Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

Design by:  Martin Wallace
Published by:  Treefrog / Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes – 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork by designer Martin Wallace is based upon the series of fantasy novels by author Terry Pratchett.  There are numerous books in the series, which have proven quite popular amongst fantasy aficionados.  The world of Discworld is populated by hundreds of strange and quirky characters, and Pratchett seems to take pleasure at not-so-subtly ridiculing the fantasy genre, weaving a somewhat humorous tone that pervades the dangerous and bizarre world.

Wallace has attempted to capture this atmosphere of quirkiness and parody in the board game.  Chaos reigns supreme as players attempt to utilize the skills and talents of various characters from the books to achieve their own goals.  Proper timing, subtle deception, and bold maneuvers are all required in an effort to gain the upper hand and reign supreme in Ankh-Morpork, the smallest, yet most interesting city in Discworld.

The board depicts the city of Ankh-Morpork, divided into twelve regions.  Each region is named and numbered, and depicts a monetary value, which is the cost of erecting a building in that area.  Each player receives a collection of buildings and minions (three of which are placed on specified locations on the board), ten Ankh-Morpork dollars, five cards, and a personality card, which is kept secret.  The personality card lists the player’s victory conditions, which is different for most characters.  It is important to attempt to keep these victory conditions secret for as long as possible, hopefully springing a surprise victory on one’s opponents.

As declared in the rules, game play is relatively simple.  In effect, each turn consist of playing a card, doing what it says, and drawing a replacement card.  This process continues until a player achieves his victory conditions or the deck of cards is depleted.  Of course, it is the variety of powers and abilities on the cards that makes the game interesting.  Most cards depict one or more icons which allow the player to perform the related action, which can include placing or moving minions, moving or assassinating opposing minions, triggering an event (which is usually calamitous), collecting money, constructing a building, playing an additional card, placing, moving or removing trouble markers, etc.  These actions must be performed in the order indicated on the card, but many are optional and may be skipped.  Choosing which card(s) to play at the most optimum time is a critical decision, and the proper chaining of multiple cards can be quite powerful.

Ankh-Morpork is a dangerous city.  Each time a minion is placed or moved into an area, a trouble marker is placed there (one per territory).  Trouble markers block the construction of buildings (which help gain control of an area), but also mean assassinations can occur there.  Further, having a city in turmoil is the goal of Dragon King of Arms, who wins if there are eight trouble markers on the board at the beginning of his turn.  Beware the presence of too many trouble markers!

In order for a player to claim victory, he must satisfy the victory conditions on his personality card at the beginning of his turn.  As mentioned, most characters have different victory conditions (a few are shared).  These conditions can include controlling a specified number of territories (having more minions present than any other player), having minions present in a required number of territories, amassing a treasure chest of fifty dollars, preventing anyone else from achieving their victory conditions before the deck expires, having enough trouble markers on the board, etc.  As the game progresses, astute players will garner enough clues based on the players’ actions to identify most players’ characters and victory conditions.  This, of course, is an important task, as it will allow the players to take appropriate actions to thwart their opponents.

A game of Discworld can end abruptly, with a player achieving his victory conditions quickly.  However, the longer a game continues, the more difficult it is for a player to achieve victory, as his opponents will likely be aware of each other’s victory conditions and will be actively working to prevent them from occurring.  Thus, the game’s length can vary dramatically, from as quick as thirty minutes to as long as ninety.  Truth-be-told, the game grows a bit wearisome if it goes much past the one-hour mark.

Discworld is a game I should not enjoy.  Indeed, based on my personal tastes, I should despise it.  It is extremely chaotic and frustrating, as one’s position on the board is generally easily reversed and often devastated by one’s opponents.  It can be frustrating and, indeed, maddening to get all the pieces in place to claim a victory, only to have those plans dashed by the card play of your opponents.  Plus, the game is overflowing with an avalanche of cards filled with icons and text.  All of these factors usually cause me to flee a game as quickly as possible.

Inexplicably, though, I enjoy Discworld.  There is a puzzle-like aspect to playing the cards in proper combination, utilizing their powers in the optimum fashion in order to maneuver the minions and overall situation so you will have a chance at achieving your victory conditions.  It is fun to mess with your opponents, making their life more difficult and foiling their plans and attempts at victory.  The cards powers can be helpful to you or damaging to an opponent, and they are often amusing.  The game has a decided “Take that!” aspect that I normally disdain, but it works well here.  Generally, however, folks who prefer more control and minimum chaos in their games will likely not enjoy Discworld.

For me, the game is light, devious fun.  Don’t’ take it too seriously and accept it for what it is.  It seems to accomplish exactly what it is designed to do – provide players with a light and fun game that is filled with power grabs, smack-downs and unexpected twists of fortune.  From my understanding, this is exactly what occurs in the novels.  Wallace is to be commended for capturing the flavor, spirit and atmosphere of the books in a board game.  That is not an easy accomplishment.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers:

Rick Thornquist: Okay Dale, what did you do with the real Greg Schloesser?  Come on, there’s no way the real Greg would give a thumbs-up to this chaos-fest!  Though “Greg” describes the game pretty accurately, it is worth stressing the extreme chaos and “take that!” aspects.  If you don’t like those kinds of things – I certainly don’t – steer clear.  If you like games where what you do on your turn makes little difference to the outcome, go for it!

Brian Leet: I’ll admit to knowing none of the background for this game (I’ll turn in my geek cred card as I leave), but greatly enjoyed the humor that slipped through even into this form. Greg’s description of the game play is a good one, as is his assessment of why the game is fun. In my experience it does require all the players to keep an eye on each other, and occasionally speak up to try and prevent another player from getting a surprise quick win. But, it plays quickly and has a good blend of planning and change between turns. There is even a modicum of bluff early on as many goals have overlapping paths. A game I enjoyed more than I’d expected, and one I’d recommend trying.

Ted Cheatham:  With balanced players, not one is going to let anyone achieve victory during the game.  This means the game comes down to someone lucky enough to have the power to win when the deck runs out or the person who has the most money.  It is a short romp but, pretty random.

Melissa Rogerson: I’m with Greg. If this were a long game, I doubt that I would be willing to play it again. I’m a casual Pratchett reader but not an obsessed fan, but I enjoyed the very rich and deep theme and (I admit) the chaotic and sometimes rather silly game play. Perfect for a lighter gaming night with friends, and a great choice for non-gaming Discworld fans. Also of note is the artwork and well-developed use of icons which makes gameplay much more intuitive.


4 (I love it!):
3 (I like it): Brian Leet, Melissa Rogerson, Greg Schloesser
2 (Neutral): Ted Cheatham
1 (Not for me): Rick Thornquist

About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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4 Responses to Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

  1. Kevin O'Hare says:

    I liked Greg’s review as he captured the essence of the game. I like the game for about the same reasons as well.

    I too am not familiar with the Discworld books, yet despite the chaos, I found the game much fun. The task is to make use of your cards to quell that chaos and set up your winning conditions. I was lucky enough to get a playtest copy in May of last year. I’ve played nearly a dozen games and monitored another dozen for playtesting feedback.

    It is a lighter game than one expects from Martin but it didn’t disappoint.

  2. Anye says:

    I didn’t expect to like this from the way people had described it, but I love it. All our games have been pretty quick, and last time we played I said “let’s play again!” Which I rarely do. So that shows how much I enjoy it.

  3. As an avid Discworld fan I love this game. If you are a fan too you will have plenty fun meeting some of the background characters on each card. Word of advice: if you can get a collectors edition. Not only has it nicer looking pieces but also little more immersion eg. 7a rather than 8 on the die.
    As a note to the article Anhk-Morpork is the smelliest or biggest not smallest of the cities.

  4. Andrew Phillips says:

    Ankh-Morpork is definately the smelliest and I think biggest (Wikipedia’s article on it says so, and that is my impression) city on Discworld.

    Also, in regard to the game, “Each time a minion is placed or moved into an area, a trouble marker is placed there…” is wrong. A trouble marker is placed only if a minion is already in the area (even if it’s on the same side), or as a result of the power of owning the building in The Shades, or using the The Mob or Dr. Hix player cards, plus the original three.

    “Trouble markers block the construction of buildings (which help gain control of an area)…” is true as far as it goes, but a bit misleading. The 6 buildings do count the same (though they cost a lot more) as minions for control, and since you’re limited to 11 minions getting them on the board is usually necessary for control if control is what you’re seeking… but the card for each area goes with the building (if any) in an area whether or not the building owner has control of the area. And you can build in an area you don’t control.

    Rick Thornquist says “If you like games where what you do on your turn makes little difference to the outcome, go for it!” Maybe in 4-player, not in 2-player, IMHO.

    Artur Gadomski says: …if you can get a collectors edition. Not only has it nicer looking pieces but also little more immersion eg. 7a rather than 8 on the die.” Is this a reference to Diskworld lore with which I am unfamiliar? And even if 8’s are forbidden on Diskworld (Is Area Dimworld labelled “7a”?), I don’t think that will do all that much for immersion. And even the standard edition ain’t cheap, by my lights.

    Ted Cheatham says “With balanced players, not one is going to let anyone achieve victory during the game. This means the game comes down to someone lucky enough to have the power to win when the deck runs out or the person who has the most money.” That would mean Commander Vimes has a lock, if he’s playing. And the quality that would cause this result is universally insightfully balancing but insufficiently deceptive play, not balanced play. I’m not sure what “lucky enough to have the power to win when the deck runs out” means, and “ha[ving] the most money” (cash is meant, I assume) doesn’t obviously offset the value of minions, buildings and NOT having loans outstanding. I’m not convinced.

    One problem with the game that needs mentioning is the board, where function has been overly sacrificed to quasi-medieval appearance. The colors are all quite muddy and similar, and I’m still not sure if an absence of bridges is anywhere important. And I’m pretty sure an extrusion of Small Gods blocks the Isle of Gods from connecting to Dragon’s Landing but my argument for this was reliant on a unnecessarrily close reading of the map and not entirely convincing to the player whose movement of a minion was therefor blocked. The building powers should be on the map, and the info that is there less easily obscured by pieces.

    I’ve played this five times in one night, all two-player and never with the right rules (missed until afterwards the line about Random Events not being optional, and played once with the brown deck atop the green), which doesn’t make me an expert, but it looks promising.

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