With the intent of providing more frequent posts, I have decided to increase the scope of my writing to include all of my gaming hobby. This is the first of that expansion, with my first board game review. I have tried to formulate a template that will be used throughout all future reviews, but since this is the first review, don’t hold me to it.
The game to be reviewed today is A Game of Thrones: Second Edition, created by Fantasy Flight games. As most of my readers would probably conclude, this is based off of the book series by George R. R. Martin. I’m not really a big fan of the books (probably an unpopular statement), but the board game is a different animal. I actually played the first edition of the board game before I read the books, so maybe my hopes were too high when reading the series.
I think that the cover art for this box (and most of Fantasy Flight’s games) is excellent. It is in one of there standard square boxes, so it fits nicely with other games from them on your shelf. However, the inside of the box unfortunately continues with Fantasy Flight’s “standard” setup. After you punch out all of the components, you are either forced to set up your own means of organizing them (baggies, etc) or just dumping them all in the box and sorting through them before each game. This is a bit unfortunate, since the previous edition of the game has custom trays inside of it that held the pieces beautifully.
The game components are nice looking. The board looks beautiful and is laid out well. All of the regions are large enough to house the armies used in the game, unlike some games I have played. Each House has the same set of tokens to keep track of the various tracks and armies in the game, but the colors are fairly distinct. The only issue is in the 6 player game where the tokens for House Martell and House Lannister have similar coloring. I think that the art on the house cards is excellent and all of the pieces for the game are well done. My minor complaint is that the army pieces aren’t very detailed for a Fantasy Flight game, but they are still passable and better than generic wooden blocks.
Fantasy Flight has created a series of videos to describe the different phases of the game here. Also, the game rules are available in full on their website. I will try to provide an overview of the core mechanics of the game in the space that follows.
The object of the game is to capture 7 stronghold and castles or to have the most at the end of turn 10. Also worth mentioning is that each region on the map has different symbols on it. The three symbols are:
- Barrels – The barrels allow you to have larger armies. The game has a mechanic that controls the amount of units present based off of the amount of barrels under your control.
- Castles/Fortresses – These are the locations where you can muster your units. Castles provide one muster point, while fortresses provide two. Unfortunately, the castles don’t provide any extra defense for your troops.
- Crowns – The crowns on the board are useful for gaining Power, a type of currency in the game. Power is used to defend against the Wildlings and also to determine positions on the different influence tracks.
There are three different influence tracks in the game, each with a different purpose. Also, the player in the first position of each track is provided with a special token that gives them special abilities.
- Iron Throne – This track determines turn order. The holder of the Iron Throne breaks all ties (other than combat).
- Fiefdoms – This track breaks all combat ties. The holder of the Valyrian Steel Blade can add 1 to his combat strength once a round.
- Messenger Raven – This track determines the number of special order tokens that each player can place. The special orders are more powerful versions of the standard order and also give you a 3rd order of each type. The holder of the Messenger raven can swap one of his order tokens after everybody has revealed their orders or can look at the top card of the Wildlings deck.
The order of the tracks is determined when one of the cards in the Westeros phase comes up that tells you to bid for the tracks. Each player secretly determines how much power they will bid and the track is adjusted accordingly, with the holder of the Iron Throne determining who wins any ties. All power big is lost and returned to the pool. This is repeated for each track.
Each game turn is broken up into several different phases, as follows.
During this phase cards are flipped over from three different decks. The text on the cards applies to everybody are progressed through sequentially. Some examples of what might happen are: muster more troops, adjust your supply levels, bid on the influence tracks, prevent the playing of certain orders, or even the Wildlings attacking.
Each player has a set of order tokens which are placed during this phase. Each player places all of his orders face down in areas where there troops are located. After everybody has placed their orders, all of the orders are flipped over for all to see. A quick summary of each order is as follows:
- Raid – allow you to remove an adjacent Raid, Support or Consolidate Power order
- March – allow you to move your troops either peacefully or to attack with
- Defend – add an extra bonus to your combat strength if you are attacked in this region
- Support – allow you to add the combat strength of this region to an adjacent embattled area. You can support your troops, or even support an opponent who is attacking another opponent. This order can be where the sneaky, backstabbing theme of Game of Thrones comes in.
- Consolidate Power – allows you to gather more power tokens.
This is the phase that generally takes the longest. During this phase, each player performs one action at a time, with everybody resolving the Raid orders, then March orders, and finally Consolidate Power orders (the other orders are used during the March order resolution).
If a March order moves one House’s troops into another’s region a battle ensues. The battles are resolved as followed:
Call for support – Players with support orders adjacent to the embattled territory can add their army strength to the side of their choice.
- Calculate strength of your forces – This is determined by the units you are bringing into combat and those supporting you. Footmen are worth 1, Knights are worth 2, and Siege Towers are worth 4 if attacking a region with a castle or stronghold.
- Choose and Reveal House Cards – Each player selects a House Card from their hand. All of the cards have a strength ranging from 0 to 4, and they each have special text or special symbols on them.
- Use Valyrian Steel Blade – The owner of the blade can add +1 to his combat strength once a round, if desired
- Calculate Final Combat Strength – At this point, you determine who wins the combat, by adding up actions from the previous steps. Any ties are determined by the order on the Fiefdoms track.
- Combat Resolution – At this point, you can determine the casualties. Some cards have Swords or Fortifications printed on them. The fortifications cancel out the winner’s swords. Whoever lost the battle suffers a casualty for each undefended sword. Any surviving units are allowed to retreat to a non-hostile adjacent area, but are routed (0 combat strength) for the rest of the turn.
Play then repeats like this for the rest of the game until somebody captures 7 castles and strongholds or until turn 10 ends.
So far, I have played the game about 8 different times, with varying numbers of players (3, 4, and 5). It takes a little bit of time for new players to catch on, since the concepts take a little bit to develop, particularly the ships and the ports (which I have mostly omitted from the review for brevity) and even the support orders can be a little confusing to new players. After everybody has played through a game, everybody should have a good grasp on the mechanics and this is when the fun really begins.
I would highly recommend this game to anybody that likes strategy games.I think that everybody having to place all of their orders face down at once is a nice mechanic, since you have to anticipate your opponent’s moves for the round. The only randomness present in the game is the Westeros decks (which affect everybody), so you mostly have yourself to blame for if you lose (of course you could blame people if they teamed up against you or somebody for sitting around and not doing anything). It is fun to play as each different House as they each need a different approach to win and also a unique set of House cards. One drawback to the game might be that if you play it many times, with the same amount of players, the “opening moves” and general strategies might be obvious. We haven’t run into that yet, though, and so far each game has been enjoyable.
Since this is my first board game review post, please leave any comments that you might have about the format of the review. Should there be a rating for each category? Do you feel that a category is missing? Should I have detailed all of the rules as opposed to skipping out on the more intricate ones? Thank you for reading!