REVIEW: Nanty Narking

Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: PHALANX
2-4 players, 45-60mins

Price: £55-70 approx.

Anyone who has been interested in boardgaming for more than 5 years or so, would probably remember a game based in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe called Discworld: Ankh-Morpork – it was released in 2011, and I can vaguely recall Martin Wallace (or one of his friends?) bringing it along to a Beyond Monopoly! gaming session for ‘playtesting’ — Beyond Monopoly! is my local boardgaming group aka BM York! – you can find out more about our regular meets here: BM York! website — and at the time I wasn’t too keen on it, to be honest. I was also relatively new to the gaming group at that point (and modern boardgaming in general), and probably didn’t have a clue what I was letting myself in for, either!

Nanty Narking is basically a rebranding of that original Ankh-Morpork game, and other than the Victorian setting and a complete reworking of the board and artwork to incorporate Victorian personalities and so on and so forth, it is essentially the same game, even down to having many similar cards that achieve the same net result as they did in the original – and yes, that includes several ‘dud’ cards that have no function other than to clutter up your hand and reduce your choices, which makes them ideal to palm off on somebody else if you can, of course…

To be fair, this does try to introduce a couple of variants and some Advanced Rules for more experienced players (see below), over and above what was in the original Discworld: Ankh-Morpork game, but for anybody with a copy of that original 2011 version, there’s very little actual gameplay difference here, so you might want to pause before plunging in. That said, you do get some very fancy pieces, and gorgeously thematic artwork from Bartek Jędrzejewski in this version, and yes, it’s a pretty fun game, too…

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Yes, the plastic figures are beautifully detailed, and very pretty indeed!
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As is the card artwork…

For those not familiar with the original game, Nanty Narking is quite the treat: sumptuous production values, great plastic miniatures, and asymmetric gameplay are the order of the day here, and half the fun is trying to determine what roles the other players have within the game.

Broadly speaking, each player takes on a secret ‘Personality’ role and has a specific winning condition. Some of these might be very similar for a couple of players: “Control n Areas”, and/or “Have x Pounds” (or equivalent value thereof in buildings and money) at the start of your turn, for example, while others have more specific goals. Fagin, for example, wins the game when there are 8 Trouble markers on the board, whereas Sherlock Holmes wins when the draw pile has been exhausted – a big ask with less than 4 players, it must be said (see below).

Gameplay is as basic as it gets – each turn you must play at least one card, complete some or all of the actions depicted on that card, and then replenish your hand back up to 5 cards. If for any reason you have more than 5 cards in your hand (because one of the actions let you draw more cards, for example), then you don’t need to replenish, and play moves on. Those card actions allow you to place agents on the board, purchase buildings (and thus ‘own’ that area, or at least utilise the special ability attributed to it), remove other agents, remove Trouble markers, gain money, complete a special action as detailed on the card itself, or draw a Random Event card (which is the only ‘must do’ action players have to complete on any card). Some cards will allow you to Interrupt and thus disrupt someone else’s action, while others will allow you to play additional cards; these are pretty much the lynchpin of the game: stringing card plays together (or disrupting others) to further your own position and lessen that of everyone else is pretty much the core mechanic at work here, but it does work really well unless you’re very unlucky and fail to find those crucial ‘play another card’ actions in the cards you draw. Indeed, it’s easy to ascertain where some of the design choices Martin Wallace made for his Wildlands game probably came from, but let’s not digress…

As for the rest of the game details: there are 12 areas of the board depicting Victorian London, each player gets 12 ‘agents’ and 6 buildings, and you’re trying to achieve your individual endgame victory condition by either controlling various areas (by having more units in there than everyone else), placing buildings in some of those areas (which contribute to your overall wealth), causing Trouble in as many of those areas as possible, or by thwarting everyone else and preventing all the other victory conditions from occurring. That last one incidentally, directly correlates to Holmes’ winning condition, and does become blindingly obvious after the first 15-20 minutes, so good luck with keeping that particular Personality role a secret!

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As mentioned above, there are a few variants included, and I personally prefer to use the Classic Personality rules when introducing new players to the game, whereas my preferred version of play is to use the Alternate Personalities instead of the basic ones (recommended for experienced players). There is a more advanced ‘Agent and Building cards variant’ which introduces a couple of new card types and special abilities for some of your specific agents and buildings, but this is very dependent upon what Agent and Building cards you get dealt at the start of the game, and doesn’t seem to serve much purpose other than to perhaps divert player attention and add more randomness to the game under the guise of introducing an element of ‘strategic choice’…

Is the game actually any good, then?  Well, yes, I have certainly enjoyed every play of the game we’ve had, and cannot really fault the component quality or the production – the thematic artwork alone is fantastic. And it’s fun, too, moreso if you manage to keep your role a secret throughout the game, which is a challenge in itself. Whether or not it’s also seriously over-produced and a disgraceful waste of good plastic is a decision I leave you to discover for yourself…

If I do have a complaint, it’s that the box design is very poor – yes, all the plastic models are gorgeous, but there is no proper provision made for the cards or metal coins (or money chits when they’re punched, if you don’t have the deluxe version), which can be problematic unless you’re prepared to store the coins underneath the plastic encasing used for the models: it’s a drag to fish them out every time, but at least it’ll prevent your board and cards from getting damaged by them. Also, the photo on the side of the box depicting how to store everything in said plastic encasing isn’t the clearest of images to work with, which is why I took my own (see below) — be warned, putting everything back in its correct place is a major chore when it comes to packing things up again.

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Pretty, but put bits back in the wrong place and it probably won’t fit!

If I have anything to add, it’s just a suggestion: remove Sherlock Holmes from the player roles if there are less than 4 players, because as yet I have only ever seen the draw pile empty once despite multiple plays, and ironically this happened when nobody actually had the Sherlock Holmes role!  When this does happen, incidentally, the winning player is determined by a combination of the number of agents you have on the board, the value of any buildings you have built, and the amount of money you have, minus any loans you need to pay off.

Games of Nanty Narking rarely take more than an hour, and many seem to finish earlier than that dependant on what roles each player has, but it’s a fun game, albeit subject to a bit of  randomness when it comes to drawing ‘good’ cards. Nonetheless, this is well worth a look, imho…

 

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