If you’re a fan of fantasy novels, then I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discword series. It spans dozens of novels, supplemental worldbuilding tomes, movies, and series, and has a dedicated fanbase to loyal that you’ll find “GNU Terry Pratchett” (a memorial reference) written out on social media and in random website coding even today. It’s a fantastic series, and even after the death of Sir Terry people have been creating new additions for fellow fans. Yes, even board games.
Clacks is just one such game.
Clacks is set in the world of Going Postal. In this novel, a prolific conman called Moist von Lipwig is given a reprieve of execution provided that he revitalizes the long-abandoned post office in Ankh-Morpork, a city undergoing magical industrial revolution. But to do so he has to compete with the Clacks Semaphore Messaging System, a light-based telegraph, which is currently in wildly unethical hands, who will do anything, even kill, to keep him from succeeding.
The Story of Clacks
Within the novel Going Postal, Clacks takes place just before the climactic race between the Clacks Semaphore Company and the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. You and your fellow players are Clacks operators, either competing to represent the company in the race, or actively taking part, racing to complete messages by arranging a series of lights into specific patterns. The fastest operator wins!
Of course, nothing ever goes smoothly, and there are likely to be a few hurdles along the way. The Clacks towers are known to be poorly maintained, break down often, and face staunch opposition from religious fundamentalists throughout the Disc. A master operator will have to work smart, fast, and accurate.
The Gameplay of Clacks
There are two main gameplay modes for clacks: competitive and collaborative.
Both have the same basic board setup, with a grid of 16 ‘lights’ that can be turned on and off by flipping block tokens onto different sides. These lights are then divided into various 6-light rectangular sections, which reflect the 6-circle patterns that make up the semaphore alphabet used for each message’s word.
Each turn, players play Jacquards, which each bear a pattern of gridded circles. You flip lights on/off in accordance with the pattern that you use, trying to make semaphore letters somewhere on the board. When a letter has been created, that letter is marked off on the Message Card, and you move on to the next! If you cannot make a letter with the Jacquards you have, you have the option of swapping your Jacquards for another in exchange for taking an Incident Report Card (in which case you know the pattern you’ll get but will receive a negative effect) or an Operator’s Log Card (in which case the new pattern is random, but you might receive a positive effect).
In the collaborative version of the game, players are working together to complete two Message Cards as quickly as possible, racing against Moist von Lipwig to send a message around the board. As they play, unused Jacquards are passed on to the next player, and each played Jacquard moves the Moist miniature a certain number of spaces along his track. There are two routes that can be taken (for difficulty changes), and additional rules to make it more challenging if you choose.
In the competitive version, players are competing to complete a single Message Card of their own before any other player. Players work only towards their own letters, and can play cards onto others to prevent them from using certain spaces, cause them to lose Jacquards, or reset the entire board.
Luck vs. Strategy
Clacks is a visual and spatial puzzle game, and therefore almost entirely strategy based. There may be some luck aspect in the form of which Jacquard patterns you draw to use, but the heart of the game is found in working with the patterns to be efficacity. It can be a bit of a challenge at times, too.
Number of Players
You can play Clacks with 1-4 players. Single players can only play the “collaborative” version, of course, since there’s no one to compete with them. But the rules remain largely the same even in solitary games, and just as fun if you like the puzzling challenge.
Clacks is a fun, fairly quaint game, but it doesn’t necessarily immerse you into the atmosphere of Discworld. Cards include tons of references to the series (which are often humorous on their own, even without understanding the source material), but you aren’t likely to be rolling on the floor laughing at them. And since the Clacks Semaphore Company is purely technological, the magical fantasy aspect is also kept to a minimum.
You won’t have to have read Discworld to enjoy the game, but you will get a great deal more out of it if you have (and you should – any Discworld fan will take any excuse to recommend them).
History and Availability
The Clacks game first came out in 2015. It was fairly popular among Discworld fans, and especially popular for the fact that it is largely plot-accurate to the novels (unlike other Discworld board games). Recently, a Collector’s Edition has been released, and is available for preorder through small game shops and the official Backspindle website. A few shops might have managed to get their hands on copies a little earlier, so if you ask around you might get a stroke of luck!
It’s a little over $40 USD, although if you order it directly from the website, you’ll probably have to pay additional international shipping.
Our Personal Thoughts
This game is a perfect storm of things that I love: Discworld, visual puzzle games, cooperative play instead of required competition, and a fantastic quality of cards, miniatures, and tokens. It’s no surprise, then, that I absolutely adore this game, and recommend it often. There are children’s rules if you want to play with the family, and varying levels for you to keep challenging yourself as you become better and better at it, too.
If you’re a fan of Robo Rally, you’ll enjoy the rules and play style here. If you’re a fan of fantasy novels and fun worldbuilding, you’ll enjoy the Discworld references and setting. If you’re already a fan of Discworld, you’ll appreciate all the love and care that went into making the game as a whole.
Have you ever played Clacks? Did you think that it was a decent tribute to Terry Pratchett and Going Postal? Let us know in the comments below!