New Games: Elder Sign, Discworld: Ankh-Morpork and Ticket To Ride

look at the lower stack this time

look at the lower stack this time

This is the second post covering last week’s stack of games which are new in the sense that I have only recently started playing them. None of them are especially recent in their release, and Ticket to Ride in particular is more than ten years old.

With that observation out of the way, on to the rest of the stack.

Elder Sign

Those Elder Gods – they’re nothing if not tricky. In this game you need to cooperate to stop them intruding into our space.

I’ve played through this game in solitaire mode so I haven’t quite got my head around all of the mechanics of it, but this game oozes storytelling: different adversaries have different effects on the atmosphere of the game, and each adventure has its own distinct feeling in the tasks to be completed.

Which brings me to the particular mechanic I wanted to describe – the tasks, and the dice you roll to try and complete them.

Each adventure requires multiple tasks to be completed, sometimes in a particular order (monsters may form additional tasks for an adventure). The players have game-specific dice which have faces showing results of lore, terror, peril, and investigation. Tasks are fulfilled by matching rolls of these dice to the required targets – so a task might need to match a total of investigation 6, plus a lore, plus a terror die. The combination of these tasks attached to a location tells a story.

To take an example, one adventure is “There’s Something in the Basement”. Its tasks are:

  • investigation x 6
  • lore
  • terror

The story is clear – the investigator enters the basement seeking an explanation for some strange noise, then recognises something about the situation and must fight their fear in order to overcome it.

That’s the narrative element, but in play the story becomes desperate: each time you roll you may complete only one task, but if you do not complete any task then you lose a die for the next roll. There’s a real sense of rising panic during a turn where the dice pool gets smaller and smaller and you’re looking at some dreadful effect on your character if you fail to finish the adventure.

There’s a lot to this game, and it evokes the feelings of terror appropriate to the genre.

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork has disappeared – who will rise to rule the city in his absence?

This is a game based on the characters and locations in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels concerned with Ankh-Morpork. The game starts with each player drawing a character card which defines their goals – some characters just want to control as much property as they can, others want to sow discord or suppress it for as long as possible. The Patrician is of course one of characters who may be drawn because that is how the man thinks.

Play proceeds by laying down cards whose effects are based on the character depicted: the Fire Brigade threaten to burn down the house of another player if not bought off, while the journalists (Sacharissa Cripslock and William de Worde) earn money for the player proportional to how much trouble there is on the board. The different effects a character may have include placing minions on the board, removing other player’s minions from the board (assassination), and building in the neighbourhoods of Ankh-Morpork to claim those areas. There may also be random events triggered by magic – a dragon may appear to destroy anything in an area, for example.

This is a splendid and exciting game full of back stabbing and front stabbing – trying to figure out other players’ goals while furthering your own – but it is less about the story of the game played as it is about recalling the characters so memorably written by Sir Terry. If there is a story to be told here it is of a teeming city where everyone has their own axe to grind.

My biggest criticism of this game is that it only supports four players.

Ticket To Ride

Claim rail connections between North American cities to satisfy route cards in your hand. Cities that are further apart will garner you more points – L.A. to New York is worth more points than L.A. to Seattle, for example – but you also get points for each connection claimed (longer connections score more) and lose points at the end of the game for route cards you did not finish.

This is an exciting game, but from a story point of view I am dissatisfied with it. The back story in the rules talks about a competition to travel the railways of the US inspired by the epic journey undertaken by Phineas Fogg, but the game itself doesn’t really carry that through – many players think they are meant to be rail barons instead, which story actually fits the game mechanics a lot better.

The narrative mismatch comes from the fact that there is no progression. The goal is to complete a network to connect the pairs of cities you have drawn, but there is no sense of a journey being undertaken because you don’t start in one place and then move to the next. Indeed, completing the route in a sequential way is weak strategy because it gives other players too much information about your goals.

I’d still recommend the game because it is interesting and occasionally frustrating (one friend calls it Angry Trains, and that seems apt) but it’s not strong on narrative devices.

What new games are you playing?

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