23 November 2019
Swap Discworld for Dickens with Martin Wallace’s new-look Ankh-Morpork
If Nanty Narking is proof of anything, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with a good remake. Eight years ago, Martin ‘Brass’ Wallace treated gamers and Terry Pratchett fans alike to the best Discworld-based tabletop experience yet, in the form of Ankh-Morpork. Players took a secret character with their own secret victory condition and set them loose in Pratchett’s crackpot fantasy metropolis, drawing and playing a wide variety of action cards based on the comedy series’ rich and wonderfully weird dramatis personae. Then the licence expired and the game disappeared, leaving anyone who hadn’t already added it to their shelves deprived of a damn fine area control title.
Until now, that is. Well sort of. Thanks to Phalanx, Wallace’s game is back from the dead, mechanically speaking at least. All its finest features are present and correct: the secret win conditions (which can still end a game a bit abruptly, but that only adds to the tension); the appealingly detailed city map on which players vie to control different boroughs; the chunky deck of cards; the entertaining random event which shakes up the game-state; and the slick action system, which makes it easy to teach and learn, while keeping it suitably varied and palatably complex.
In short, each turn a player simply plays a card and does what it says, picking (in order) from a small menu of possible card actions: place an agent, perhaps, or place a building, or remove a trouble marker, or assassinate someone else’s agent, or take a special card action.
In terms of how it plays, there is little difference less, in fact, than there is between Wallace’s Wildlands and its own re-skin Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter. What’s changed is the theme, from top hat to steel-toes. Whereas before it was Discworld’s motley capital that was, as Pratchett put it, “Two meals away from chaos,” now it is Victorian London. And, thankfully, not yet another cog-spinning steampunk take on the late 19th Century, although it does have a fictional spin, blending historical figures (Gladstone, Disraeli, Darwin, Jack The Ripper) with fictional characters from the era: Samuel Pickwick, Victor Frankenstein, Moll Flanders, Fagin and, of course, Sherlock Holmes. It is a little odd to see Charles Dickens placed alongside his own creations, but it works well, with all the thematic elements proving an appropriate match for their former Discworld counterparts. So this time it’s Holmes who wins by simply preventing anyone else from meeting their victory condition as Captain Vimes once did, and Fagin who triumphs through the spreading of trouble, like the Dragon King of Arms before him.
Obviously, fans of Pratchett (who remain legion) will miss the original theme, but Phalanx compensates with a wealth of detailed miniatures and variant cards and characters which deepen the game for those who like to add a layer or two. Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Nanty Narking” is Victorian slang for “Great fun”. We can’t think of a more appropriate name.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Martin Wallace
Artists: Grzegorz Ryszko, Jakub Skop, Milosz Wojtasik
This review originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.