I’ve never read any of George R. R. Martin’s books and I’ve only watched the first three episodes of the hit television show based on his work, but I’m always up for playing a great board game. Originally released in 2003, the critically-acclaimed A Game of Thrones board game was brought back to life with an updated second edition. I can’t speak to the differences, as I never played the original, though you can find some helpful notes on the matter over at Board Game Geek. Even though I currently don’t have any affinity for the source material, I love this game.
Each player takes control over one of the Great Houses of Westeros. Every faction has its own unique starting point on the world map, as well as a unique set of starting units. More importantly, each House starts on different places on one of the three Influence Track, which are used to determine turn order, combat strength and the number of special commands you can issue each turn. Furthermore, players in the first position of each track will get bonuses. For instance, the first player on the Iron Throne track gets first turn, as well as the ability to break ties. Placing first on the Feifdom track gives you +1 on all combat. If you’re at the front of the King’s Court track, you can substitute one of your commands with another after all of the commands have been revealed. Don’t worry – or get comfortable – with your position on the tracks, as there will be opportunities to gain or lose your positions on the tracks.
Your goal is to be the first person to conquer a total of seven kingdoms at once before the end of 10 turns. If this objective hasn’t been met by the end of the game, the player who owns the most kingdoms wins. With a number of other player-controlled armies in the land of Westeros, as well as a number of in-game challenges that will arise throughout, earning the right to sit on the Iron Throne won’t be easy.
At the start of each turn, players issue commands to their units through order tokens. These commands include raid, march, defend, support or consolidate power. Raid allows you to cancel out an adjacent army’s defend, support or consolidate power orders. March moves your warriors into different territories. Defend grants that army with a strength bonus against incoming attacks. Support allows that unit to aid in battle if a skirmish were to happen in an adjacent territory. Finally, the consolidate power token allows you to collect power tokens from that territory, which can be used to control territory that you’ve left unoccupied or used as a currency to bid for positioning on the Influence Track.
Since you’re only given three of each, you can’t simply march everyone into battle at once. Also, each order varies in effectiveness. For instance, a -1 march command actually weakens your ability to fight, while a special +1 march command is limited by the amount of special commands you’re allowed to issue, as well as how many special command points you have left. You’ll almost never have enough of the commands you want, so you’re constantly having to make effective use of the resources you have available.
These tokens are placed face-down until all commands have been issued. Once all commands are set, they’re revealed at the same time and resolved in order of command type and Iron Throne ranking. Executing these orders is a huge part of the fun, as players begin stepping on toes and the tension becomes palpable. As orders are played out, castles will be stormed, casualties will occur and feuds will boil over as players battle it out over control of Westeros.
Combat is resolved in a very involved and interesting manner. When one army attacks, players must first assess the attack strength of each unit within the area of contention. Then, if there are any units with support commands in any spaces adjacent to the conflict, those units may enter the fray as well. Obviously, any supporting units that you own can join, though neutral opposing forces can join as well. Hopefully, your negotiation skills are sharp and you haven’t done enough to damage relationships, as the help of others can come in real handy.
After each side’s initial strength is calculated, combatants play one House card from their deck that is played face-down before being revealed simultaneously. This final step will determine who wins and loses. Each player gets a small deck of cards that add strength or other effects to the combat. Each deck is also unique to the House you’re playing as. The tricky thing is that once you use that card, it’s gone until you’ve cycled through all of them. They become available again at that point, but you will lose access to it for a long time, and quite possibly for the rest of the game. Choose wisely when you’re in combat, as the card you use first may be better suited for a later encounter.
After the dust has settled on a turn, the game moves into the Westeros phase. Here, three cards are flipped one at a time that trigger different in-game effects. For instance, these cards may allow players to muster more units onto the battlefield, consolidate their supplies, or reset the Influence Tracks. Of the events that can happen during the Westeros phase, this is my favourite. Players must now bid power tokens to determine their seeding on the tracks. Depending on your goals, play style and power tokens available, you’re probably going to have to be selective about which tracks you’ll want to spend big on. Any ties in bidding are broken by the person with the highest standing in the Iron Throne influence track, so I hope you didn’t screw things up too much with them.
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is a masterful strategy game for experienced board game players looking for something complex and meaty. Even without any real knowledge of the source material, I got a lot out of it. I wouldn’t recommend this to casual players or newcomers to board games, as there is a lot to grasp and a full game is going to take upwards of 3-4 hours. Having said that, if you’re up for the challenge, the game is so fun throughout that time will pass by in a blink.