A Cardboard Game of Thrones

Second game, third game post, after that – I’ll stop. For a while, at least. Next week it’s back to books, I promise.

A Game of Thrones: The Boardgame is one of my favourites. Another genre franchise that everybody at least recognizes, but the game itself is completely different than last week’s Battlestar: Galactica. It’s one of the backstabbing games Henry Kissinger could enjoy. I did, immensely, dozens of times.

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When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.

Famous GRRM quote sums up the game nicely.

It’s a brutal, no-mercy, no-sentiments war between players representing six major houses of Westeros: Baratheon (yellow), Stark (grey), Tyrell (green), Martell (orange), Greyjoy (black) and Lannister (red):

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Simple and beautiful. Six* people sit around the table and for up to six hours** wage a war one against each other until one of them wins. Chess-like strategy of plain pawns, limited resources, nefarious schemes, temporary alliances and inevitable betrayals. Don’t play with people that tend to take stuff personally. Or cannot take a game seriously and in separation from their daily lives. Even one goofy player can destroy delicate balance and enable someone else to win easily, and anybody doing their friend/spouse favours instead of playing to win – spoils the fun for the rest. So – play only with people willing to set their sympathies aside for some time to immerse themselves in a world of war and intrigue. And able not to bitch about losing for a week after the game. It’s annoying as hell.

* it can be less, but the game is at its best with 5-6 players, with special board I had printed – still at least 4. Three players game sucks, go for another one.

**again – publisher lies, no chance for a two hour game – as stated on the box – not unless one player is vastly superior and more experienced than the rest

No game is for everybody. For this one you don’t have to be an expert on Martin, but rough familiarity with the world of ice and fire helps. Conquering King’s Landing is more fun if you have your list of characters you wanna kill prepared. I have high standards myself – I never play as Lannister. But I often ally myself with them, for the game requires realpolitik approach. Attack neighbours, help strangers, look innocent so that other players won’t see you as the biggest obstacle on their way towards victory. Be loyal, up to a point. Establish your reputation as a good guy, and betray everybody when the chance is greatest to win in one turn. Meanwhile accuse your enemies of planning to do the same thing. Don’t worry, they are.

Ok, one more look at the board:

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Another FFG production, solid quality, nice graphics. Board, pawns, cards of a few different types. No dice, although an element of chance is introduced by cards randomly influencing the game at different moments. The game lasts for 10 turns, unless someone wins earlier – by getting seven castles. Castles are the main objectives, the most famous fortresses of Westeros, distributed evenly across the map. But to get – and defend – them you need resources and political power. Armies cannot exist without supply, and must be supplemented by politics. It’s a zero-sum game, but sometimes sacrifices must be made for common cause – to ensure the fall of someone who might otherwise win next turn, or to defeat the Wildlings invasion, one occasion when game mechanics requires all the players to cooperate – and refusal is punished severely. But nobody remembers if you sacrifice yourself for them, they will happily stab you in the back next chance they get.

You fight with your pawns – on land and sea. Collect power tokens, later to be used  while bidding for offices.

As Napoleon said, to know a nation’s geography is to know its foreign policy

Geography matters. A lot. Land and sea connections, exposure of your borders, pivotal provinces controlling access to important castles and resources. Geopolitics of Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Isolated position limits the amount of castles you have access to, but to find yourself in-between two major powers… you might end up like real-Earth Poland did, royally f*d time and time again.

I don’t want to go into details and weigh relative merit of this game against similar ones. I want to sell it as an introduction to this type of boardgames. And it’s well suited for that role. 30-page rulebook, pretty easy to learn. Any inaccuracies are explained on the internet, in places like BGG, it’s a popular game that’s been around for a few years.

It’s a very accessible boardgame based on a super-popular franchise and if you don’t mind how antagonistic it gets – it’s a great choice for an evening with geeky friends.

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One thought on “A Cardboard Game of Thrones

  1. Backstabbing, lickspittling, treason and murder at every turn… Sounds fun 😉 Still, I lean toward the cooperative side myself, so I think I’ll be happier with Legendary or Battlestar 🙂

    Like

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