Number of Players: 2-4
Year of Publication: 2011
Could You Be The Next Lord Vetinari?
Well, actually, in this game, yes!
The Ankh-Morpork board game is an amazing, detailed game that completely encapsulates Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliant city from the Discworld Universe (if you’re unfamiliar with Terry Pratchett, read our update post about how awesome he is, here). I want to write a bit about the game, but I feel that the opening paragraph from the rule book will tell you everything you initially need to know, and do it far better than I could:
“Welcome to Ankh-Morpork, the largest, smelliest, and most ‘interesting’ city on Discworld. The city’s patrician, Lord Vetinari, has disappeared, and the citizens are calling out for firm leadership. Will one of the noble families take control of the city, or will the people welcome the return of the king to restore peace? Then again, Vetinari’s absence may have been temporary and his spies could be spreading around the city, ready to start pulling the levers of power for their master.”
What’s in the Box:
Well, there’s a lot of exciting things in this box:
- One Playing Board.
- Four Player Aid Cards. These are reference cards for the players and have different important aspects of the game explained on them.
- One Rule Book.
- Two decks of Player Cards; 48 with a green border, and 53 with a brown border.
- 17 gold coins, worth $5.
- 35 silver coins, each worth $1.
- Four orange Demon pieces.
- Three brown Troll pieces.
- Twelve black Trouble Markers.
- Four sets of six Building pieces in Blue, Green, Red and Yellow.
- Four sets of twelve Minion pieces, in Blue, Green, Red and Yellow.
- One 12-sided die.
- Seven Personality Cards. These are given randomly, one to each player, at the start of the game, they are kept secret and have on them your objective for the game.
- Twelve Random Event Cards, some, or all of these, will be played throughout the game.
- Twelve City Area Cards, these match the areas that the board is divided up into, you may be familiar with them from the books.
Playing the Game:
Objective: To achieve the aim on your Personality Card and win the game before anyone else!
To start the game each player chooses a colour and takes all of the Minion and House pieces of that colour. Then they are dealt a Personality Card, because the maximum number of players for the game is four and there are seven Personalities available, they can never all be in play at once. This adds an extra element to the game as part of winning is to figure out what your opponent(s) objective is, and prevent it.
There are seven Personalities available in the game, each of which represent well-known characters from the Discworld series (these Personality descriptions are copied straight from the rule book) :
- Lord Vetinari – You win if at the beginning of your turn you have a certain number of minions in different areas on the board (think of them as your spies). With two players you need to have minions in at least eleven different areas. With three players you need to have minions in at least ten different areas. With four players you need to have minions in at least nine different areas. Areas must be free of demons.
- Lord Selachii, Lord Rust, Lord de Worde – you win if at the beginning of your turn you control a certain number of areas. If there are only two of you playing then you need to control seven areas, if there are three of you then you need to control five areas, and if there are four of you then you need to control four areas. You control an area if you have more playing pieces in it than any single other player (a playing piece being a minion or a building). You would also have to have more pieces there than the total number of trolls in the area. You cannot control an area that contains one or more demons. The presence of a trouble marker does not affect the control of an area.
- Dragon King of Arms – If at the beginning of your turn there are eight trouble markers on the board then you win. The rationale is that the city has fallen into more chaos than normal and people want the king back (who would be controlled by you).
- Chrysoprase – If at the beginning of your turn your net worth (your cash plus the monetary cost of each building you have) is $50 or more then you win the game. Please note that any loans you have taken out count as $12 against your total worth (certain cards allow you to take out loans).
- Commander Vimes – you win if nobody else wins by the time the draw pile has been exhausted.
Setting Up The Board:
Now that you’ve got your Personality for the game and have chosen which colour you’re going to play as, you need to place your first Minions. Each player starts the game with three Minions on the board, one in each of The Shades, The Scours and Dolly Sisters. Now, because there’s more than one Minion in each of these areas, a Trouble Marker must be placed there. Trouble Markers are important in game play, as they determine how and when Minions can be removed from the board, and are also relevant to one of the Personalities objectives.
As soon as a Minion is placed into an area with one or more Minions already existing there, a Trouble Marker must be placed there too. However, as soon as a Minion is moved out of an area, or removed from the board, the Trouble Marker is also removed, even if more than one Minion remains in the area.
NOTE: There cannot be more than one Trouble Marker in an area at a time.
Each player is then dealt five cards from the top of the deck, which they are allowed to look at. The dice is rolled to determine who plays first and play then proceeds clockwise around the board. You’re now ready to start the game!
Essentially, the first rule of this game (and of all board games) is, if in doubt, DO NOT HESITATE TO CONSULT THE RULE BOOK. I don’t know how much we say this, (we should probably get it on t-shirts or something) but it’ll never cease to be the first, and most important, thing you should do, especially if you’re confused about something.
Ankh-Morpork is essentially a card game, played with a board, so you don’t have to hold lots of information in your head all at once. In your turn you play cards, the card(s) you play from your hand dictate how the game progresses. When you set up the board, you split out the green deck from the brown deck and you play through the green deck first. This is important because, as the game progresses and you move from the green deck to the brown deck, different things start to happen.
The cards all have symbols across the top of them, which are played in order from left to right, and it’s these that determine what’s going to happen in your turn. A player may choose to not play some of the symbols on their cards if they wish, with the exception of Random Events, these must be played.
The symbols are each explained on your Player Aid cards and breakdown as follows:
- Minion – this symbol allows you to place one of your minions in or adjacent to an area you already have a minion.
- House – this allows you to build a house in an area that you have at least one minion in, providing there are no trouble markers there, and you have the right amount of money, which will be shown on the board in the area you wish to build.
- Skull and Crossbone – this allows you assassinate one minion of another player, from any area with a trouble marker in it.
- City Watch Badge – this allows you to remove a trouble marker from any area.
- Money – the coin symbol will have a number inside it, you can then take this much from the bank.
- Random Events! – these are represented by an eight-point start. A card is then drawn from the top of the Random Events deck and read out, consequences are dependent on each card.
- Play Another Card – this is what it says, you can play any other card from your hand.
- Scroll – you then play the text on the card.
- Interrupt – a hand sign, this card can be played at any time, even if it’s not your turn, and they usually protect you from something; i.e. they can stop someone who’s trying to assassinate one of your minions.
As with all games with cards, there are good cards and bad cards, useful cards and cards that’re generally a bit naff. Some of the cards can also be considered a bit of a two-edged sword, for example, loan cards. A loan card, when played, allows you to take a loan of $10 from the bank, which can be very useful if you want to build houses, or just want money. However! At the end of the game, if you come to score up, you must pay $12 back to the bank, before you count your points. Also there are two cards in the deck that, if you play the text, allow you to give them to another player and they must pay you $5, if they refuse they keep that card face up in front of them for the rest of the game, and their hand size is reduced to four. This, ultimately, isn’t the end of the world, but it can become a real nuisance as the game progresses. In my experience, people usually just pay, unless they don’t have enough money, in which case, they’re screwed.
If you have multiple cards with the “Play Another Card” symbol on them in your hand, you can link them to create chains of cards like this:
There is one card in the deck, called The Peeled Nuts, which is completely useless. All it does, is sit in your hand doing nothing. It has no text on it, and no symbols, and therefore, cannot be played. However, it can be discarded using the text on other cards, or it can be passed to a different player to infuriate them, if they play a card that requires you to give them one of your cards.
The Random Event are an interesting addition to the game, and represent, for anyone familiar with the Discworld series, real events from the books, such as a dragon lading in the city. There are twelve Random Event cards and they can have drastic effects on the game, or no effect whatsoever, it’s mostly down to the roll of the die and the current set up of the board. Each card will say on it how the consequences of drawing this card should be played, and I’m not going to go through all of them, but as an example of one that can have uncool consequences I’ll tell you about the Fire card.
When this card’s drawn, the person that played the Random Event rolls the die to see where the fire starts and, if there are any buildings in the area that corresponds to the number rolled, they’re removed. The player then continues to roll the die to see if the fire spreads, if the next number they roll is adjacent to the area previously rolled, and there’s a building there, this too, is removed. Rolling continues in this way until a number is rolled where there’s no building. If there are no buildings in the areas adjacent to the first area rolled, there’s no need to roll the die again, as the fire cannot spread.
City Area Cards:
The board is divided up into twelve sections, each with a number in it, and a price, shown in dollars. These correspond to the City Area cards available for when a player builds a house. When a player builds a house in an area, they get the card that goes with it, that gives them certain benefits that they can use during their turn, as well as having their house count as one minion in an area, which can be very handy. only one house can exist in an area at one time.
The benefits gained from building houses are as follows (copied directly from the rules):
- Dolly Sisters – Once per turn you can pay $3 and place one of your minions in Dolly Sisters or an adjacent area.
- Unreal Estate – Once per turn you can draw one card and then discard a card.
- Dragon’s Landing – Once per turn you can take $2 from the bank.
- Small Gods – Whenever one of your minions or buildings is affected by a Random Event you can pay $3 to ignore the effect. If more than one piece is affected then you must pay $3 for each piece you wish to protect.
- The Scours – Once per turn you can discard one card and take $2 from the bank.
- The Hippo – Once per turn you can take $2 from the bank.
- The Shades – At any point in your turn you can place one Trouble Marker in The Shades or an adjacent area (area must contain at least one minion).
- Dimwell – Once per turn you can pay $3 and place one of your minions in Dimwell or an adjacent area.
- Longwall – Once per turn you can take $1 from the bank.
- Isle of Gods – Once per turn you can pay $2 to remove one Trouble Marker from the board.
- Seven Sleepers – Once per turn you can take $3 from the bank.
- Nap Hill – Once per turn you can take $1 from the bank.
My favourite place to have a house is The Scours, simply because it’s useful both for drawing more interesting cards, if you don’t have a very good hand, and for giving you money. With the added bonus that, to build in The Scours, it only costs you $6, whereas other areas of the board, such as The Hippo or Small Gods, cost $12 or $18, respectively.
Winning the Game!
Your Personality Card will tell you the different conditions under which a player wins the game, however, there are two other ways to end the game, either a player draws the ‘Riot’ Random Event card, or the last card is drawn from the deck, and Commander Vimes is not in play. In the event that this happens, all players score up. This is done by adding the amount of money you have at the end of the game, to the total value of any properties held (minus any loans you may have taken from the bank at any point in the game) to the amount of Minions you have on the board. Each Minion is worth five points. If you’ve taken a loan and cannot pay it back, you lose fifteen points from your total score. Then the player with the most points wins.
Because you want to try and make it as difficult as possible for anyone else to win, whilst secretly carrying out your own objective, double-bluffing plays an important part in this game. One of the sneakiest ways to win (and one that Dave has employed on a few occasions) is to play very well as a personality you’re not to convince everyone that that’s what you’re going for, whilst simultaneously building up to your real objective. I am terrible at this aspect of the game; I once managed to successfully confuse my sister by not actually playing my objective at all. For the whole game she thought I was playing as a personality I wasn’t, simply because I decided I wasn’t going to be able to achieve it, and therefore didn’t try.
Whilst keeping your personality for the game a secret from everyone else plays an important part in how easy it is for you to win, luck of the draw is also a key feature. If you get dealt useless cards, and as a result cannot either advance your own objective, or hinder someone else’s, you just have to keep playing cards hoping that you’ll pick up something much more useful.
History and Things:
There’s not a lot of history around on the game, because it was published so recently, so instead I’m going to provide you with fun facts about the historic city of Ankh-Morpork (you may begin to see parallels between some of these facts and some old stories from our universe):
- Legend tells us that the city of Ankh-Morpork was founded thousands of years ago by twin brothers, raised by a hippopotamus.
- The original city was a walled keep, built to protect the Tower of Art. The origins of the Tower are unknown and may well pre-date the Disc itself.
- At one point it had an Empire that spanned half the Disc, largely the creation of General Tacticus, who later, in his role as King of Genua, declared war on it.
- There was a Golden Age of Kings in Ankh-Morpork, whom legend recalls to be wise and noble and fair, this line died out around 2000 years before present day, and was then replaced by more realistically corrupt and (occasionally mad) rulers, as referenced in Men at Arms.
- The Age of Kings ended completely in Ankh-Morpork when “Old Stoneface”, Commander of the City Watch at the time (and ancestor of the current Commander, Sir Samuel Vimes, the Blackboard Monitor), executed the last king, Lorenzo the Kind, who, amongst other things, reputedly was “very fond of children”.
- From this point forward the Patrician has ruled the city. But like the kings, there have been many who were mad and oppressive.
- Lord Vetinari replaced Mad Lord Snapcase as Patrician at some point following the revolt in Treacle Mine Road in Night Watch.
- Under Vetinari the city became multi-cultural as he opened the city to immigration, gradually inviting in all other nationalities as well as species. His pragmatic view on multiculturalism being “Alloys are stronger”
- Although Vetinari is the tyrant of the city, the only real sign of his tyranny is the banning of Mime Artists. Anyone caught practising Mime is hung upside-down in a scorpion pit with “Learn the words” written on the walls.
- Lastly, over the course of the Discworld series, the avid reader will see Ankh-Morpork develop from a crumbling, ruinous city, to a well-greased(ish), organized (sometimes), thriving (definitely) city, the second most developed nation on the Disc – after the Agatean Empire.
Further Reading and Other Editions of the Game:
Although the game is pretty new – only three years old – there are two other editions of the game that we don’t have. We own the standard edition of the game, but Treefrog (who publish the game) have also released The Collectors Edition; which comes with wooden coins, a larger board, and a custom twelve-sided die, and the Deluxe Edition, which is the same as The Collectors Edition, but also comes with resin Minions, Buildings, Trolls and Demons.
For further reading I would just recommend you go and read all the collective works of Pratchett. Which should keep you out of trouble for a while!
3800 words too much? I don’t think so! I actually wanted to write a lot more about this game than I have, if I’d continued as I wanted, I’d have explained every possible Random Event, and given an in-depth consideration to the best way to win as each personality… But in the interest of not making this post any longer than it already is (which is fairly long), I’ve stopped.
I’ve rated this game a five at the top of this post, and Dave agrees with me. It’s possibly one of the best games I’ve ever played, brilliant in conception, design and execution. The rules have little to no ambiguity about them, the cards and personalities are interesting and accurate to the books; providing a few jokes for those that know the series, or just an interesting time for anyone that doesn’t, and the actual pace of game play is excellent. As with most games it’s best played with the full four players, but three’s also a good game, and it’s only with two that the game starts to drag a little, and I think that’s only because it’s much easier to work out what your opponents objective is, and therefore thwart them.
In all, a game that everyone should now go away and play; play it with your brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, friends, dog, neighbours, people you meet in the super market… The possibilities are endless, just play this game!
Special thanks to Wikipedia for all the additional information! I spent far too much time reading it, instead of writing the post, but anything else you wish to know about Ankh-Morpork can be found here.