Cards & Dice & Tabletops: Game of Thrones Card Game (HBO Edition)
“So Mike, what games are you writing about this week?” is a question whose answer can meet with various responses. If the answer is a videogame the response can either be the indifferent “hmm, I’ll need to read that when you’re done” or the ever satisfying “Bastard! I wanted to play that”. However, this week’s answer of “The Game of Thrones card game” perked some ears. Once they seen it was based on the first two seasons of the HBO television show, I had to draw my sword and call a Direwolf just to stop the buggers from running away with it!
Game of Thrones the card game is a two player game that attempts to recreate the tension, intrigue, battles and power struggles from George R. R. Martins epic fantasy with you in charge of Westeros’ most powerful houses. The object of the game is to be the first player to get fifteen power tokens for their house whilst battling your opponent across three different types of challenges. Battle challenges allow you to kill an opponent’s character, Intrigue challenges force an opponent to discard cards from their hand and Power challenges let you take a hard earned power token from your opponent. Power tokens are initially obtained by mounting a challenge which cannot be defended against at all and also by winning Dominance; the house with the strongest unused characters at the end of each round is awarded one power token. Now, although all this sounds very involved and that there should be a million and one pieces needed to play the game, it is well designed and manages to pull off a huge gameplay experience using roughly the same amount of equipment as simple game of Munchkin.
The game consists of two sets of fifty house cards (one for the Lannisters and one for the Starks), seven plot cards for each player, a set of gold coin tokens and a set of power tokens. There is also a wee flag banner for each house that you use to place your power tokens on. Each of the house decks contains four different types of cards – characters, attachments, locations and events. Character cards are based on various members from either the Starks or Lannisters (you may also find some characters that are allies to your house) and are used to carry out the various challenges, attachments such as bodyguards or weapons can be added to character cards, locations normally add some benefit such as additional gold or allowing you to draw extra cards and event cards modify actions in a certain turn such as preventing your opponent from killing one of your characters. The separate deck of Plot cards that each player has is one of the pivotal parts of the Game of Thrones card game. These are played at the beginning of each round and normally set out a special action that will be played during this round of play. Examples of the plot cards effects are allowing a player an additional challenge in the round or reducing the cost of playing a resource card. The plot cards also determine how much gold you get at the start of a round as well as how many of your opponents cards/ characters/ power tokens you have an effect on should you win a challenge.
The best part of GOT the card game is the strategy. Instead of simply attacking your opponent’s power tokens directly, you often find yourself taking lessons from the characters you are controlling. It is far easier to take power away from someone when they have no means of defending it. This is when you realise that the challenges that eliminate characters on the field and cards in your opponents hand are more valuable than the challenge that revolves around the main object of the game. There is more than one way to skin a cat as they say and Game of Thrones card game will have you pondering all of them. The game is very well thought out in that it captures the essence of both the Lannisters and Starks. The Stark player’s cards tend to be more about loyalty and trust and normally attack the opponent directly and relentlessly. The Lannister cards on the other hand can attack abilities and tend to be a little bit sneaky – the Lions of Casterley Rock know how to play the Game of Thrones and it shows. You may find yourself getting ready launch an attack when all Lannister cards gain +1 strength for this challenge or find your star card has been disabled. This is a really nice touch and gives the impression that the game was created by a team that has a lot of love for the Fire and Ice saga.
It is also interesting to note that there is another Game of Thrones card game. Called The Living Card Game, it has an ever growing collection of cards that represent all the various factions in the song of fire and ice universe. The HBO edition is basically a tightened up version of the LCG aimed at newcomers to both the game and the story of Game of Thrones. The game was released last year (2012) and as such only references characters and events from the first two seasons of the television show. Giving that the cards have already been created for the LCG it is more than likely that we will see extra houses being released as expansions as the show progresses. There is also the possibility that if we get the extra expansions Fantasy Flight Games may also introduce the multiplayer part of the LCG to this version. Not only is the HBO Edition of the Game of Thrones card game an excellent example of an engaging card game, it looks the part. The production values are of the highest calibre, from the backs of the cards containing the sigils of each house to the stills of the television show that adorn the front of the cards. The power tokens and coins are rather sturdy and will last a long time while the two house banners are a really cool addition. So if you are looking for a meaty card game that takes little time to learn but a lifetime to master (and you love Game of Thrones) then you could do a lot worse than getting this.