Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

Waterstones best selling game, but will it have any lasting impact in the UK?
The box artwork for Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

Say board games to most people in the UK and they immediately think of the likes of Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk, but go to your local Waterstones store this autumn and nestled amongst the aforementioned titles you will also see a very different game – “Discworld: Ankh-Morpork”.

Why is this particular game worthy of comment beyond that fact that it is based in on the much loved Discworld created by one of Britain’s most successful and popular authors Terry Pratchett? The answer to this is complex but important.

Ankh-Morpork - The City and the game board
1. Last year the UK was described to me as the ‘black hole’ of
modern games. Where mainland Europe and Germany in particular embraces playing games as an active part of both the family and social scene the UK seems to be locked in a time warp. If you go into the toy shops then the games most readily available are commercial efforts to maximise a franchise or plastic mass produced affairs and weak in either case. Whereas in bookshops games of yesteryear are placed front and centre on the counters in the run up to Christmas and hidden away during the rest of the year.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

2. “Discworld: Ankh-Morpork” is designed by Martin Wallace and published by his company Treefrog (possibly the largest board games producer in the UK), Kosmos (in German), Mayfair (in the US) and others. If you have not heard his name before then you are in the company of most of the UK populace. Yet he is Britain’s pre-eminent games designer with a reputation that means many gamers will buy a game simply because it has his name on the box. His game “London” (released last year) sold its entire print run within months of release; although to be fair most of his games have a level of complexity that might limit their mass appeal, however this is definitely not the case with his latest game.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

3. “Discworld: Ankh-Morpork” took over 18 months in design and production, including months of play testing to ensure that the game would:
i) appeal to non gamers, in particular fans of the Discworld series of books
ii) had an acceptable playing time,
iii) offer a balance that ensured each player could (as you would expect with a well designed modern board game) pursue different strategies with equal chances of success,
iv) be thematically true to Terry Pratchett's creation and,
v) have a replayability that will hopefully ensure that the game is played beyond just the Christmas period!
Details of the game can be found on the Treefrog web site and a video interview with Martin (by the UK Gaming Media Network) about the game can be seen here (Part 1 and Part 2).
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

4. Unusually with a project of this type where the author’s endorsement would be the first requirement, Martin designed the game before approaching Terry Pratchett's. In gaining his approval, last August, Martin not only demonstrated why he believed it would appeal to DiscWorld fans but also his sound understanding of the people and places found within the pages of Terry  Pratchett's books.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

5. With the help of Terry Pratchett's, a team of artists and designers have spent untold hours designing the cards and other components used within the game so that they are true to his original vision. In many cases the faces that appear on the characters are based on friends, fans, TV personalities and actors, for example Commander Vimes bears a strong likeness to the late Pete Postlethwaite.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

6. In the world of board games budgets are small so any activity that can help raise the visibility of the game and other games with a proven (albeit relatively small foot print in the UK) are I believe noteworthy. They may be small things but:
i) The fact that Terry Pratchett's latest book Snuff is being published this month might, hopefully, have a knock on impact in raising awareness of the game.It is certainly Waterstones' best selling board game of the moment.
ii) This autumn in Waterstones' stores and at festivals Esdivium (the largest games wholesaler in the UK) are running a series of demonstrations, of this and other games such as Carcassonne, Jungle Speed and King of Tokyo (designed by Richard Garfield of Magic The Gathering and RoboRally fame).
iii) The game box contains glossy images and text promoting other excellent games (not designed or produced by Martin Wallace or Treefrog) that would appeal to non-gamers games such as, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket To Ride and Jungle Speed.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

7. As already commented modern board games struggle in the UK, it is Martin’s hope that not only will “Discworld: Ankh-Morpork” prove a success commercially (for a new game it has a massive print run and has been licensed around the world in 6 other languages) but that it will also help reawaken Britain’s interest in the fun to be had with the simple activity of playing games with friends and family.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

8. Over 10 years ago another world famous games designer Reiner Knizia created a game that was to be found on the British high street in large numbers at the time of three famous films Lord of the Rings. It sold thousands of copies but ultimately like a pebble dropped in a bucket of water the ripples gradually disappeared and Britain turned its back on the wealth of outstanding modern board games and returned to the weak offerings to be found in most shops in the UK.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

In reality Lord Of The Rings books have a higher profile than the Discworld books but over 10 years on maybe another well known British author can help raise the awareness of the wealth of excellent family games available that so few in the UK are aware of. Will “Discworld: Ankh –Morpork” be more than a just a pebble? I hope so and only time will tell but surely it can only be a good thing for families and the wider community if it is.
Ankh-Morpork - Some of the cards from the game

My review of the game can be read here

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