I have read my fair deal of Terry Pratchet books, but I must admit playing books based in the Discworld hasn’t been something that has attracted me. I am always very weary that big franchises rely too much on their brand and don’t put enough effort into creating a good game.
Thus when I heard about Guards! Guards!, I was a bit cagey about it. My initial thoughts were in the lines of “not again, please…”.
Luckily, things became better and better from there on. To start with the game is designed by a small company called Back Spindle Games. By itself, that is a good sign. A brand like the Discworld doesn’t come easily, and for a small company to be able to get that sort of license, they must have made a good impression.
Even better it gets when I heard that it was Z-Man Games to be the publisher. Now THAT is a good reference. Z-Man is a terrific company and their games are pretty much guarantee of being amazing quality. If you don’t believe me, that’s because you haven’t played Merchants and Marauders, or Ygdrassil.
So, with that in mind, when my friends Michael Fox and Mark Rivera offered me the chance to play test it, I jumped at the chance and boy I am pleased I did!
The game is for up to six players. Each player controls a faction of the city and they have been given the task to carry 5 spells back to the Unseen University. In order to achieve that, you will need to charm volunteers to help you. You go around the city different guilds and establishments of varied reputation, trying to use your charm and charisma (also known as luck of the dice plus bonuses) to bring them to your side. Of course, not all of them will be easy to persuade, so there is the option to bribe them, as you would expect. Once you have gone to the right places and obtained the right coloured spell, you must choose what volunteers will take it to the Unseen University, where they will have to prove they carry the right spell by meeting a challenge, which becomes increasingly more difficult as the spells arrive.
No… things are never that easy. The opponent factions can plan saboteurs in the different areas of the city, without telling you which ones, of course. And they can be a bugger!
Last, but not at all least, is Luggage. Our beloved and charismatic Luggage will be hopping around the city, out of the players control. If you’re caught in its way, well, you end up in hospital. And you can imagine what public health is like in Ankh-Morpork.
First of all I’ll say I won’t comment on the rules since they’ll be refined and slightly changed before the game is published in October. It would be unfair to Back Spindle Games and to you to comment on them at this stage. However, the rules were very, very easy to learn and they solid indeed.
I will not comment on the quality of the components, since I only had a prototype and I am sure they’ll be refined before publishing. Having said that, they were damn close to excellent. The artwork, however, I will comment on with outmost pleasure.
The illustration of the board is lovely. The hexagonal pattern gives plenty of opportunity to move, everything is at the right distance from everything else, and you never have it too difficult or too easy to get your spells or your volunteers. The amount of work that has gone into achieving balance must be staggering. There is no way you can get all the spells you need from a single area, regardless of your faction. However, none is so far that it makes it too slow for the player to get to them. The same applies to the any other location on the board. Terrific touch that all the main locations are in the path of Luggage, so there is an element of risk and unpredictability when you allow your token to stay in a place for long.
The portraits of your volunteers are absolutely fantastic. And there are so many of them! We played a 3 players game and didn’t get through half the cards of volunteers! I was left wondering what other character I had left behind and what they do!
The duration of the game was also very acceptable. At just over 2 hours for the three of us, having to go through the rules, it means it’ll be quicker once you become acquainted with all the rules. Not that it’ll take you long, mind you. A few rounds and that’ll be it.
So, after play-testing this game, am I looking forward to seeing it released? Hell yes! The game is fun, funny, well made, great chances of re-playability and it doesn’t take too long.
Back Spindle Games are going to prove they’re world-class game designers, and Z-Man is going to make it again. So get pre-ordering it now and make sure you get it for Christmas. And give away one or two as presents, your family and friends will be over the moon!