Some may see this as a shameless attention grab due to the second season of the hit HBO show A Game of Thrones premiering just a few days ago. But in all reality, I am nothing more than a simple opportunist writer that wants nothing more than to exploit the internet for all it’s worth in the hopes to becoming world famous. Nothing nefarious happening here!
A Game of Thrones the Boardgame is developed by Fantasy Flight Games, the guys behind Rogue Trader the RPG and Call of Cthulhu the Card Game. Involving strategy, manipulation and brute force, A Game of Thrones the Boardgame lends itself to the player’s political as well as military knowledge to win. Lands are conquered and forces destroyed by a combination of shown force and intrigue limited only by your ability to bluff and negotiate with your fellow players.
Though strictly speaking A Game Of Thrones the Boardgame is in fact a boardgame it still carries with it all of the elements of a wargame. Each player at the beginning of the game randomly chooses a house. With every house comes with a designated territory, a certain amount of forces within said territory, Order Tokens to affect action up the game map, a stack of house cards to alter the course of battle, and (depending upon the house you chose randomly) one of three tokens of influence. Like any wargame ‘Thrones’ has you mustering, upgrading and battling your forces versus fellow players, yet unlike other wargames you are also needed to secure supply routes, consolidate power within regions to affect game influence, and negotiate treaties and alliances with other players that you may intend to backstab later. Thus in my household I’ve dubbed A Game of Thrones the Boardgame the Monopoly of wargames (But not nearly as time consuming).
‘Thrones’ is one of the few diceless wargames I’ve ever played and quite frankly, I’m still up in the air as to whether random die rolls are superior to tactfully played House Cards. One thing was for certain, I had to really examine my future plans for conquering territories as well as guess at my opponent’s reaction prior to each and every attack on their lands.
During one of the phases players place face down Order Tokens in the territories they control. Each Order Token has a different order: Raid, disrupts orders placed in adjacent lands (This is a handy tactic, I was held back from expanding for nearly five rounds by a player using just raids); March, allows players to move armies into new lands or attack adjacent enemy armies; Support, enables a regime you control to in assist attacks; and Consolidate Power earns the player political Power Points that can be used to buy Areas of Influence. In turn players are encouraged to talk strategy and manipulate to their heart’s content. You attempt to “out guess” the other player’s action by simply placing a face down token. This in itself changed the battle mechanics from chess to poker, and I really stink at poker.
I’m not going to go into too much detail as to how the full game works, but there is one mechanic I thoroughly enjoyed: The three Areas of Influence. Within A Game of Thrones the Boardgame’s mechanics is a political system that when invested into can garner significant rewards determined upon their use. The three Areas of Influence are: The King’s Court, The Fiefdoms, and The Iron Throne. Possessing the King’s Court brings the Messenger Raven that gives advantages in Order Token placement that can be very handy as one of its abilities is to grant to owner the power to change one order after all the tokens have been revealed. The Fiefdoms bring the Valyrian Steel Blade that gives a bonus during combat. The Iron Throne is (in my opinion) the most powerful of the Influences as the Throne determines play order and settles ties, that doesn’t seem much, but when 70% of battles I fought ended in ties while I held the Iron Throne the only words to leave my mouth were “It’s good to be king.”
My complaints start with the ability to muster new troops and alter supply routes. Mustering came up way too often, but when the cards to alter our supply routes were needed it never came keeping players (mainly me) with pitiful armies that could not grow for most of the game.
The rulebook made me think the creators wrote all of the rules, notes and examples of actions on index cards threw them in the air then randomly glued them in whatever order they landed. There was no flow or learning curve. As well they were a bit wordy and had a horrible habit of telling you when you could use an action up to a full page before it defined what the action was. This threw me and the other players for a loop thinking we had accidentally skipped or missed a rule upon our first reading.
Though I have not played enough games to have seen it, I have heard from other players that certain houses in the game have a distinct advantage over others tending to win more often. This seems particularly true for the House of Stark.
All things considered A Game of Thrones the Boardgame is a good wargame for those more interested in intrigue and politics over brute force and chaotic die rolls. It can seem overwhelming when you first start playing, but once a few rounds have passed the game becomes surprisingly fast. For 3 to 5 players I recommend at least four to play, but five would be best.
Side note; I played the original (and apparently rare)A Game of Thrones the Boardgame and in writing this review have discovered there is in fact a Second Edition of the game that was released that goes up to 6 players and may in fact have fixed the issues I ran into this version.
And as usual, I invite all gamers, wargamers, grognards, newbies and certain sentient plants to join me and others for Skirmish in Public Day August 8th as we show the world the great hobby of tabletop warfare.