Welcome to Ankh-Morpork, a city of opportunities! Whether it’s the opportunity to suffer major gastrointestinal distress by eating the wrong kind of sausage or the opportunity to visit the ruling Patrician’s welcoming dungeons, there’s plenty to do and see. Are you ready to take control of this bustling metropolis?
Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, based on the popular series by Terry Pratchett, is a game of area control that sees you try and consolidate power in the titular city to fulfil a secret victory condition. The game is designed by Martin Wallace, known for drily-themed eurogames like Age of Steam and A Few Acres of Snow.
The players get given a hand of five cards that allow them to do one or more actions. These include: placing a minion on the map, erecting a building, killing off another player’s minion and getting money from the bank. Some cards also have special powers, which end up serving as in-jokes if you know the books and the characters.
Players will spend most of their time placing minions and losing them semi-regularly, because Death is always lurking (normally around the curry takeaway shops). And, because mobs form at the drop of a hat in Ankh-Morpork, every time a minion is added to an area with an existing minion, a trouble marker is added.
Slowly, each player spreads their influence across the board until the city is overwhelmed by minions, trouble, inflammable buildings and a few dragons and trolls for good measure. A typical day in Ankh-Morpork in other words.
The board fantastic
Licensed Discworld products have a consistent and high quality visual identity, and Ankh Morpork doesn’t buck this trend. A beautiful illustration of the Great A’Tuin, the giant turtle upon which Discworld resides, invites you to dive straight in and you’re not disappointed when you do. What you get it a spot on representation of the Discworld that’s plain gorgeous.
The components are all very well-designed, foregoing plastic and gloss in favour of faux-Victorian sepias and wooden tokens. Despite being illustrated by four different artists (including official Discworld artist, Paul Kidby), the wonderful artwork remains consistent throughout.
The giant cherry on the already overloaded cake is the game board. It’s a gorgeous ye-old-timey map of the city of Ankh-Morpork. You could frame it and hang it in your study (although that would just make playing the game awkward). It’s one of the best boards out there.
As a Discworld product, Ankh Morpork is one of the nicest you’ll find. Among board games in general, it’s an outstanding example of strong design.
A hat full of buy
If you’re a Pratchett fan, the game is an insta-buy. It’s clear that the designers are huge fans of Pratchett’s books (or, if not, they’re better fakers than Moist Von Lipwig). You’ll likely spend your first couple of playthroughs revelling in the atmosphere of it all.
The whole dodgy population of Ankh-Morpork is here, from the extremely recognisable – the City Watch and the Unseen University – to the bit players. Identifying each character and trying to remember which book they appear in is a game in and of itself.
But what about if you’re the kind of person who hasn’t read the books and is shaking your head at half the references I’ve made in this review? Does the game work in itself or will it have you seething at the table as your smug, in-the-know friends laugh at jokes you don’t get?
The good news is that the game is perfectly accessible for the Discworld-agnostic. The denizens of Ankh-Morpork are, like sausages from a street vendor, bursting with character. You don’t need to really know who the characters are to enjoy a picture of a man with a duck on his head or an orang-utan librarian. In fact, many of the people with whom I’ve played the game and loved it are people who’ve never really gotten into the Discworld books.
The game works because beneath all of the trappings, it’s a good game in its own right. Wallace has struck a good balance between mechanics and theme. It’s not overwhelmingly complex and deciding which cards to play offers a satisfying amount of decisions.
The fact that your victory conditions are secret give the game an extra dimension. You’ll need to balance pursuing your victory conditions subtly enough so that no other players realise and block you with sniffing out what others’ character cards may be and blocking the hell out of them.
However, the game is noticeably weaker the more you play. Three of the seven victory conditions are the same, made worse by the fact that they’re the least fun ones to play. You’ll find yourself having to play the same types of games more often than not, with opponents who are doing the same.
The last compliment
Ankh-Morpork doesn’t have enough sustained complexity for the more hardcore gamers or the lasting power that will see your regular group bring it out very often. It does however work wonderfully with new players, offering an enjoyable experience in a well-designed package. It’s one of the more requested games in my collection for replays by people who don’t game that often and serves as a lovely gateway to the wold of modern board gaming.
One final sad note: Martin Wallace and Treefrog Games have recently lost the rights to publish Discworld games, which means that Ankh Morpork and its sister game The Witches are unlikely to be reprinted. If you’re interested at all in experiencing the game for yourself, it’s worth grabbing now while there are still many copies available.
Board game supplied by Boardgames SA (www.boardgames.co.za)