For many years now, I have been an avid fan of the Discworld series of novels, penned by the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. Back a couple years ago, I reviewed The Witches and found it to be a somewhat lackluster game set in that most charming of places, the Discworld. Well now a new game has arrived to add to the library of titles spun off from this series of best selling novels and this time it comes to us in the form of a devious puzzler. This week, we’re taking a look at Clacks: A Discworld Board Game.
Clacks is a puzzle game for one to four players brought to us by Backspindle Games Ltd. and designed by Leonard Boyd and David Bradshaw (both of which designed Guards! Guards! A Discworld Board Game.) These two have teamed up to bring us a game that is simple in its premise, but fiendish in its execution. I shall begin by explaining the basic concept of the game- a bare bones exploration of this game’s mechanics.
The board itself composes of sixteen tiles in a four by four grid. These are the lights in your clacks tower. Each tile has a white side and a black side- meaning each lamp can be turned on or off. You have a five letter message to transmit. Each letter is itself a grid of six lamps- two wide and three tall. Each letter in the alphabet (along with “space” and “end”) have their own configuration of on and off lamps in this two by three grid. From your perspective (each player sits on a different side of the board so they have their own perspective) you need to find the configuration that means the letter you are trying to transmit. (And you need to transmit each letter in order- don’t forget.) So how do you change a lamp from being on to off?
This is through the use of playing on of your Jacquards (tiles showing an arrangements of dots) from your hand. So these Jacquards each show dots in a grid- most of them resembling Tetrominos- and they determine which lamps on the board you are going to flip- either turning them on or off. You can turn your Jacquard to whatever orientation you like, or even mirror the dots- however you must flip every tile in the configuration of dots. This means that Clacks is very much a thinking person’s puzzle game. Knowing which Jacquard to play from your hand to flip specific tiles in order to get the proper configuration of lamps in order to transmit the letter you are currently working on- this is a thickly layered puzzle.
And this is only the most basic of explanations. You see, Clacks has a multitude of different game modes based on this single puzzle. There’s the competitive mode (which has its own four variations to itself) along with a co-operative mode (with three variations) and to top it off, there is also a solitaire version and a version for younger players. That’s nine different ways to play the game in one box, giving you a large amount of options when it comes to how to play this game. That being said, all the different ways to play this game will not help you if you don’t enjoy the mechanic at its core.
Let me clarify: this is the game equivalent of a Sudoku puzzle or getting the paper and filling in the crossword- in pen. Without looking things up. This is a game strictly for those who thrive on logical, analytical, left brain activities. This is by no means a party game. This game will only appeal to a specific type of person and if you aren’t that type, you will probably hate every minute of this experience. But if you are that kind of person and you know someone similar, you will probably have a blast with Clacks: A Discworld Board Game.
I had a hard time writing this review. In fact, I can honestly say that no review has given me more trouble. I want to like this game, and in a way I do. The mechanic that the puzzle is built upon is solid and a real challenge without crossing the line and becoming unfair. The various modes and the things that they add on top of this mechanic (seriously, I barely scratched the surface in this review) add some real variety and replayability. That being said, I know that this is a game that will spend most of its time on my shelf, only to be brought down for a solo experience when I feel the need to exercise the grey cells that rattle around inside my cranium. So I do recommend Clacks: A Discworld Board Game, but only to those who think that it is an experience that they would enjoy. I know, not terribly helpful- but if what I’ve described sounds like your idea of fun, go and get it.