Discworld the board game: a review

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Discworld by Martin Wallace is based around the popular fantasy series of books by Terry Pratchett. The game centres around the main city from the books, Ankh-Morpork a broad parody of epic literary cities like Lankhmar and real life locations like London, some would say before the industrial revolution while others would say it doesn’t make much difference. The city covers the board and is divided into sections denoted by title; like Dimwell or the Shades, and colour like, well, blue and green. The players will vie for power by controlling these sectors by simply having more pawns present in said area than the others and owning them with buildings which can be erected witch special cards and money and tore down just as easily.

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Now buildings, which can be bought for the price marked on the board will often give you special abilities like taking extra money from the bank or moving pawns around outside of the usual rules. They also count toward your control of a sector but still only count as one meaning that in terms of simply control they will only count equal to one man, which given how easily they fall makes sense I suppose. Controlling a sector however doesn’t give you any special abilities though it can help you win a game though not always and this is perhaps the core part of Discworld and perhaps its best feature. At the start of the game each player is dealt a character card similar to games like Shadows over Camelot but lacking in any special abilities of their own. Instead each character is simply trying to achieve a different end goal before the others reach theirs. For some this is controlling a certain number of areas while others are far different like collecting a certain amount of money or even just seeing all the cards used up. Of course the thing here is that while nobody knows what you are after you don’t know what anyone else is after making the game a race to achieve your goal without making it too obvious, in case anyone block you off, whilst trying to figure out everyone else’s goal.

Play progresses via the use of cards that are picked up and placed into your hand, on your turn you can use whichever ones you want with their abilities determined by the symbols running along the top. These read left to right and either allow you to place a minion, claim money or even kill someone else’s minion among other things. This includes some of the bigger cards that can level buildings and depopulate entire areas, most of which are helpfully located in the bottom half of the draw-pile. The players cards, you see, are denoted by two colours with one always going on top of the other thus avoiding the risk of pulling out cards that can blow up buildings and the like before anyone has got any of the board and while I appreciate this fore-thought and planning it perhaps would be nice to have a bit more chaos added to the game especially with regards to the option to avoid certain effects on the card; meaning that most games where I have played players avoid the big cards for fear of hurting themselves and their own efforts.

You see any of the effects on the card can be skipped at will giving the player perhaps a bit too much leeway in what they play and when. For instance when it comes to the instances like fire and earthquakes the player has to play the card and then will have to roll the twelve sided die, provided, with the numbers rolled corresponding to the areas to be affected. So there is always the chance that they can hurt your opposition, yourself or even no one at all. I think the idea of hindering people with a lousy effect to gain a good one might have been a better choice forcing people to use these big powerful “spells” in order to place a model or buy a building.

I wouldn’t like to say that theme for this game is painted on and I wouldn’t say it is particularly deep not least because it is hard to recall a Discworld novel that revolves around controlling sections of the city at least to this degree. However some of the characters given out at the start fit the original characters quite well, at least when you think about them. After all the Sam Vimes, the policeman, wants to keep the peace and thus merely wants the game to play through to the end without anyone else winning. What this means is that even those who have not read the books should be able to pick up the game without too much confusion though expect to be asked why the pictures on the cards are the way they are. After all they may get the grim reaper and the scraggy looking wizard but why is there a monkey?

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The personality cards are what save this game and without them I would not hesitate to suggest skipping but as it is the game adds a lot more depth to the bluffing games like Shadows over Camelot and The resistance. After all, here, you know everyone is out to beat you, the question is how. For under thirty pounds I would recommend the game even to families not usually keen on the fantasy genre but I would be careful not to overplay it, the cards are not overly humorous but they can get a bit old and with four of the personalities having the same goal there is always an overly good chance that at least two people in your group are after it.

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