If you haven't read any of the Discworld novels, the box art for this game is worth a thousand words in describing the series' tone.
Welcome to Ankh-Morpork, the largest, smelliest, and most ‘interesting’ city on Discworld. The city’s patrician, Lord Vetinari, has disappeared, and the citizens are calling out for firm leadership. Will one of the noble families take control of the city, or will the people welcome the return of the king to restore peace? Then again, Vetinari’s absence may have been temporary and his spies could be spreading around the city, ready to start pulling the levers of power for their master.
In the most unlikely of pairings, Discworld: Ankh-Morpork takes the off-beat satirical works of author Terry Pratchett and puts them in the hands of Euro-style board game designer Martin Wallace. For those not familiar with Wallace, know that he is most famous for economic games such as Automobile and London, deep-thinking strategic experiences that are not for the faint of heart.
Having those examples in mind, I was a bit skeptical when first looking at Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, but the game is actually fantastic. Read on for the full review to find out how Wallace pulled it off.
Just the Facts:
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Age: 11 and up
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Release: October 2011
Discworld: Ankh Morpork is set in a small portion of the Discworld universe, namely, the largest city on the disc, Ankh Morpork. The big hook to this game is that each player is attempting to reach some hidden goal. There are seven different hidden victory conditions, but each player will be randomly dealt one to start the game.
The gameplay itself is quite simple, but understanding exactly why an opponent is making the moves they make can be the hard part. If you can't figure out what the other players' goals are, then your moves could very well be playing into their hands.
Although the game support a maximum of four players, there are seven different roles a player could be dealt. This means some will be left out of play to keep people guessing. These roles dictate that player's victory condition, such as:
- Lord Ventinari: Place a certain number of minions on the map (number dependent on player count).
- Lord Selachi, Lord Rust, and Lord de Worde: Control a certain number of map spaces by having the majority of playing pieces in them (number dependent on player count).
- Dragon King of Arms: Have eight trouble markers on the map at the start of your turn.
- Chrysoprase: Have a net worth of $50 or more at the start of your turn.
- Commander Vimes: You win if the draw deck runs out without any other player fulfilling their victory condition.
All of the gameplay centers around a large, 12-space map of the city Ankh Morpork:
At its core, the game will consist of players placing minions on the map, constructing buildings to take control of special location powers, and moving minions around to stir up trouble. Whenever a minion enters a new area, that location has a trouble marker placed on it. However, whenever any minion leaves an area in trouble, the marker is removed.
The turn structure is kept simple because you are limited to playing one card from your hand, doing what the card says, and drawing back up to a full hand. If you don't have a card that lets you do something, you can't do it. Here are the handful of actions that may be presented to you on a card:
- Assassination: Remove a minion, troll, or demon from a location with a trouble marker on it.
- Remove One Trouble Marker: Remove a trouble marker from any location of your choice.
- Take Money: Receive the amount of money listed on the card.
- Scroll: Read the special text on the bottom of the card to take a unique action.
- Play Another Card: Extend your turn by playing an additional card from your hand
- Random Event: Draw a card from the random event deck. These are filled with trolls, demons, and natural disasters that will wreak havoc on the board. Often, they will destroy buildings and kill off minions.
- Interrupt: A special card that can be played during an opponents turn.
Knowing what they need to do in order to win, and what actions their hand of cards will allow them to perform, players must craft a long-term strategy to accomplish their goals.
- 1 full color board (22.5" x 17" map of the city Ankh Morpork)
- 132 full-color cards (101 Game cards, 12 Random Event cards, 12 City Area cards, 7 Personality cards)
- 79 wooden pieces (48 Minions, 24 Buildings, 4 Demon Markers, 3 Troll Markers)
- 12 trouble markers
- 1 Sheet of cardboard money
- 4 Player aid cards
- 1 Twelve-sided die
- 1 Rulebook
The components in Discworld: Ankh Morpork are a strong point. This game forgoes the traditional Euro-style cubes and meeples in favor of custom-carved wooden bits. Their are four different custom pieces between the minions, buildings, demons, and trolls, and each does a good job of evoking a Discworld flavor while not calling too much attention to themselves and distracting from the game.
Where this game really shines is in the card art. The myriad of Discworld characters and locations are all depicted here in large colorful illustrations drawn by well-known British artist Peter Dennis. Everything looks just as you would picture it, and that represents the strongest tie this game has to its theme.
The deluxe version of this game, available directly through Martin Wallace's Treefrog Games company, comes with a poster of all art in the game. Now that is something a true Discworld fan would hang on their wall.
The most enjoyable experiences in gaming can be seen when a primarily skill-based competition has just a dash of random chance thrown in to mix things up. That's what you'll get with Discworld: Ankh Morpork.
Because there is a very limited set of actions, so many of them are directly opposed to each other, it can be incredibly hard to realize your victory condition.It will take a skillful strategy of hand management and minion placement, a bit of social strategy to disguise your true role, and some small element of luck to draw the best cards and dodge the random events. That's a great mix. Add the influence of the Discworld universe for humor, and you've got a top-notch game on your hands.
Discworld: Ankh Morpork is not a simple game, but its bite-sized turn structure and basic-yet-concealed victory conditions give it mainstream appeal. You don't need to be a niche Euro-style gamer to love this game. Heck, you don't even have to have read any of the Discworld novels. If you are looking for "stage 2" after playing through the typical introductory games of The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride, then Discworld: Ankh Morpork should be at the top of your list.
Disclaimer: MTV Geek received a complimentary review sample of this game