The Game of Thrones is a Real Game

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This week’s session saw Sheer and I make our way through a first time play of Game of Thrones: The Card Game (second edition).

Here’s a brief look at what the game is like.

Outline

Each player takes on the role of one of the great Houses of Westeros. The aim is to use the available resources – characters, attachments, locations, events, and so on – through a system of challenges, to get 15 Power Tokens.

Each turn, you choose a Plot Card (see later), draw two cards, receive your income, marshall cards (bring new cards into play by paying their cost), resolve challenges, resolve Dominance, and reset your cards. (See ‘kneeling’ below)

Plot Cards

Each player starts with a series of seven Plot Cards. Each round (or turn) each player chooses one of his own so far unplayed Plot Cards. This has multiple effects, including determining how much money you receive, whether you get to be the initiative player (deciding who goes first), and how much damage your successful challenges do. Mostly this last value is a ‘1’ so that, for example, a successful military challenge kills one enemy character.

The Plot Cards also have another effect which varies from card to card. For example, Wildfire Assault forces both players to kill off any characters they have in play in excess of three. Another Plot Card increases the Power gain for Dominance. Each turn, after all the challenges, the side with the highest strength of standing characters plus money, winds Dominance, and normally gets a Power Token. With that Plot Card, you get two.

Plot Cards also limit your hand size. Very efficient, and a very clever set of game mechanics there.

Marshall

Pay the price indicated, and put the card into play. There is an ambush ability some cards have that allows you, for a reduced amount, to play the card as a reaction to something. For example, the enemy declares a challenge and you have no defenders. But you have one in your hand with the ambush ability. Did you remember to save some money? This game has lots of layers.

Challenges

There are three types of challenge, each with different consequences for the losing player.

  • Military – characters are killed.
  • Intrigue – cards are discarded.
  • Power – Power Tokens are lost to your opponent.

The characters have icons showing if they can take part (as attackers or defenders) in one or more of the challenge types, as well as a strength, and possibly some extra powers. For example, you might have a character who generates cash each time a particular challenge is declared.

Characters normally stand until they attack or defend in a challenge. Then they kneel (turn 90 degrees to one side) leaving them unable to take part in later challenges that round. Characters may also kneel because that’s how they use their own ability, or as a result of enemy action.

Money – All Gone!

While I remember, one cool aspect of this game is that all remaining money goes back to the bank – Taxation! – at the end of the round. Money management is crucial (and money is in short supply) but you cannot build up a war chest, and that takes a little getting used to.

Half-Assed

As Sheer so carefully enunciated, I played the game in a half-assed fashion, focusing on playing the game, and having fun. There are a LOT of possibilities and interactions in every piece of game play. There is much more going on here than Netrunner, for example, and for sure I got a lot wrong.  I was more inclined to play cards to see what happened, rather than try and work things out in my head. I really wanted to get the rules and processes assimilated, and to that extent the session achieved its goal. Sheer was much more careful and methodical in his play, and was rewarded by a decent and deserved win.

Not short

It was just as well we were on our own, as it took us three hours to finish one game. The box suggests a playing time of 1-2 hours, and my suspicion is that Рeven with more familiarity and experience Рgames are likely to be at the longer end of that range. This is not a complaint, but it does make an interesting comparison with Netrunner, a much faster game.  However, while the game can handle up to four players (six if I get another core set) I would be hard pressed to want to play this with more than three, maybe four at a pinch. I think it would drag too long with too many players. Maybe my opinion will change with more play and experience, but for now, I will be trying to keep the player numbers down.

There are extra rules that you can add in for games with three or more players. They are not difficult, but add to the depth of the game, and appear to be in keeping with the other polished parts of the package.

Overall

I liked it. It is different from Netrunner, plays differently, and so delivers a different gaming experience. Both are intense, and both enjoyable. The card quality, including graphics, is excellent. The rules – two well done, color booklets – are clear and easy and probably comprehensive. We had questions, but nothing that a quick surf of the internet didn’t solve.

I’m wary of being too committed to just one of these games, so will not be dropping everything to focus on Game of Thrones. But I do hope to play it a lot. If initial impressions are any indication, this will be one of my favorites.

Thanks are due to Sheer for joining me in the journey. Great stuff.