This weekend we finally managed to get a session playing ‘Game of Thrones (GoT), the Boardgame, 2nd Edition’ which I had been given as a present a while back. We played a 4-player game, with the various houses randomly selected. I ended up with the Greyjoy faction located in the NW section of the board. This is a lengthy game to play and this was the reason why we had not played it earlier.
This our first game took 4 hours to complete and went to the 10th round before Chris (Baratheon) finally won by securing his 7th Castle/Stronghold. Essentially the game is one of area control with players moving their forces and engaging in combat. Although it is all about achieving victory for one’s own house, there is a good amount of player interaction and co-operation because a player cannot win by solely focussing on themselves. The beauty of GoT is that players don’t have to stick to the verbal agreements they have made, and backstabbing is common! This needs to be done at the right time otherwise no one will ever trust you! The main source of player co-operation (or not) lies in the ‘Support’ orders you can assign, whereby a supporting player can drastically affect the combat outcomes of competing players. I think we all liked this aspect of the game, and we all enjoyed playing the various character cards each house can use. We played using the ‘Battle Card’ deck (which is optional) to introduce some uncertainty into to the combat process, but interestingly this did not have a particularly significant impact on the game. The drawing of the Westeros Cards at the start of each turn worked well, introducing interesting variations on the way each turn played out. I liked the bidding section of the game where players complete to gain control of the ‘Iron Throne’, ‘Valerian Steel’ and ‘Raven’ influence tracks. The ‘Iron Throne’ (i.e. turn order and tie breaking) is clearly important, whereas we found the ‘Valerian Steel’ (i.e. combat advantage and combat tie breaking) was less so. The ‘Raven’ track (i.e. use of special orders) was surprisingly important, particularly for the 4th player who is unable to play such orders. The supply rules also worked well and did restrict players at key moments. The appearance of Wildlings also functioned well and generally we all co-operated to repel them. I did once try to under-commit against an invasion and it did not work out well for me when the Wildlings burst through (I don’t think I will do that again!).
GoT was enjoyed by all of us, even Elaine (Lannister) who was uncertain beforehand. We all tended to get into character as the game unfurled. The rules, although initially appearing complex, were picked up quickly. The only rules which posed questions were those relating to Ports, and whether deployed Power tokens could be recovered when fresh forces entered an area. The interaction of players was enjoyed by all and, with hindsight, could have been better exploited. The main downside of the game must be the timescale, 4 hours, and this will limit the number of times this game will be played in the future. Although the game was tight, I do think there is a problem for the ‘Northern’ houses (Stark and Greyjoy) because they have to move through a bottleneck when expanding south and they do not have easy access to the neutral castles/strongholds of the southern regions of Westeros. They are forced into either co-operation or conflict from the start. In contrast, both Lannister and Baratheon occupy locations that have more options and opportunities; they don’t need to engage in conflict with others, but can move into neutral areas easily. It would be interesting to play with the full 6 players, or possibly to swap the Greyjoy faction for either the Tyrell or Martell factions.Overall, I recommend GoT especially to players who like to play a single game during a session. I cannot see a situation where a player would be eliminated quickly, and from our limited experience all players remain in the race until the final furlong.