Clacks: A Discworld Board Game Collector's Edition

05 April 2023
A puzzle that just clicks

Typically, when a games publisher secures the rights to an intellectual property, the ensuing product tends to amplify the theme as much as possible. Whether it’s through art, miniatures, or narrative – the ultimate aim is thematic immersion through brand recognition. For example, from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe, a number of games including Martin Wallace’s Discworld: Ankh-Morpork and The Witches, have used the art of Peter Dennis to evoke this iconic world and its stories through maps and character illustrations. Clacks: A Discworld Board Game is a curious outlier though, choosing instead to hyper-focus on a very specific background detail; namely the Clacks semaphore communications system.

Clacks is an unashamedly abstract game wholly revolving around Discworld’s first telecommunications system. The titular clacks are a series of towers fitted with shuttered lamps, which, when lit in particular patterns, convey a message one letter at a time. In the game, these messages are transmitted upon a central board made up of a four-by-four grid of flippable, wooden tiles. Once a vertical two-by-three section of the grid matches a particular letter (as shown on the handy Clacks Alphabet Card), then that part of the message has been sent until eventually a whole word is transmitted.

There are two main modes of play for Clacks, with cooperative loosely following events from Pratchett’s Going Postal novel, and competitive being a purely abstract head-to-head race. Cooperative mode utilises the whole board and has players rushing to complete a two word message before Going Postal’s protagonist, Moist Von-Lipwig, wins the race set between the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company and the Postal Service. Competitive mode uses only the central grid section of the board, which players will manipulate as they attempt to transmit their own single word message before anyone else.

Both modes work similarly, with players using the precise patterns detailed on Jacquard tiles to flip particular lamps on and off until they have sequentially fulfilled each letter’s unique pattern. Despite the mechanical simplicity, the puzzle that arises here is rather tricky – and consequently – extremely satisfying to pull off. It feels good to quickly identify which Jacquard to use and where to use it, but arguably it feels even better when the puzzle has you momentarily stumped before suddenly unravelling amidst your frenzied calculations.

Another wrinkle to the puzzle is the management of stress. Depicted on each Jacquard as varying amounts of little green cogs – stress will move Moist merrily on his way toward the finishing line at Genua, thus making the choice between a pair of Jacquard’s that much more interesting. In the competitive mode, stress is simply limited to a maximum of five each turn.

This fifth anniversary collectors edition introduces the added bonus of Goblin Glory; a quick competitive variant whereby players must switch on as many lamps as possible before the sand-timer runs out. Whilst it’s a good alternative puzzle, it probably works best as a quick, solo challenge. Elsewhere the game sees upgrades to a number of components, including miniatures for Moist Von-Lipwig, Deep Dwarf, and the clacks towers, alongside improved card-stock. Personally, I prefer the original’s wooden components over the rather flimsy miniatures, but the thick, linen-finish, and gold-foil embossed cards are fantastic.

This is far from an essential purchase for owners of the original, but for those yet to check it out, Clacks offers a generous amount of puzzly goodness at an impressive price point.


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Some might expect more from its theme, but on the whole this is a very solid abstract puzzle.

Read the full review here


A mechanically expanded take on this 2012 game from the same design duo.


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