A Game of Thrones the Board Game Review

A Game of Thrones the board game review
It’s the best time of the year, I don't mean Christmas with it’s over indulgence and prezzies. I don't mean the summer when it’s one of the five days in the UK calendar where it’s brave enough to sit outside without waders. I mean it’s that time again when Game of Thrones is on the telly box and we can revel in the delights of smart mouthed dwarves, incest, violence and so many northern English accents you're surprised you can’t see a flat cap and a whippet. Do you want to replicate the feel of Game of Thrones in your own living room, far away from a rainy Ireland or a freezing Norway? Of course you do and that’s why you need A Game of Thrones The board game.

A Game of Thrones board game review A Game of Thrones the Board Game takes the stories of the warring nations of Westoros and turns it into a battling board game that can best be described to a new comer as Risk with Wildlings. Three to six friends (and soon to be enemies) take control of the armies of one of the major houses and try to conquer as much of the territory as possible. The game plays from three people and is very clever at blocking the board for smaller players but works best with the full complement of six. At a full table everyone has to worry about two borders and the full extent of the board is in play.

 The aim of the game is to conquer seven castles, or be the owner of the most castles after ten turns. You achieve this by manoeuvring a selection of knights, footmen, siege towers and ships via secret orders while at the same time politically manipulating your opponents so you can get aid from other players. It’s those secret orders that are the main push of the game. You’re given a set of order tokens representing the five orders you can place on your units. You could raid a neighbour, denying them of their order, attack, defend or consolidate your power for influence tokens (more on them later). The most interesting order though is the support. The support order allows you to add your army’s strength to a battle in a neighbouring region. The important aspect is it doesn’t have to be a battle you’re taking part in, you can add your strength to any battle. Calls for support and threats start flying across the table thick and fast when a player realises that their victory or loss is entirely dependent on your support and so begins a game of fragile alliances and treacherous backstabbing. Unless you’re facing off against a group of complete tactical numpties it’s almost impossible to win the game without calling in support at some point in time and the most cunning of players is the one who can use their opponents to gain victory.

A Game of Thrones the board game review The neck
When the game starts units are pretty thin on the ground, but it soon starts to fill.

Troops aren’t acting alone, to aid them in the battle is a character taken from a deck of house cards that represent famous individuals from George R R Martin’s books. Each house card can only be used once, until you’ve exhausted the entire deck. The house cards add their strength to the battle with some house cards, like the Cleganes add a significant bonus to an army and can  win smaller battles on their own, other such as the fool Patchface contribute bugger all, which is something you’d expect from a character who wears a bucket on his head. Although you’ve seen which characters your opponent has used, can you remember who is left or can you be certain that your opponent is going to throw in their heaviest house card and therefore you need throw in your best house card, or will your opponent tank the battle to use up their weakest house card saving their best for a the big battle they’re planning? This level of bluffing adds another layer of tactics and more sneaky and underhanded ways to manipulate the battlefield. The issue with the house cards is that they can cause large swings in the results of the battle, especially early in the game when all house cards are available in your hand and armies are relatively small. When this happens they subtract from the tactics of manoeuvring your troops out of the game. There is also an optional ‘tides of battle’ system that adds another randomiser card to the combat. Personally I’ve never used these and don’t see how they would help; I’m of the belief that the house cards add enough randomisation that this extra level isn’t needed. The beauty of the basic system is that there isn’t really any randomness; there’s hidden information but even that is within known limits and throwing in a random effect breaks away from what makes this game shine.

A Game of Thrones the board game review setup
Each player gets a little shield to hide their counters and cards behind.

What I’ve neglected to mention so far is naval combat. Not only are you trying to control the land you’re also attempting to control the seas. Having a ship in any of the seas allows your land troops to move quickly, effectively using the ships as a stepping stone. A player who controls several adjoining sea sections is able to move a unit from one end of the board to another in a single turn and that makes the seas very important to control. Unfortunately, ships are where the rules start to get a bit muddy. Naval units are given orders just like every other unit but not all units can be placed and orders have slightly different effects. In addition, the way you add naval units to the board differs. For example, a naval unit can support a land battle or a neighbouring sea battle but cannot be supported by land troops; which makes sense unless your spear men have bloody good throwing arms but this difference in the rules causes confusion. It’s the one niggle in the game that every game I’ve played, especially when introducing new players, the ships have caused the most questions.

A Game of Thrones the board game review house cards
Some of the house cards from Tyrell
The game plays over a beautiful map of Westeros. If you're a fan A Game Of Thrones it’s worth playing the game just to familiarise yourself with the map; seeing the tiny postage stamp of an island makes you realise why the Greyjoy's are all uptight and angry; seeing the vast expanses of the north and its lack of food as to why the Starks are so miserable and why the battles in the books centre Riverrun. Every single space on that beautiful map is useful, whether it’s one of the game winning castles, a barrel to bolster your supplies and maintain your ever growing armies or political power, referred to as ‘influence’ which gains you tokens for bidding and holding territories.  Not only do the warring houses come to blows on the battlefield, there is also the chance to control one of three seats of influence; the Iron Throne, the Fiefdoms and the King’s Court. Your house’ position on the track confers a bonus; the Iron throne determines turn order, the Fiefdoms settles ties in combat and gives the leader a once per turn combat bonus and the King’s Court determines how many special orders a house can play and gives access to the Raven which allows then to change an order or spy on the Wildlings. Determining the order is performed by a nice blind bidding system. Remember those influence tokens that players where picking up? Well, that’s what you have to bid to convey your order on the track. The problem is that any tokens you bid are lost. What’s more, every so often those Wildlings beyond the wall launch an attack on the southern lands. This fires off another set of blind bidding where the aim is for the total amount bid to beat the strength of the wildlings. Don’t beat the wildings and something bad happens, and the person who bid the least has something really bad happen to them. Trounce the Wildlings and everyone is safe and the top bidder gets a nice little reward. The form of the Wildlings attack is in a little deck of cards which the owner of the King’s Court can take a sneaky peak at.

A Game of Thrones the board game review Iron Islands
Things are hotting up around the Iron Islands

When I first saw that Fantasy Flight Games where releasing a 2nd version of the Game of Thrones board game I was reluctant to buy it. Although a fan of the setting I wasn’t sure if I’d ever manage to get a six player game to the table enough. It’s a testament to how good Game of Thrones is that it ended up being one of my most played games last year and is currently on its way to maintaining that position this year. A Game of Thrones does that one thing that every thematic game aims to do and so often falls short, it absolutely nails the theme. You will feel like you are one of the lords of the great houses, carefully planning your troop movements and politically manoeuvring. In fact you’ll think you’re Stannis Baratheon sitting at his seven kingdoms table. This board game has everything in it that makes the Song of Ice and Fire series so great. It’s got the battles, it’s got the heroes and, most importantly, it’s got the fragile alliances and back stabbing that really characterises the Song of Ice and Fire series.
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  1. Played it a couple of times (first ed).

    I agree with your review.

    Being the first boardgame with more complexity than your average Monoploy or whatever myself and friends had played, we did find it took a long time to graps the rules. I get the feeling if you play similar games reguarly it would be alot easier.

    I wouldnt hold that against it though, it's one of it's main strengths, but it's good to be aware that it's not exactly simple. Going to have to put some time in to learning the rules first!

    You have obviously played many board games, how would it's complexity rate against others?

    I found it very rewarding however once we began to understand it.

    1. I would put A Game of Thrones quite high up on the complexity scale; around 4 out of 5. Its not the most complex game going but there are a lot of rules to learn and features such as ships and starred order increase the complexity.

      I advice downloading a copy of the Esoteric Order of Gamers reference sheet, it covers everything in the rules and makes it easier to find the rules you need during the game: http://www.orderofgamers.com/downloads/AGameofThrones_v1.pdf