Game Buzz – Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

If you’ve never read any of Terry Pratchett’s comic-fantasy Discworld novels, here’s a basic rundown: Discworld is a fantasy world that is a large disc (obviously) carried on the backs of four large elephants standing on the shell of an enormous turtle names Great A’Tuin.  The largest city on the Disc is that of Ankh-Morpork, which is a sort of capital for the world.  The city is home to Unseen University, a school for magical learning, as well as various guilds, including the Thieves’ Guild, Assassin’s Guild, Seamstresses’ Guild, and Fools’ Guild.  And it’s also the setting for the upcoming game:

image by BGG user chaddyboy_2000

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork is a new game from designer Martin Wallace, and is being released domestically by Mayfair Games.  It’s for 2-4 players aged 10 and up, and takes around an hour to play.  The game involves the disappearance of the Patrician of the city, Lord Vetinari, and the struggle of various factions to gain control.

Now, it must be said that I am not the world’s biggest fan of the Discworld series.  I’ve read a few of the books, liked some of them, and was pretty indifferent to others.  Part of the problem is that I’m not a very big fantasy reader to begin with.  Another problem is that I haven’t read enough of them to understand a lot of the in-jokes.  Still, the announcement of this game raised my eyebrows – pairing a mostly comedic series with game designer Martin Wallace, who is NOT known for creating games that have a sense of humor.  Thematic, yes; mechanically strong, yes; humorous, no.  That incongruity was enough to make me want to take a look at the game.

With the game, you get four sets of 12 minions, four sets of 6 buildings, four demon pieces, three trolls, twelve trouble markers, one d12, 35 silver coins ($1), 17 gold coins ($5), four player aids, and a board.  Additionally, there are 12 random event cards, 7 personality cards, 12 city area cards, 48 green bordered player cards, and 53 brown bordered player cards.

Board - image by BGG user W Eric Martin

At the start of the game, each player places one minion in each of the following regions of the board: The Shades, The Scours, and Dolly Sisters.  One trouble marker also goes in these areas.  Players begin the game with $10 and a hand of five cards (dealt from the green bordered deck, which is placed on top of the brown bordered deck).  Each player also is dealt a personality card.  This is a secret identity that tells you what you have to do to win.  Basically, you play until someone wins.

This game has very complicated rules.  On your turn, you play a card.  You then follow the directions on the card.  Then you draw back up to a hand of five.  Then it’s the next player’s turn.  That’s it.  Seriously.  Cards will have little icons printed on them that tell you what you can do this turn.

  • Green bordered cards - image by BGG user EndersGame

    If you see icon that is the silhouette of a person, that means you can place a minion in an area where you already have a minion, or in an adjacent area.  If all your minions are already on the board, you can move one around.  If there’s already one or more minions in an area, you have to also add a trouble marker (no more than one of these per region).  If a minion ever gets removed from that region, you remove the trouble marker.

  • If you see a building icon, you can place a building in one of the areas where you have a minion.  Areas that already have a building or a trouble marker cannot be built in.  This action will cost you money, but you’ll get the matching card to hold until the building is removed for some reason.  These cards give you special benefits – place a trouble marker, remove a trouble marker, place an extra minion, or get money.  You can only have six buildings on the board.  If all are already on the board, you can move one around (be sure to return the matching card from the recently emptied region).
  • If you see a skull and crossbones icon, you can remove a minion, troll or demon from an area that contains a trouble marker.  Doing this also removes the trouble marker.
  • If you see a pink crest icon, you may remove one trouble marker.
  • If you see a circle that says $3, you get $3.
  • If you see a scroll icon, you’ll also see some special text at the bottom of the card.  You may take that action.
  • If you see a sunburst icon, you draw the top card of the random event deck and do what it says.
  • If you see a card icon, you get to play a second card.
  • If you see a hand icon, you may play the card to interrupt another player’s action.

You can take as many of the actions printed on the card as you want in any order.  The only action you are required to take is the random event action.

(EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that you have to take the actions in the order printed on the card, but you can skip some.  Apologies for the error, and thanks to chopkins for letting me know.)

Personalities - image by BGG user EndersGame

The game ends in two ways.  The first way is for someone to declare that they have won.

  • Lord Vetinari wins by having minions in 11 different areas with two players, 10 with three, and 9 with four.
  • Lord Selachii, Lord Rust, and Lord de Worde all have the winning condition of controlling a certain number of areas – 7 with two players, 5 with three, and 4 with four.
  • Dragon King of Arms wins if, at the beginning of that player’s turn, there are eight trouble markers on the board.
  • Chrysopase wins if that player’s net worth (cash plus building values) is $50 or more at the beginning of their turn.
  • Commander Vimes wins if no one else wins by the time the draw pile is exhausted.

If Commander Vimes is not in the game and the draw pile is exhausted, then the winner is the player with the most points.  You get five points per minion on the board.  Each building is worth its monetary value in points.  Each $1 you have on hand is worth a point.  If you can’t pay back the Dent or Bank cards, you lose 15 points each.

So, this game seems extremely light.  Particularly for a Martin Wallace game.  You have a secret identity to direct your play, and I guess there’s some deduction involved in trying to figure out what everyone else is working towards.  But your play is limited to what’s in your hand, and as always, I really would need to see the cards to know exactly how everything works together.  Still, I can see this being an interesting first step towards Wallace’s other games (the loss of 15 points for not paying back debts is classic Wallace), and it may serve as a gateway game for people who come to it purely out of an interest in all things Discworld.  However, thematically, this theme feels a little “pasted-on” to me (which is strange for Martin Wallace).  I wonder if there’s enough engagement with the theme to make it accessible to people with no exposure to the series.

Oddly enough, this is not the only Discworld game coming out this fall – Z-Man’s Guards! Guards! should be hitting stores soon (and I may be covering it in the next couple of posts).  It’s strange that one of Wallace’s other recent games (London) was also thematically linked to another completely different game (The Great Fire of London 1666).  We’ll see how this one does.  Thanks for reading!


  1. The game is probably light because they want to market it to fans of the series rather than just gamers. Therefore they would need it to be slightly lighter.

  2. It says above that you can take any action on the card in any order. This is not actually the case. You can only take actions in order from left to right, but you can skip actions (unless its the star). So, if actions are A, B, C, you can skip from A to B, but you can’t then go back and do A.

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