Lose Control – A preview of Treefrog Games’ upcoming Ankh-Morpork!

It’s not often we get the chance to talk about games that are still in pre-production here on The Little Metal Dog Show, but here’s an exclusive look at an upcoming release from Martin Wallace’s Treefrog Games. Based on Sir Terry Pratchett’s long-running Discworld series of books, Ankh-Morpork sees players battling to dominate a city that’s looking for leadership. Did this early sneak peek capture guest contributor David Fury’s interest? Read on to discover.

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I was recently lucky enough to be able to sit down with a few friends and play the prototype of one of the two soon to be released Discworld licensed titles – Treefrog Games’ Ankh-Morpork. The game was on display at the three day SFXweekender event and so, as we awaited the presence of the series’ creator himself on-stage, we decided to see what Martin Wallace’s take on the twisted reality of Sir Terry Pratchett’s world had to offer. As the game is still under development (they’re aiming for completion around June) the game obviously still had a few rough edges that will need smoothing prior to release, but the bare bones, printed-on-paper and fixed together with sticky tape board looked enticing and the promise of a chance to play in one of my favourite literary worlds was enough to get me excited. As we took our seats, our dank surroundings seemed to recede somewhat as the kind young man overseeing our game briskly explained it’s rules.

A bit of a blurry game in progress shot, showing the city map.

Treefrog seems keen to reproduce the twisted politics of the long lived series and this is evident in how the game play is structured. Each player is randomly given an established character to play. They must then work secretly (and often at cross purposes) to achieve an appropriate objective, the idea being that chaos will ensue as a result of this. For instance, the not-as-late-as-previously-thought Lord Vetinari’s attempts to control as many districts of the city as possible may conflict with his rival lords’ aims to grasp control of the city themselves. This may play into others’ plans or might see your actions manipulated by others to cause as much trouble and strife as possible. This in turn goes against the basic aims of Commander of the Watch Samuel Vimes, who simply wants to keep the streets safe. Throw into this mix the random and often extremely destructive machinations of those Wizardly types at the good old Unseen University and it looks like we’re in for a substantial amount of Pandemonium class activity.

Ignoring the themes of the license, the game itself is a card-based strategy affair with elements not dissimilar to Risk. Players work independently to exert their will and achieve a specific objective upon a map of the eponymous city of Ankh-Morpork. These objectives, as well as any activities the player may undertake in order to achieve them, are defined by a hand of cards drawn at random from a common deck. Most objectives can be accomplished simply by placing your own ‘Minions’ into the different sections of the map, either to achieve control of an area, or to stir up ‘Trouble’ with opposing Minions in that region. If they can play a suitable card and have the requisite cash, those who control an area can also build there. This allows them to claim certain benefits, such as gaining money each turn (or in the case of the Scours region, the ability to cause trouble there or in surrounding areas at will). There is also a rudimentary point system in place that uses the players’ cash balance to determine a winner should an appropriate card be drawn and artificially end the game. However, as it was unfinished it bore no part in our play through.

Icons on the cards drawn allow players to take different actions, such as placing a minion on the map, building in a district, stealing or earning money, causing trouble, or carrying out political assassinations. All of these actions are optional with a single exception – wizard activities. These are essentially random events caused by the playing of a card, but which are ultimately out of the players hands, ranging from the relatively benign to the extremely destructive.

It's all very basic at the moment, but it's still relatively early days. Roll on Essen 2011!

We played the game at a relatively basic level as we were still getting to grips with its complexities, however there seems to be a lot of scope for strategic thinking as players grow to understand the various effects of different areas and cards, or develop the ability to recognise who might be playing which character and in turn develop defensive strategies to prevent them winning – as happened to me when I prematurely revealed my identity upon incorrectly announcing my victory (I was still learning the rules, OK!). My three friends then took great pleasure in blocking almost every move I made, keeping me constantly one step away from domination until I was trounced at the games conclusion by one particularly experienced member of our group. I definitely should’ve won though…

As I previously mentioned, the game is still under development and there are certain aspects still unfinished. For instance, the cards we played with were pretty Spartan, and I’m hoping that they will be spruced up, either with some Discworld Lore or artwork in the style of Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby’s excellent book covers (preferably both). They could definitely use it, as my only real criticism of the game is that beyond the premise it didn’t really feel like I was playing a Discworld game. Likewise the various wooden playing pieces – the minions, buildings and trouble counters were all rather generic. All in all though, the game play was a lot of fun and I think there’s going to be a lot of replay value in Ankh-Morpork. The game presented a challenge for the more experienced gamers amongst us whilst still being more than accessible to newcomers to the hobby like myself (and aside from that minor error, I almost won!). I’m looking forward to picking up a retail copy and claiming the victory that was rightfully mine the first time around. The mayhem’s already there, I just hope the finished version lives up to the huge potential for humour and atmosphere the license carries.

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According to the Treefrog site, Ankh-Morpork is destined for release at the 2011 Essen show. As soon as I’m able to get my hands on a copy of my own, you’ll have a review here on the site. Thanks to David for the preview – you can find him on Twitter right here.

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One response to “Lose Control – A preview of Treefrog Games’ upcoming Ankh-Morpork!

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