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Review: Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

John Moller
United States
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I took a trip to Discworld over the Superbowl weekend, to Ankh-Morpork specifically. Fortune did not favor me, but I had a nice time. Great place to visit (but I wouldn’t want to live there.)

This game from Martin Wallace, one of my favorite designers, feels pretty standard on the surface. You’ve got a hand of cards, you play one and then draw back up. Cards “text” allows certain things to happen and manipulate pawns around a board. …and then at some point somebody wins.

That last part is the most important part of the game. This is a game about winning. It’s not a game about playing.

There are 7 role cards with 5 different win conditions (one win condition is repeated over 3 separate roles.) Each player is given one role secretly and the others are placed off to the side unseen. Then everyone plays the game until someone achieves their win condition. Each player only has one way to win the game, but must keep in mind all the other ways to win the game or they will lose.

Discworld is a game that forces you to play your opponents. It gives you a goal that you want to achieve on your own, but saddles you with the unique burden of vigilance. You MUST remain in the game and present at all times or you will lose. I love it.

I really admire games with a hardy dose of head game. You’ve got to be agile minded and thinking a few steps ahead. No move is inconsequential. There’s a lot of passive interaction going on here, another facet I love. …and with this game, there’s also a lot of aggressive interaction.

Some people may see that as a problem, all the aggressive interaction. If you don’t like games that allow you to screw your opponent, you’re going to want to give this one amiss. This is a very competitive game. As I said, the game is about winning. It’s not scoring points and trying to get the most points, you’ve got to achieve your goal before your opponents achieve theirs. It’s as simple (and complex) as that.

Okay… I’m beating a dead horse, you get that concept. What’s the rest of the game about?

Discworld is an area control game on the surface. It uses cards to move pawns and allow actions that change the ownership and control of areas in Ankh Morpork. All the players are vying for control of the city after it’s leader has disappeared. You’ll use your minions to build buildings and gain control of areas and the special abilities. There are trolls and demons in the game and lots of conflict.

To win the game you’re going to have to control a certain number of areas, have a certain number of minions, control a certain amount of money, create a certain amount of trouble, or run the deck out… So, every action you take should help move you towards that goal…or not. If you don’t want others to figure out your goal, play to several goals.

In my recent game, we were all trying to get a handle on things. I saw the value in knowing what everyone was fairly early and had a card that let me see most of the un-used roles. I was close to determining who had which goal…but it was too late. I didn’t start the game thinking about it. Sadly, I had what is probably the toughest goal to achieve, Commander Vimes, who only wins when the deck runs out. I was playing a long game and not thinking about the short game. I suddenly found myself on the losing end. …and I loved it!

My opponents didn’t feel so overjoyed as I did, and I understand. One player was not a fan of the “negative interactions” in the game. The other player liked it after the fact (they were the winner,) but didn’t seem to be feeling the game while we were playing. I loved every minute of it. I’m strange.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how light this game. That it’s very different for Martin Wallace. I agree with the second statement, but not the first. I think it feels like an easy game to learn and play, but it’s going to be a very difficult game to master. I’m looking forward to that challenge.

As to the “different for Martin Wallace” remark: Yes, this game is different. Why is that a problem for some? Comparing Discworld to Steam is an interesting task, but if you look close they’re kindred spirits. Where Steam is about no randomness and no secrecy, Discworld thrives on both (having a controlled randomness in a tiered draw deck and a hand of secret cards and a hidden agenda.) They’re reverses of each other in a strangely fundamental and fun way. I don’t want every game to be a clone of another game out there. I love different. This is different. Count me in.

I really liked Discworld, but I know the game is not for everyone. I think it’s going to be a hard sell to my staple of regular players, but I’m looking forward to it. I want to play it again and the sooner, the better! I need a Ticket to Discworld!

NOTE: I have NOT read any of Terry Pratchett’s books. I am considering this series based on strong recommendations from others who have.
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