Every once in a while a book, movie, show, or some other form of media takes the world by storm and the next thing we know there are posters, comics, games, toys, and various merchandise galore; one of the current hotnesses is Game of Thrones; the books as well as the show. In April of 2011 a hoard of new fans entered the fandom upon the release of the HBO show and thought man, someone should make a game about this. Low and behold, eight years earlier, Fantasy Flight had the same thought. FFG released the second edition of the Game of Thrones to coincide with the shows release and the game was suddenly a hit all over again.
As a fan of the fantasy genre I had been familiar with Game of Thrones for a while but had never read the books; after doing so I sat down to give the game a try and see how I felt about it. It was intrigue at first sight; the game has many options and paths for players to follow as they attempt to take their seat upon the Iron Throne.
As Sean and I were thus discussing games we should play as we launched Gamer’s Remorse Game of Thrones was early on the list. I will embed the video of our review at the bottom of the blog, but first lets look at the game!
Released 2003, 2nd edition 2011
Designer: Christian T. Peterson & *Kevin Wilson (*only credited on the first edition)
Plays: 3-6 (*first edition only played 3-5)
EPT: 180 minutes
Here is where I generally explain the game’s rules; today we will do something different; HERE you can see a video tutorial teaching the way the game works from Fantasy Flight; this is what I send all players before their first game and the rules we follow; I also attempt to explain the rules in three minutes, those of you familiar with the game are aware that that is no easy task; and we received more than our fair share of heat for it! Rather than go into full detail I will simply provide a general overview before jumping into my review.
In Game of Thrones each player takes up one of the great houses of Stark, Greyjoy, Lannister, Martell, Tyrell, and Baratheon as they battle, scheme, betray, and outwit one another in the pursuit of power. Rounds go in three phases; first the planning phase; in which they allocate order tokens face down across their footmen, knights, ships, and siege engines they have in play; once all orders have been given player will simultaneously reveal all orders in preparation for action, whoever controls the messenger raven can use their power before gameplay proceeds to order resolution. In the action phase orders resolve in the hierarchy of the order in order of the player’s influence on the fiefdom track with raid orders being issued first, then march orders (which can lead to combat which must be resolved before the next march order is resolved), finally each player will resolve their consolidate power orders (support and defense orders only activate during combat). Once these orders have all been activated the players clean the board removing any remaining tokens from the board and routed units are placed. the round tracker advances and the next round begins.
Every round except the first begins with players drawing a card from the three Westeros Decks which are resolved in order of 1, 2 then 3. During this phase players will often have to alter their supply, bid power and influence to control the Iron Throne, Fiefdom, and the King’s Court, and occasionally fight wildlings; among many other possibilities.
As play progresses players will be attempting to gather power for their house in the form of locations marked with the castle icon; if at any point in the game a player controls 7 such locations they are immediately declared victor, else upon the end of the tenth round the player with the most castles is declared victorious. As I said this a very general overview as FFG themselves made a fantastic tutorial.
When I first played GoT I was the new player joining a group of five experienced players and quickly found myself at a severe disadvantage. After a shockingly quick game in which via brokering trades and backstabbing allies one of the players took the victory I had discovered my strategy, after a quick dinner break we were ready for game 2. This was a much longer game as the memory of the previous one was fresh and alliances were hard to come by and territories hard to steal. Eventually, drawing on feigned rookie ignorance I managed to make some advantageous alliances; which were all broken in a single turn leading to an almost total sweep in the ninth round followed by a defensive final round ensuring myself the victory.
Each game I have since played has ended differently as players try new and altered strategies. The game can occasionally suffer from the kingmaker effect in which the winner is clear early and the rest watch their opponent’s power rise; as well as a reverse kingmaker in which a player will spend the final seven round struggling to stay above water. When played with the correct group with a good balance of aggressiveness and partnership the game can be seen in its full glory. House rules will often arise in what alliances can be forged; my favorite alliance involved one player mowing another’s lawn the following week, buying a second player a pop from the Cstore (in dorm campus store), and lending a third player a movie so they wouldn’t attack him for two rounds. Such trades are not discussed in the rulebook, of course, but make the game that much more exciting.
The visuals in the game are stunning with the components matching the standard we have come to expect from Fantasy Flight while the player screens, cover art, card art, and board art are equally gorgeous. The biggest pitfall the game can run up against is analysis paralysis, especially during the placement phase of the game. While I do enjoy the simultaneous token assigning as that aids in removing the downtime; players with fewer units can still have a fair amount of waiting while the others place tokens and debate alliances.
The combat system is easy enough to understand but versatile enough to go beyond the typical roll and pray system through the use of character cards, support locations, and defense locations; raiding also adds an element to combat as players can remove neighboring defences aiding in their cause. The best part of combat, in my opinion, is the support of alliances; non combat players can take a side and support the attacker or defender so as to benefit themselves or strengthen alliances – if you want to be true to the books, however, you have to promise support then turn your back at the last minute to aid the rival then stab them both in the back.
With the intrigue, treachery, strategy, and luck all wrapped in a gorgeously designed bundle I give Game of thrones a 7 out of 10. Note it was once an 8 but it has slightly fallen as it aged while the AP has almost seemed to worsen as memories of previous games hold down alliances.
Visuals – 1.5 // 2
Skill/Luck – .5 // 1
Pacing – 1 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1.75 // 2
Mechanics – .75 // 1
Fun Factor 1.5 // 2
Visit again Tomorrow as I take a look at one of my favorite adventure games; Legend of Drizzt by Wizards of the Coast! Until then you can find us on social media!