Friday, April 06, 2007

WarO / FightO (A Game of Thrones)

Kozure will soon become a dad again. Anyday now soon. So we gave him a chance to pick a little in advance of his normal week. His choice? A Game of Thrones (a recent, ludicrously inexpensive aquisition).

A Game of Thrones is a Waro (wargame/ euro hybrid) based on a series of books I know nothing about. It feels like a cross between Shogun and Antike to me, though most people tend to decribe it as a shorter Diplomacy.

As is typical for this sort of game, every player starts by picking a faction (which, in turn, determines a variety of starting conditions). The goal of the game is to grow the faction's territory by conquering regions until 7 cities/ strongholds are controlled by a player (who immediately wins the game). Along the way, military units will be produced on land and sea, battles will be fought and backs will be both scratched and stabbed.

There are a number of mechanics working in parallel as the game progresses:
- 3 decks randomly reveal a card at the start of each turn. Those decks determine what events take place that "period". There are several types of cards, but the three most important are:
- Supply. Player must cross-reference the number of regions with barrel symbols exist in their territory with a chart which will tell them how large of an army they can maintain (and in what configurations).
- Army Production. All cities and strongholds produce new soldiers, subject to the limits imposed by supply.
- Political Upheaval. This forces players to make a secret bid to detrmine the ranking in three categories: Political Power, Military Might and Intelligence. Each of these is very powerful in it's own right and being first place conveys additional bonuses to that player. For example, the order of the Political Power track determines turn order and the first place player determines the result of all tie breakers.
- The cards may force the advancement of "the barbarians track"... representing an everpresent threat of barbarian attack to the north. If/When they attack, all players have an opportunity to work together to fight them off.
- Following that, players must assign actions to all units simultaneously and secretly. They are then all revealed and executed in turn order (I found this, in particular, similar to Shogun).
- Advance the turn marker and start over.

Combat is quite simple. Compare the value of units in combat, add the value of any units which have chosen to participate and then play a card with a combat value to determine the final total. The loser generally must retreat all units to an adjacent friendly region. In other words, actually losing units is supposed to be fairly rare.

The intention, I think, was to create a game of conquest which had many opportunities for diplomacy, but which lasted only 3-4 hours. Although I enjoyed the game, ours did not feature much diplomacy at all.

I don't recall names, but my faction started on the east island. Kozure was in the barren north all by himself, Luch was on the west coast and Bharmer was in the south. Not knowing what to do, and being relatively close to two regions which were defended by neutral forces but gave a number of good resources if conquered, I decided to go for them. This put me into Bharmer's territory, leaving Luch and Kozure to bump heads to the north. Lucky for me, bharmer was rather peaceful and didn't attack me until I started attacking him! My expansion strategy seemed like it was working... I had 5 cities/ strongholds about 5 turns into the game (which seemed good at the time).

Two things were affecting my game pretty dramatically: 1) I started the game resource poor, so my military formations were limited to singles + 1 pair + 1 triple. That situation didn't change until the turn the game ended, so it posed a very real limiation on my game. 2) The positions of power came of for auction fairly frequently. I spent a LOT of money to keep the throne, and on occasion held the military might one as well. It seemed like turn order mattered a lot, and determining tie-breakers was also very usefull. This also meant that Bharmer was perpetually last in many of these tracks because he was my main opposition.

Anyway, luck was with me this game. I didn't lose a single conflict, I managed to hold on to the throne the entire time I needed it, no-one attacked me when I couldn't defend myself and ... most importantly... I spied an opportunity to grab the last two cities I needed totally by accident (in other words, I put everything in place to do it the prior turn, but was working towards something else at the time). In a nutshell, I was able to hop onto a boat I had just placed with two soldiers I had just moved to get into two of Kozure's undefended territories. Game over.

This is a game that will get better when people understand what things are worth. I feel I won this game because I took a lucky chance on the throne of power being important, because Bharmer and Luch weren't attacking me and because we didn't have enough experience with boats to really see and understand all the implications of sea travel. Now that all these things are well known, the next game will have a totally different dynamic.

Another side effect of our inexperience was that very little diplomacy was concducted/ needed. It was Easy vs. Bharmer South and Kozure vs. Luch north. With the larger picture in view, I'd bet that negotiations will be far more interesting next time.

Anyway, A Game of Thrones is a game that I enjoyed but which I think will be substantially better next time (I had a splitting headache for much of the evening, so that may have coloured my view somewhat). The simultaneous action assignment and the various interlocking mechanisms driving what looks like a war game reminded me strongly of Shogun and the simplicity of combat and economy of units/ action types reminded me of Antike. Compared to Shogun, I'd say that the system FEELS somewhat more natural and better tied to the theme (Shogun is very euro-like in it's disconnect between theme and mechanics), but I can't yet say whether that leads to a better game or not. Compared to Antike, I'd say that if you were to add a few layers of WARO chrome to Antike but kept things generally restrained you'd get something like AgoT.


  1. Moves like Easy's winning move in this game make me feel monumentally stupid. He's amazing at exploiting an unseen weakness, and making me realize how stupid it was for me not to see that weakness.

    Lesson learned: never leave cities and strongholds undefended, even when it appears that your navy can hold off an amphibious attack.

    I quite enjoyed the game, and strangely it feel less random than Shogun (reviewed above and below). I do feel that the random muster and supply cards make for very strange strategic limitations. I do want to play it again soon, hopefully with the "ideal" number of five players.

  2. Umm. I think "Stupid" is a little strong. I didn't see the move myself until it was my turn!

    Agreed that it feels less random than Shogun. There is only one source of luck, and although it's a doozy, it seems like it can be overcome.

    Looking foward to seeing this one again.