Sunday, July 8, 2012

Winter Came...All Over Our Game Table: "A Game of Thrones: Second Edition"

It's hard to believe that between the five of us, our intrepid fellowship collectively owns somewhere in the realm of four hundred board games (including expansions!)  As I mentioned in my first Middle Earth Quest post, even with the five of us alternating picks every week, our unplayed list is still pretty considerable.  If someone's particularly horny to see a certain game come up the wait could make the release of Chinese Democracy look the time it takes to get a pellet from a feeder bar.

In an attempt to remedy this, Andrew's been lending games from his collection out to anyone who's interested in tabling them on their turn.  With its recent explosion as a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, Chad seemed very interested in running this:

Unfortunately, Chad's turn kept getting postponed.  What can I say, between all the dance recitals, needlepoint, flower arranging, musical theatre and amateur Greco-Roman Mixed Martial Arts, he's a very busy dude.

But last Wednesday, after many delays, Winter finally came.  Indeed, t'was a veritable Game of Thrones bukkake session.

Once again, Chad's masterful command of the rules proved to be a real boon and it wasn't long before we were all up and running.  In one notable stroke of genius, he had us perform a "practice round" by placing order tokens just to make sure that they did what we intended to do.  This allowed us to work out most of the kinks before we'd even played our first official turn.  Friggin' brilliant.  


The Game of Thrones board game takes place just after the death of Robert Baratheon.  Oh, spoiler alert, BTW.

With the King dead, the major Houses of Westeros enter into a deadly civil war to determine who will claim the Iron Throne.  A successful player will be the one who can best juggle economics, negotiation, diplomacy and military might.

During the set-up phase, players receive a starting allotment of Ships, Knights, Footmen and Siege Towers.  They also get a deck of House Cards which can give their forces unique powers in battle.  Finally, each House is provided with three sets of five different Order Tokens which are used to:
  • March units and initiate battles. 
  • Support attacks. 
  • Raid (I.E. discard) opponent's Orders. 
  • Consolidate Power to muster new units or gain additional influence.
  • Or Defend against attacks.  
Each Game Round breaks down into the following phases:

The Westeros Phase  In which the top three cards of the Westeros Deck are turned face-up, changing the game conditions for the upcoming round in some unique manner.

The Planning Phase  Players secretly seed Order Tokens beneath each group of units.

The Action Phase  The Order Tokens are revealed and actions are played out in order.  When this results in a battle, the victor is determined by a combination of unit strength, House Cards and a random draw from the Tide of Battle Deck.  During this phase, the Houses might also be called upon to join forces and drive back the nasty Wildlings.

The first player to ten Victory Points (in the form of captured Castles and Strongholds) is immediately declared the winner.

For those rules junkies out there who crave additional detail, feel free to check out Fantasy Flight's online PDF of the Second Edition rules.

Andrew...House Stark (Silver)
Chad...House Greyjoy (Black)
Me...House Baratheon (Yellow)
Dean...House Tyrell (Green)
Mike...House Lannister (Red)



Since the Westeros Phase is always skipped in the first Round, we immediately got down to some hardcore Planning Phase schemin'.

House Baratheon  Since I began the game in control of the Iron Throne, I annexed Storm's End with one Footman from Kingswood.  I then dispatched a Ship into Blackwater Bay to set up an amphibious landing and successfully transported one Knight and one Footman by sea from Dragonstone to Crackclaw Point.

House Lannister  Mike mustered a Ship and a Footman in Lannisport and Consolidated Power, gaining two tokens.

House Stark Andrew recruited a Footman in White Harbor and dispatched a Knight from Winterfell to Moat Cailin.

House Greyjoy  Chad moved a Ship into the Sunset Sea and Consolidated Power in his home region of Pyke.

House Tyrell  After we realized that the Oldtown Garrison had been placed on the board in error, Dean merrily marched in there with a Footman and then Consolidated Power in Highgarden.  

During our first Westeros Phase, "Mustering" had us gleefully levying new units, "Last Days of Summer" gave us a brief reprieve and Chad (as the holder of the Valyrian Steel token) quashed the more unpalatable options proposed by "Put To The Sword".

House Baratheon I constructed a Siege Tower in anticipation of a seaborne invasion of The Eyrie.  When it came time to move a Ship into the Narrow Sea to bridge my units to their destination, Andrew pointed out that he already had naval presence there and my intended action would be perceived as a declaration of war.  Given that Andrew's ship was undistinguishable against the gray-colored sea space, I honestly hadn't even noticed it sitting there when I was assigning my Order Tokens!  Not willing to stir up any major shit just yet, I abandoned my original designs and set my sights on a less-palatable prize: King's Landing.

(WARNING...INSIDE JOKE REFERENCE: Mike, if you're reading this I sincerely apologize for accusing you of not being aware of the scorpion and the frog fable.  Apparently I don't even know what a fucking scorpion is.)

House Lannister Speaking of Mike, his supply situation continued to improve dramatically when he marched on the Sea Road Marshes and Riverrun with one Knight apiece and then subjugated Blackwater with a single Footman unit.  With a total of six Supply Symbols amongst four territories, all of us began to suspect that Mike's armies would soon do justice to their fictional counterpart.

House Stark  Andrew continued to consolidate his holdings in the northern reaches by moving one Footman into the Stony Shore and one Footman into Widow's Watch.

House Greyjoy  Looking to make major waves by sea, Chad moved two more Ships into the Sunset Sea from Ironman's Bay (Hmmmmmm, shouldn't 'Ironman's Bay' be up in 'Stark' territory?  Amirite?  Holla?)  Desperate to get a foothold on the continent proper, he landed one Footman in Flint's Finger and one Knight in Seaguard.  This immediately put him in direct opposition with Andrew's forces in Moat Cailin.

House Tyrell  Looking for additional mobility in the southern waters, Dean added a ship to the West Summer Sea.  Tempted by the neutral jewel that is Starfall, he then moved one Knight and one Footman from Old Town (leaving it ungarrisoned due to a lack of Power Tokens) and moved into the Three Towers.


"A Throne of Blades" resulted in more Mustering and a "Clash of Kings" saw a major upheaval in Influence.  Finally all of the Houses came together to defeat a common foe and the Wildlings were beaten back for the first time!

House Tyrell  With nothing but neutral garrisons to oppose him, Dean kept spreading unchecked.  He started nudging uncomfortably close to my waters by sending a ship into the East Summer Sea.  He then eliminated the opposition in Starfall with one Knight and one Footman, scoring another Castle and Supply Icon in the process.  As if his proximity by sea wasn't bad enough, he also started creeping up on my turf by subjugating The Reach with one Knight.    

House Baratheon I really didn't want to send troops into King's Landing since I suspected that they'd be steamrolled by Mike's single-minded advance towards the capitol.  Fearing that I'd be left behind if I didn't keep expanding, I ended up sending one Siege Tower and one Knight in anyway.

House Greyjoy  Chad continued to struggle for lebensraum.  Facing strong opposition from Mike in Riverrun and Andrew in Moat Cailin, all he could really do was Muster a new Knight in Pyke and exploit his seabound agility by moving a boat northwards into the Bay of Ice.  This hemmed up Andrew's Boat moored in the Port of Winterfell.

House Stark  For no other reason other then to *yoink* a cheap castle away from me and add it to his own tally, Andrew landed a Moat Cailin Knight in Crackclaw Point!   I was expecting an incursion from Mike, but not from Andrew, especially after I'd stayed my hand against him last turn!  Needless to say, it took every ounce of my willpower not to come across the table, push him to the floor and force feed him a handful of Siege Engines.

Oh yeah, he also Mustered a Footman in Winterfell.  Big fuckin' deal.      

Hopefully by now the in-joke referenced above is becoming less and less obscure, dear reader!

House Lannister  Concerned by Chad's burgeoning fleet buzzing around him, Mike added another Boat to Lannisport Harbor.  Of course, with Andrew's Pearl Harbor job revealed, Mike could smell blood and had plenty of incentive to take a run at me as well.  Sure enough, he came in swinging with a Siege Engine and Footman, driving my own Knight and Siege Tower out of King's Landing and into Kingswood.    

Despite Mike's victory, I'm heartened by the fact that his army is a long way from home and completely devoid of support.  I started sending psychic transmissions to Dean, hoping that he'd take advantage of Mike's completely unprotected southern flank.  Given the fact that he still had plenty of low-hanging fruit to pick in his own unguarded neck of the woods, I knew deep down that House Tyrell had very little incentive to take the hint.


In Mike's mad rush to seize King's Landing he left the Searoad Marches and Blackwater ungarrisoned. As a result, when "Supply" came up in the Westeros Phase, he actually tied with me, Chad and Andrew with three apiece.  As it turned out, Dean was the big winner with four, allowing him to sustain two three-unit armies.  "Clash of Kings" saw us bidding on the Influence tracks.  Not that I had a lot of Power Tokens to play with but I certainly would have wagered higher on the King's Court category if I had my time back.  I remembered how important that category was only after I found out that I could no longer play any Special Order tokens.  D'oh!!!  Finally, we managed to fake solidarity just long enough to repel yet another Wildling invasion.

House Tyrell  Dean conscripted a Footman for Highgarden as well as one Footman and one Siege Tower for The Reach.  He also continued to use the southern portion of Westeros as his own personal playground, spreading like an unhindered green fungus first into Yronwood (which he left garrisoned) and then into the Sunspear.  The two Footmen and one Knight who arrived there now looked suspiciously poised to take a voyage into my corner of the realm.

House Greyjoy  My ally against Mike turned out to be Chad and not Dean.  After he mustered a new Knight in Flint's Finger, christened a Boat for Ironman's Bay and boldly sailed into the Golden Sound (driving Mike's ships back into Lannister Harbor), Chad unexpectedly landed one Knight and one Siege Tower in Riverrun.  He also used his considerable naval power to occupy the now-vacant Searoad Marshes with two Knights!

House Baratheon  Just as I'd predicted, my brave warriors managed to recover all of Mike and Andrew's ill-gotten gains!  One Siege Engine and one Knight from The Mountains of the Moon eliminated Andrew's foreign presence in Crackclaw Point.  This still worked out alright for Andrew since he ended up moving into the now-vacant Mountains not long after.  My Siege Engine got trashed taking King's Landing back from Mike, but my Knight managed to hold the line while inflicting a casualty.  Then, to shore up my defenses a bit, I left a Footman to guard the Kingswood then mustered a Knight in both Storm's End and Dragonstone.

House Lannister  Mike's turn was all about damage control.  Hoping to drive out the Greyjoy invaders, Mike rallied one Knight and one Siege Engine in Lannisport.  Finally noticing Dean's proximity down south, he also added a new Knight in Blackwater.  Finally, he re-enforced the Siege Engine that was driven out of King's Landing into Harrenhal with a Knight.

House Stark  The loss of a Knight in Crackclaw Point did very little to quell the boisterous Starks.  Andrew moved one of his Footmen from Winterfell to Castle Black in order to secure the Power Icon there.  He then levied two Footmen in White Harbor, which instantly made this a perfect launch point for an even stronger naval campaign.


Another welcome round of "Mustering" was celebrated.  Despite Dean's considerable gains, "Game of Thrones" only ended up giving him two Power Tokens.  After getting ganked by Chad, Mike found himself tied with the same amount.  Andrew and Chad each had three apiece and after re-capturing King's Landing I collected four.  Finally, when a "Storm of Swords" dictated that no Defense Orders could be played it virtually guaranteed that the upcoming round would be pretty hairy.

House Tyrell  All Dean really needed to do in this round was maintain his low profile and keep building up his forces for a final push to ten Victory Points.  He accomplished this handily by adding one Boat to the Sea of Dorne and one to the Westsummer Sea and resisting the temptation to lash out at me, Mike or Chad.

House Lannister  Still reeling from my lethal counter-attack and Chad's unexpected incursions, Mike diverted his Siege Engine from Lannisport to the Stony Sept.  He also added a new Footman to Harrenhal to discourage any funny ideas I might be harboring about pressing my advantage.

House Baratheon  Having wasted several turns and lost units recapturing what I'd lost, I knew that there weren't very many bold moves in my immediate future.  This was made worse by the terrible fact that my King's Court status was in the dumper and I still couldn't play a single Special Order token.  All I could really do was requisition a Knight to sandbag King's Landing, add a Siege Engine to my reserves in Dragonstone and use a Raid action to preempt Andrew's naval action in The Narrow Sea.  

House Greyjoy  Chad continued his trend of unpredictable dickery by pulling two Knights from the Searoad Marshes and a Siege Engine from Riverrun to sneak attack Andrew in Winterfell!  Thrown by the unexpected assault, the lone Stark Knight defending the region was easily overwhelmed!  As if to guard his own ass from a similar strike, Chad also recruited two Knights in Pyke.

House Stark  Andrew was forced to divert two Footmen and one Siege Engine from White Harbor and one Footman from Widow's Watch (leaving both garrisoned by Power Tokens) to the task of recapturing his capitol.  He lost a few Footmen in the skirmish but ultimately proved victorious.


Another batch of "Mustering" sped up the recovery process.  Lannister Mike, still hoarding the Valyrian Steel and Messenger Raven tokens, elected to gain more Power Tokens when "Dark Wings" came up.  For the third time, we managed to send the Wildlings packing back across the wall with their collective asses in their hands.

House Stark  Hoping to avoid a repeat of last round, Andrew Mustered a Knight and a Footman in Winterfell.  He dispatched one of these Footman by Boat to The Fingers, which he annexed for a much-needed Supply Icon.  In revenge for the assault on Winterfell, Andrew's ship finally ventured out of port into the Bay of Ice and destroyed Chad's Boat in the resulting naval duel.

House Greyjoy  Perhaps sensing that he'd stuck his sword (and by his sword I mean his penis) into one too many hornet's nests, Chad kept a low profile that round.  All he did was move one Ship from Ironman's Bay into the Sunset Sea.

House Baratheon  Unfortunately I was still hobbled by a painful lack of Special Order tokens.  Not feeling strong enough to initiate any battle just yet, I had to content myself with adding a Knight to Kingswood and a Footman to Crackclaw Point.

House Lannister  Now clearly on the defensive, Mike hastily added a Footman to Harrenhal.  Mike's Knight fell back from Blackwater to the Searoad Marshes where it was met by a Siege Engine from the Stoney Sept.

House Tyrell   At this stage in the game, I'm sure Dean was having a grand old time watching all of us bitch-slap each other while he casually gobbled up one territory after another.  As a prelude to victory, he added a new Boat to The Arbor, securing yet another Power Icon.


The Westoros Deck revealed "Supply", which resulted in one of my Footman in Storm's End starving to death.  Once again Mike picked "Gain fucking Power" when "Dark Wings" popped up for the second straight time.  This killed me since I already had a pile of Power Tokens behind my screen big enough to swim in Scrooge McDuck style.  At this stage I would have gladly murdered a hobo with a ball peen hammer just to get an Influence Vote and crawl out of the Fiefdom gutter.  Finally, "Web of Lies" put the kibosh on all Support Actions, effectively neutering my next turn.      

House Baratheon  Sensing that Dean was slow coasting to victory, I started making some kooky moves.  Unfortunately, since I was still completely mistrustful of both Mike and Andrew, none of my actions were directed towards the guy who was actually poised to win the game.  Flying in the face of  logic, I launched two separate attacks.  The first one, directed against Andrew in The Mountains of the Moon, was soundly repelled, thanks in part to his +2 Defense Special Action.  In the end, my attacking force of one Knight, one Siege Engine and one Footman got decimated.  My military action against Mike went much better as my two Knights from King's Landing managed to rout Mike's Knight in Blackwater.  Hypothetically this would have earned me two much-needed Supply Icons, assuming that Mike didn't just snatch it back from me on his next turn.  

House Tyrell  Dean finally let loose his pent up Dogs of War and annihilated my defenses at King's Landing with a Siege Engine and a Knight.  He then used his Boat in the Sea of Dorne to ferry two Footmen and one Knight from Sunspear to Storm's End.  With all of my House Combat Cards frittered away in petty squabbles against Mike and Andrew, I was virtually unarmed.  Dean's two perfectly timed attacks easily allowed him to claim his tenth Victory Point, giving him the win.

Looking back on the game, I really wish Andrew and Mike hadn't made a bee line straight for me like they did.  I'd expected Mike to take a run at me, but not Andrew.  When he decided to plop one of his Knights right onto Crackclaw Point just one turn after I averted a confrontation with him, I distinctly remember turning to him and saying that my goal from that point forward was to eliminate "every last man, woman and child".

These early betrayals were a real boon for Dean.  He was in the perfect position to sit back and watch all of us paintbrush each other while he slowly annexed one Sudetenland at a time.


Despite the drama (or perhaps because of it), this game's a real revelation.  I've played a slew of these multiplayer, wargamey, back-stabby affairs and a lot of them are long, boring, protracted, fiddly things that are completely bereft of thematic relevance.

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is the antithesis of that.  It's beautiful, streamlined, dramatic, and crunchy in all of the right places.  The secretly-placed Order Tokens alone generate a nigh-intolerable feeling of tension.  Genuine fans of the books and the HBO program can confidently pick this one up, knowing that it's not some cheaply-produced, fly-by-night, mall kiosk flotsam that will end up boring them or insulting their intelligence.

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game handily scores five pips out of six.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome synopsis - I want to play again more than I thought. The scorpion DROWNED in a big way.