Though the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire, the title of the first book and the TV show (A) Game of Thrones, better captures the feeling that to those vying for power, this is a game. All of us watching at home cannot help but to want to take part. Luckily for us, one of the best board game companies in America has the license to our favorite Series, and has been hard at work putting out games for fans to play during the long nights in between episodes.
A Game of Thrones 2nd Edition
Will you conquer all of Westeros, or will be swallowed by the steel and fire of your enemies? That’s the basic concept of A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. Here, three to six vie for the Iron Throne of Westeros through politics or sheer brute force. The initial set allows you to take on the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, Greyjoys, Tyrells, or Martells, and use their attributes to your advantage, and suffer alongside their shortcomings.
The basic concept of AGOT is based on the those really cool scenes you see in movies and TV shows where generals and their subordinates push around pieces on a map mimicking troop movements and battle plans. However since all the generals are sharing the board all troop actions are planned simultaneously in secret. For those who hate everything that has to do with dice and the randomness of the rolls, combat is based on a numbered card system. Each of your cards has a character with special rules and numbers. During combat each general plays a character card and then compare numbers. The highest number wins.
The game also lets each house vie for socio-political power along with the meeting head to head on the battlefield. At certain points in the game players bid on political advantages such as the ability to go first or the ability to break ties. This is done by silent auction using gold gathered from resources seized in battle.
Finally there are outside factors such as a wildling attack that forces players to work together.
The game is fun for those familiar with the series, and it fits thematically with George RR Martin’s series. The game is beautifully produced by Fantasy Flight. The boards are full color, gloriously done with heavy cardboard pieces. The battle tokens are nice marbe-ly plastic color coded to the color of the respective houses.
The game does have its flaws however. Because initial setup is based on the lands held by the houses at the beginning of the series, games can get repetitive with tactics. Though thematic with the books, this setup means that certain advantageous moves are taken ad hoc not allowing for many different routes for winning. An alternative/random setup (ala RISK) may make the game less like Axis and Allies.
The “A Dance With Dragons” expansion attempts to add some diversity through new alternative house cards and placement. This expansion is Print on Demand from Fantasy Flight’s website.
Battles of Westeros
For those who prefer swords to words, Battles of Westeros plays more like a wargame than a boardgame. BoW allows the player to choose either the Starks or the Lannisters and play out battles and skirmishes of the War of the Five Kings featured prominently in season 2 of the show.
The game can be played in one of two fashions, either prebuilt scenarios mimicking the battles in the books, or through a skirmish method where each players’ units are chosen randomly by draw of certain cards.
The actual playing of the game is similar to the successfully popular Battlelore system, however, instead of the Right/Center/Left method of troop movement, movement is based off characters command radius. Of course the commanders are all leading generals and soldiers in their respective armies.
The troops move in units of three for infantry or four for cavalry. The units can attack other enemy units using special BoW dice. The units are rated by banners, a green banner means a unit is easy to hit, while red is the rarest and most difficult to harm. Usually most of the units have one or two special rules which allow them to do different things on the battlefield which set them apart. The game also has a tide of battle mechanic that allows for routes based on your enemies moral.
The game is a bevy of component porn, as there are dozens of tokens and terrain tiles, and hundreds of figures. All of which are the standard high quality Fantasy Flight is known for.
While not as complex and varying in the mechanics used like AGoT, BoW is, at its best, on par with most popular wargames. The game already has 5 expansions for the core box, and third army core set allows for the Baratheon army. The biggest problem with BoW is that as a boardgame, it is relegated to two players. Though expansions for the game have multiplayer rules, they are just a bulky extension of the core rules, and it still works in an us vs. them capacity. If you are looking for a true wargame, there are a few drawbacks. The scale of the figures is a strange almost 12mm. This means it’s not really compatible with other wargames. The core sets’ figures are not as well casted as later expansions which means the details on the figures become lost. The only other major problem is that although the terrain tiles are a beautiful glossy heavy stock cardboard, they tend to slide on the main board every time it’s nudged. This can get frustrating for the players.
A Game of Thrones: The Card Game
One of the highlights of story in Game of Thrones is the “Game” itself. The way in which the players manipulate the pieces they have gathered and manipulating them against their opponents is a reflection of what they think power is. A Game of Thrones: The Card Game is, in a way, a reflection of this struggle. The player creates their deck of assets (represented in the game by cards) and plays against their opponent’s assets.
The format is similar to most card based games, Magic: The Gathering being the most famous. Unlike Magic: The Gathering, which relies on blind-buy booster packs, Fantasy Flight has gone a different route with A Game of Thones The Card Game. Fantasy Flight uses a system called a Living Card Game (LCG), which is a game that offers a fixed card distribution method. This means that with each expansion of the game, all the cards are released in a pack available to all players. Though it eliminates the CCG collectors aspect that draw (and turn away) people, the game still offers customization through over 60 different expansions.
Working like most deckbuilding games, the player draws together a deck of cards, which he will use to his advantage against his opponents deck. Simplified, the players draw and play characters, locations, events, etc that help themselves, or hinder their opponent. The game is won when a player gains 15 “power” which is rewarded throughout the game for specific actions and feats.
The game is of course beautifully designed and illustrated, but does have a steep learning curve for those unfamiliar with Deck Building
Games. This can lead to long repetitive games, although this seems to go away after a couple of sessions, especially if the game is taught by someone who knows how to play.
It’s recommended to buy up to 3 core sets to get all the necessary cards. One pack of each booster is all that is needed.
If you are really wanting to try the game out, but are scared of having over 60 expansion decks, Fantasy Flight put out a version of the Card game using HBO’s still shots, and prebuilt decks.
Games like Game of Thrones…
Though Fantasy Flight may own the rights to Game of Thrones, they aren’t the only company that can capture the feeling of political intrigue and fantasy combat. Here are a few selections that may not have the Game of Thrones logo, but can be just as immersive.
Shadows over Camelot: A multiplayer game focused on the loyal knights of Camelot,. The twist comes in that it is a cooperative game, where the players are playing against the game. One player however is a hidden traitor working against the group. Here is your opportunity to play the Kingsguard during Robert’s Rebellion, knowing one of you will betray your king and country.
Lords of Waterdeep: Each player is a Lord of the city of Waterdeep. Each player has a secret objective, and they are vying against each other for control of the city. To gain control you need to recruit fighters, clerics, rogues and wizards to complete dangerous quests. Completed quests give you victory points and gold. The Lord with the most victory points after 8 rounds of play is victorious. This is for those who would want to be in the small council each scheming on their own agenda.
Conquest of Nerath: A combination of “A Game of Thrones: The Board Game” and Battles of Westeros” The Conquest of Nerath is a board game that allows you to vie against the armies of up to 3 other players on a global scale. The continent of Nerath is besieged on all sides from hordes of undead, goblins, and common fantasy elements. Each turn the players try to achieve their predetermined objectives and win the game by capturing land and sweeping their units over the corpses of their decimated enemies. A fun lightweight war game that plays loosely like RISK, Conquest of Nerath is perfect for armchair generals looking to recreate their own War of the Five Kings.
Read Joe’s other articles:
Game of Thrones: Casting Roundup 1 and 2, Game of Thrones Primer II, Game of Thrones Primer I, Inn at the Crossroads Interview, Season 1 recap, The Greyjoy Rebellion, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.1, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.2, Robert’s Rebellion Pt. 3, The Religions of Westeros, The Races of Westeros, Tyrion and Richard, The Targaryen Curse