Discworld: Ankh-Morpork is a light strategy game for 2-4 players ages 11 and up. The game simulates political intrigue and city building and is based on the popular books series “Discworld” by Terry Pratchett. The game was designed by Martin Wallace through Treefrog Games, and was first published in North America by Mayfair Games in 2011.
30 years ago, fantasy author Terry Pratchett created a flat, disc-shaped world, balanced on the backs of four giant Space Elephants, which in turn balance on the back of an enormous space-going Sea Tortoise. He named this strange little world “Discworld”, and populated it with parody versions of all of the characters and ideas from fantasy literature, each with a humorous twist.
Conan the Barbarian can be found here, under a different name, except now he’s an old man with no teeth (but still quite barbarically heroic). Gandalf is here too, under a different name, but in this world he is not smart enough to use his spells correctly. Arthur son of Uther Pendragon is here, under a (you guessed it) different name, but in this world he does not want to be king, he is a police sergeant and is quite happy with that and is rather perplexed and dismayed when people obey his commands.
This is not a serious world (the fiercest monster of all is a set of self-aware traveling luggage) but it has been rich enough and humorous enough to last for thirty-nine books and has made the author a very successful and famous man.
The game board is a map of the city of Ankh-Morpork, Discworld’s largest city-state. The board is broken up into 12 regions named after neighborhoods that series aficionados well quickly recognize such as The Shades, Small Gods, Unreal Estate, etc.
Each player is equipped with:
- A character card to describe the victory conditions for that player
- A number of minions tokens
- A number of larger tokens that represent buildings
- A hand of cards
Players contest for control of the neighborhoods on the map by placing more tokens in one region than anyone else. As minions are added or removed from the space that space is said to be in “Trouble”, a state which limits the actions that can be applied to that space.
During the player turn they each play a card, follow the instructions on the card, and check to see if anybody has won. If not, draw back up to five cards and pass the turn onto the next player.
Players may only interact with the board by playing a card that allows the interaction.
Cards contain icons that define the standard actions supported by that card and may include game text describing special actions that only that card can perform. Standard actions include placing a minion, removing a minion, building a building, drawing another card, or even playing another card, thus chaining multiple actions together in a single round. Special actions include extorting money from other players, placing special minions such as Trolls or Demons, and many others, there is a long list.
At the beginning of the game, each player was randomly dealt a character card containing that player’s victory conditions. In theory, no one knows what you need to do to win. Victory conditions may be:
- Achieve a certain number of spaces containing your minions
- Control a certain number of spaces
- Have a certain number of spaces in Trouble at the same time
- Acquire a certain amount of money
- Avoid any of the above until all of the game cards have been drawn
The fact that no one knows your victory conditions can be used to your advantage. Many of the victory conditions become fairly obvious when you try to pursue them, and there are several cards that all share the “Control” condition, yet still, subterfuge and misleading others about your intent can be a viable tactic. And a particularly satisfying one if you are able to successfully smokescreen your opponents into thinking you’re trying to accomplish one victory but instead you win unexpectedly via a different victory condition.
What You Get
As seems to be coming standard amongst moderately-priced board games, the board and pieces are very nice. Printing is very good, nice art, applied via quality process. The instructions are clearly written and colorfully printed. The pieces are custom-shaped wood, solidly dyed and painted, very nice.
But the cards are crapola. Nicely printed crapola, but flimsy and thin and like every other game card I’ve reviewed to-date. No one lacquers or plastic-coats them and they begin to feel oily and over-shuffled quickly and before their time. I hate this, especially when we are talking about a $50 game, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done about it. Even Munchkin has cards like this and Munchkin is a card game!
At least Discworld’s cards are full-playing-card-sized. So there’s that.
Pluses and Minuses
Play is really pretty simplistic; it’s about as described above, play a card move a minion. Easy to understand, which is a plus. Lacking in strategic interplay is (to some people at least) a minus.
A player can be very constrained by the cards they happen to be dealt. For example if you have a victory condition that requires controlling spaces but never get any cards that allow you to create buildings then you are pretty screwed and no amount of strategy will unscrew you.
It can also be rather easy to figure out people’s secret victory conditions; indeed in some cases its hard not to, but maybe I just need to play with more devious people? Even so, about half of the character cards all share the same way to win (controlling a specific number of spaces).
To me, the simplicity of the game puts it in the category of a “beer and pretzels game”, meaning that it requires little in the way of advance preparation or intellect, but can still be fun. Personally, I think a $50 game should probably not be a beer and pretzels game. I’m looking for something more stimulating and challenging at this price point, but maybe that’s just me.
My Gamer Girl liked the game. She especially appreciates the unique game mechanics but felt it took too long between turns. She rated it a “Buy”.
My Awesome Daughter really liked the game. She is a huge fan of the book series and loved being able to play with the characters she has loved for so long. She did think it needed more victory conditions, but still rated it a definite “Buy”.
I would recommend playing this game but I would not recommend buying it. Play it at a convention or a friend’s house but save your money; you can get a good beer and pretzels game for half the price. I rate it a “Play but don’t buy”.
🙂 😀 🙂