King Robert Baratheon is dead, and the lands of Westeros brace for battle.
In the second edition of A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, three to six players take on the roles of the great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, as they vie for control of the Iron Throne through the use of diplomacy and warfare. Based on the best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones is an epic board game in which it will take more than military might to win. Will you take power through force, use honeyed words to coerce your way onto the throne, or rally the townsfolk to your side? Through strategic planning, masterful diplomacy, and clever card play, spread your influence over Westeros!
It’s alright, I guess? Game of Thrones is a board game that I find hard to feel passionately one way or another after a playing again. It feels like a game that predated the elegance of modern rules. Yet I find it hard to hate the game for it, given how old it is.
I spent nearly 3 hours learning the rules and writing them down into a consumable format that I felt I could teach effectively. Even after that, there were still so many corner case exceptions and rules that were layered on top of one another so fundamentally that missing one tiny exception would cause a severe case of “Bad times”. It happened multiple times during the game where a plan was so reliant on one misplay that everyone felt bad when things couldn’t move forward. That really is the great paradox of the board game, so many casual people will want to play it because of the theme but the rules of so obtuse that even veteran gamers will get frustrated at times. It’s a game that might feel smoother after numerous playthroughs, but very few people left our game feeling like they wanted to pick it up again. A decade of board game innovation has given us far better options.
The only area where Game of Thrones did shine was the ability to forge an interesting narrative. While the mechanics were a struggle to learn, teach and keep track of without error, the story the game told unfolded naturally. Every session will have its own unique tale of events that will make it feel unique. My favorite part of my game was going back to my coworker to tell her how things unfolded. I enjoyed retelling the tale of how the Lannisters threw themselves at the Tyrells out of nowhere with the Tyrells perfectly predicting every play. How the Knight of Flowers masterfully struck deep into Lannister Territory with a sneak naval assault scattering routed armies every which way. With fear in the eyes of the Lannister player the Tyrells took their book off his neck for they extended themselves too thin and needed the war to come to an end so they can regroup and also allow the Lannisters to turn around and keep a rampant Greyjoy in check. When the Baratheons seemed to have victory in their sight the Lady of Thorns herself masterfully schemed to stop a key Baratheon March order. Surely, no other character in all of Westeros could have been capable of such espionage (No seriously… I’m pretty sure no other ability in the entire game could have stopped that Baratheon win and it seemed perfect it was the Lady of Thorns that did it). Finally, with the Baratheons at the end of their best Icarus impersonation and the Lannisters holding off the Greyjoys with every breath they could muster, the Tyrells took the iron throne and were able to start the next turn with the first play. It had to be a good one since all of Westeros was about to turn on them, but with one masterful move to open the round’s march orders they secured their 7th stronghold. The narrative of the experience is what stuck with me. It felt like its own story in the Game of Thrones world, not just the original story on shuffle. Is it enough to make the board game worthwhile? No, not at all. But at least it’s something.
Here’s my thoughts on a game of thrones. It’s good, but how about we play something else instead.
The things I like most about A Game Of Thrones are the combat, and the Dominance Tokens. But if I want to play a game with A Game of Thrones combat I’d honestly rather play Battle For Rokugan, which plays in less than half the time and throws out all the extra bloat. Just pure, hidden token bluffing combat with lightly variable player powers. So that leaves the Dominance Tokens. The Iron Throne, The Valyrian Blade, and The Messenger Raven. And Honestly I only care about The Messenger Raven; because not being high on its track means you have less tokens your allowed to place, and they’re not as powerful which basically equates to less game to play. The 1 or 2 turns I wasn’t in first on the Raven track were so disappointing. So after you remove those two aspects of the game, one of which I prefer in a different game, and the other I only wanted a third of, what’s left to say about A Game of Thrones? It creates some fantastic narrative arcs throughout its game play. But almost every war game does, broken alliances and swings in power are hardly unique to this one. It’s got 2(4) event decks, 1(3) that happen every round and 1 that happens semi randomly throughout to balance power. But being forced to wait for an event to gain new troops doesn’t feel good; if my army is hurting I want to spend all my resources to rebuild it now, not wait for everyone including my enemies to all refill the board at the same time. Don’t tie the major game mechanics to this, keep it to things that spice the game up like “you may not play support tokens this round”. The bidding is a fine system, but after spending all my power to get the top of all 3 dominance tracks (which admittedly and foolishly feels AMAZING) and having another bid happen the very next turn when I’m broke just feels like a waste. Though admittedly that was more my fault than the games… I guess in the end I’m left thinking that the game is fun. But I don’t see myself in a situation where I suggest it as the game we play over something else.
The other weekend I sat down to play the Game of Thrones board game. My takeaway was, much like the books, Game of Thrones starts quick, engaging and snappy but towards the middle bogs down. With four other players at the table, the balance of power shifted quickly. It seems to me that the best strategy might not be to push for the early win. Instead, being the first player to smack down an attempted win led to a victory in our case. It was fun for sure! Though not a game I’d want to play more than three times a year. Loyalties will be tested and numbers crunched. Expect to go in the tank and think really hard quite a bit.
I like it. Not going to mince words. Not amazing, but far from bad. Its It feels like an updated diplomacy without the writing (and the get up from the table part). I played Baratheons and felt that it was my game to lose. I love the politics and backstabby of the game and the random events that forced everyone to work together made for an interesting addition that I think the game would be lesser if removed. All this being said, I don’t think it’s a rewarding enough experience for the amount of time investment. This could be because it was everyone’s first game and learning added to it, I’m sure, but the group could have played 2 medium/heavy games in the same amount of time and had a better afternoon. Also, If a third edition was released (the Second Edition is from 2011) I would be excited to see the changes and updates.