A Game of Thrones
On Your Kitchen Table
Skepticism fills your mind. You begin to believe that this might just be a quick gimmick to line the pockets of George R.R. Martin with more gold that he doesn't need.
You'd be wrong.
As fans of the book series and HBO adaptation are no doubt aware, A Song of Ice and Fire is strictly about quality. Consistent quality that leaves you wanting more. But does this tabletop rendition from Fantasy Flight Games satiate the thirst?
The map is sprawled out on the table. The major Houses of Westeros are ready to collide as you and some friends (or enemies) stare each other down in another epic evening of carnage and slimy betrayals.
I will say this up front. The rule book is fairly large, complex, and intimidating to the first time player. You are going to need to invest some serious time into memorizing rules, playing a few trial games, screwing up the rules, and reading some more. Accusations of cheating will fly, but this is Westeros, you expect that already. Someone represents House Lannister, after all...
You might think the goal of the game is to sit on the Iron Throne, but in actuality this is just a small but influential piece of the power struggle. The real victor is the person who seizes the most castles, effectively occupying as much of the land as possible.
The game manages to employ a very solid economy system, critical supply limitations, and thoroughly entertaining forays. Players need to effectively manage one or all of these elements or risk going rogue and relying on complete luck.
Yes, the fantastic themes from the book hold true. The board game manages to inject the signature plot devices that include villainy, scheming, intrigue, and deception. This is done through the random drawing of "Westeros Cards" which force a player to adjust strategy on the fly. Your entire plan could be turned on its head as certain conditions are now enforced, such as the inability to support another player in combat.
Har! Does this sound like fun? We're only getting started, naive squire!
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Each player gets to pick a House, thus receiving a deck of cards representing the popular characters from the series. For example, the Stark deck contains Ned Stark, Robb Stark, and Roose Bolton, while the Lannister deck contains Tywin, Jaime, and The Mountain among others. Allowing 3-6 players, other available families are the Baratheons, Greyjoys, Tyrells, and Martells. In my experience, the 4-6 player game is a must.
There is nothing quite like sending The Mountain into battle to completely decimate your opponent's weak, pathetic excuse for an army. Hah!
The combat element of the game is a sneaky, poker-like element where players decide which character they want to appear at the battle. Some cards are rated highly for their ability to fight, while others offer a substantial support bonus or post-combat move depending on the outcome. Once a card is used, it can no longer be used until all other characters have been played (barring some situational rules).
While the House to your left might be pondering their next attack, you might be pondering how to spend your hard earned income. As you would expect, the "influence" wielded in the game is essentially bought. The more power tokens (currency) you have to splurge with, the more influence you can wield, allowing you to be an absolute bastard tyrant if you so choose.
Here is a quick breakdown of the influence tracks:
Iron Throne - Decides the turn order, and breaks various ties that occur in the game. The person with the most influence moves first, and can delegate power or make kingly decisions as the war progresses. You can be a total A-hole about it, or perhaps help out an ally, paying your debt as it were.
Valyrian Steel Blade - The combat based influence, holding favor here allows you to more effectively win battles, and sways ties on the field in your favor.
Messenger Raven - I would consider this "having Varys on your side." Influence generated here allows you access to information other players do not have, or quickly make a tactical change in a position where others can't. Probably the most fun track to rule, in my opinion.
The beauty is that any or all of your influence can be robbed from you due to the random nature of the game, or because you decided to backstab someone who now wields substantial influence. Just so!
While everyone is plotting to screw over their newest enemy, the Wildlings lurk in the shadows...
Every so often, the players must band together to stave off a Wildling attack from beyond The Wall. As you would expect, this often happens at the worst possible time forcing you to negotiate with the player who just annihilated your army. Dreadful. If the Wildlings are victorious everyone suffers, ranging from light to absolutely devastating consequences. Man is it fun to laugh at the poor sap who comes out on the wrong end of that stick.
I can't stress the diplomatic aspect of the game enough. Forming alliances, severing ties, and uncalled for backstabs really take this game to new heights. After all, only one person can win and eventually the two schemers on the opposite side of the table will need to break their bond. Can you sabotage their plot with a Game of Thrones board game strategy like none other, winning allies to your side? This is the real selling point in my opinion.
With a gorgeous board map, wonderful character artwork and just downright entertaining play, A Game of Thrones the Board Game Second Edition will bring you and your friends hours and hours of pure bliss. I will say this again - it takes time to learn the rules and will require a lot of upfront preparation to really reap the benefits. Do not listen to those who dismiss this game because it is "too complicated." Fantasy Flight games offers a great primer online to help you out.
Fans of chess and Risk will surely embrace this experience. Prepare for Season 4 on HBO by casting yourself as the family of your choice. If you get a chance to be the Lannisters...don't be afraid to drop the hammer with The Mountain!
I also recommend a good soundtrack to play in the background, something epic that will fit the mood of the game play.
Your friends will love you for it!
Also try Game of Thrones the Card Game, and Game of Thrones the PC game
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