined by a Green one a Trouble Marker would be placed to represent the scuffles going on through the streets. This also happens when one of your own Minions enters an area occupied by only your pieces. It means that you will have to weigh up the pros and cons of controlling areas throughout the game as you can easily be Assassinated or disallowed building rights if too much Trouble flares up.
That makes up the simple card playing basis of the game. It’s fairly straight forwards and everything is guided by the cards but the way in which you twist those actions to your advantage is the key in this game. You are trying to enact your will and meet the requirements of your victory condition while stopping others from doing the same so the choice use of actions at specific times could become key. The best way to play is balancing the way in which you approach other players, helping some while messing with others but always in equal measure to steady the odds. You just have to hope no-one has guessed your plans.
As you play through the game and it comes to the end your victory condition may occur. If it does then you have to hold out throughout the rest of your turn hoping to survive one more round in order to claim victory. A win will only count if your situation is right at the beginning of your turn, not the end. This means that even when you have victory in your sights you dare not jump for joy in case all the players turn on you and ruin your fun. It’s best to keep quiet and concentrate until your start of turn pops up and you can declare yourself Lord of Anhk-Morpork.
Discworld Ankh-Morpork is a very fun game that veils its complicated intrigue with a simple and easy to learn card drawing and placement mechanic. You will pick this game up fairly quickly and understand the way in which cards interact within one game but the subtlety of when and where to play certain cards and when to act is a learning experience. There are plenty of times where you will wish you kept that certain Assassination for the next turn as a player expands into new areas and enacts their will.
The components within the game are sturdy and will survive plenty of games with nice chunky wooden blocks being the name of the game. My only gripe with any of the components is that the boarders around cards are sometimes not clear and that more could have been done to make the box control more efficient. The cards tend to slide around inside the box and if I hadn’t got hold of some elastic bands and re-sealable bags I bet I would have lost some of the components by now.
With the variety of personalities available you will find games can take on a nice replay factor and games only last around forty minutes so there’s no reason not to keep it set up and have another go. The simplicity of the mechanics and the random nature of the game through card draws might seem to some people like a drawn back too with your plans being undercut by nothing more than the draw at the end of a round.
A strong emphasis also has to be put on the player to player interaction within the game. If you don’t keep a careful eye on everyone’s play and what they are doing on a turn then it can lead to a single personality running away with the game. This is doubly so for the Builder and money hoarder in the game Chryoprase who can go under the radar for a long time. It is strongly suggested that you let each participant know the types of goals players ‘could’ be attempting so it doesn’t become overwhelming for new players.
With my gaming group only me and two other members were aware of the Discworld world and got most of the jokes throughout the game and I feel that for people who don’t understand some of the in-jokes the game could go over their heads. This isn’t to say the mechanics of the game can’t carry it but you will find that getting the utter most out of this game will require a little prior knowledge of the world.
The reason I wrote this review of the game is as a contrast to the Lords of Waterdeep one. Both games have a very similar mechanic and end goal yet Discworld: Ankh-Morpork might appeal to the newcomer a little more than the Dungeons & Dragons one. While the concept and mechanics are similar between both games Discworld: Ankh-Morpork should feel easier to play and with games for both new and experienced players taking around forty minutes it isn’t a massive time sink.
Game Length: 40 minutes (Experienced and New Players)
Discworld: Ankh-Morpork Collectors Edition – The Collectors Edition contains the resin pieces that you see above in the Components section of the review.
Will you be heading to Ankh-Morpork and joining in with the hilarity and backstabbing?