Sunday, 18 September 2011

Disc Junkies

A few months ago, via a post over at MGK's place, I was introduced to the concept of "Ameritrash" board game and "Euro" board games. Simplified extraordinarily, Ameritrash games focus on creating an experience that could be considered evocative of the setting to the game. Euro games concentrate on sticking together the best mechanics possible, without any interest whatsoever in whether, for example, the game is in any way representative of colonising an island, running a medieval society, or burning down people's buildings and running away sniggering.

The potential problem with Euro games is that there isn't a sufficiently powerful hook to hang the experience on. On the other hand, Ameritrash board games can try so hard to ensure the gaming experience includes every conceivable facet of its inspiration that actually having fun becomes a secondary consideration [1]. There's another potential problem for Ameritrash games, though: how do you make a game fun to play for people who think the source material is a monstrous waste of time?

Despite reading a half dozen or so of the books, I've never been even remotely grabbed by Pratchett's Discworld series. I don't particularly dislike them, or anything, I just find myself baffled by people who tell me that they're fascinating and hilarious and sprung from the mind of a genius. As far as I'm concerned, they're perfectly good entertainment, with the occasional genuinely funny line, but it's like I've taken some Nytol and had a perfectly good sleep, only to discover that everyone else who took it has experience lurid sex dreams with their ultimate sexual partner. Or something.

All of this went through my mind when we started playing the Discworld board game. The good news is that the setting certainly doesn't overwhelm the game. I'm told by Jamie - my personal expert on all matters Discworld - that the various events that take place during the game certainly give the flavour of Pratchett's universe, but there was certainly no point no expectation of or advantage to my giving a crap. Essentially, the game plays out like Chaos in the Old World, in that all players are playing according to the same rules, but in an attempt to achieve different goals.

Well, sort of, anyway. Whilst each one of the four factions from CitOW have their own unique victory conditions (killing things, infecting cities, seducing nobles, or chasing after shiny rocks), three of the seven characters in this game have identical winning conditions. That's a bit of a shame, actually: since the game can only have four players, it might have been better to include five unique conditions instead. I did wonder if the three identical goals - representing Lords Rust, Selachii and De Worde, [2] and requiring control of just under half of the city - were there because such land-grabbing antics required more than one participant for balance, but since a game can include only one lord (or no lord at all), that surely can't be it.

Whilst the aforementioned nobility are busy trying to hoover up all the real estate, Lord Vetinari is trying to spread his minions across the city, the Chrysoprase is collecting gold, the Dragon King is hoping to set the city ablaze with riots, and Vimes is just trying to stop anyone else from winning before the game ends. Unlike CitOW, each player's identity is kept secret, which leads to a lot of second-guessing about what your opponents want, and whether your actions might be giving them advantages too. The resulting detective work, bluffing and double bluffing, and general paranoia is the game's real strength, and works very well with what is at heart a very simple game mechanism - each turn you can play a card, most of which have multiple effects (place a minion, kill someone else's minion, construct a building), and which may let you play another card, allowing you to potentially string together a great deal of cards. That's pretty much it - at least until the dragons arrive.

It's fun, it's quick once you've learned the ropes - and these are pretty simple ropes, none of that double inverted slipknot business - and it keeps Terryite thralls locked in the throes of Practchetty passion. Recommended all round.

[1] This is why I'm terrified that the final expansion to the BSG board game will simply contain three dozen chilled colostomy bags of Ronald D. Moore's urine, which are to be liberally spayed across all players in the penultimate turn.

[2] Whoever the hell they are.

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