Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Of LannisPort and King's Landing (A Game of Thrones: A Storm of Swords)

Back when we were often four players, I used to lament the fact that we couldn't play A Game of Thrones since it took five to play optimally. I recently decided to spring for a copy of the expansion called "A Storm of Swords" because it features a new board designed specifically for four players. Of course, that's when Luch moved out of town, and we dropped to just three players...

Well, this week Bharmer made his once a month appearance and so we were four. Kozure decided to pick this game, and there was joy in the land of Westeros.

If you know A Game of Thrones, this is mostly the same game on a different board, but there are important differences:

1) There are no boats or wilding attacks.
2) Leaders are added to the game, and new rules for taking hostages and hostage negotiations go with them.
3) Each player gets a "Tactics" deck, which gives an ability for each game turn.
4) Four "Ally" deck representing factions that can be, err, allied with.
5) A claim track allows players to gain VPs in other ways than conquering territory.

A few other new items have been added which have a lesser impact on the game, such as a weather track that makes some passages inaccessible during stormy weather, and garrisons which are units that can only defend.

In my opinions, each of the additions are excellent. The loss of boats is unfortunate, but is more than compensated by the other additions.

The leaders, major characters from the books, are interesting because they have two "states". The first is their basic state, and boils down to an addition to the combat value for the group. The second is triggered when the player controlling it plays a certain kind of order (usually raid or consolidate power)... in this case the player can choose to ignore the chosen event and instead execute a march order and benefit from a slightly altered, more powerful leader. As an example, Jamie Lannister goes from a 1 strength unit to a 2 strength unit with a bonus sword icon when activated. The subtle impact here is that the triggering order might cause combat out of sequence... A raid marker that triggers a march allows combat earlier than normal and can therefore allow a player that would otherwise be later in the combat turn to make an attack before his opponent can act. If a combat involving a leader produces losses, the winning player can choose to claim a leader as a prisoner instead. Later on, power tokens can be squeezed out of the owners of your prisoners. Further, hostage negotiations can take place which adds a welcome layer of politics to a game that is meant to be political in the first place.

The tactics cards add a level of uncertainty to each game turn because depending on the choice, a player might have a bonus on siege or on defense, a player might make an alliance from the "Ally" deck, a player might squeeze power tokens from the former owners of prisoners in his holding cell, etc.

The Ally cards are interesting because they add reinforcements and other abilities to the players, and offer another path to follow to cement a lead or stage a comeback.

The Claim track adds another way to gain VPs. Certain tactics cards and westeros cards give the possibility to a player to gain a point on the Claim track, which gives players an alternative to pure military victory.

Overall, the game feels at once significantly different and much the same. The foundation of the game is unchanged, but a layer of chrome has been added which changes the flavour. The tactics card and the Allies shake up the chess-like simplicity of the basic game. Some players may strongly hate or prefer this introduction of randomness, but I like both for different reasons. Due to game length issues, I would probably pick A Game of Thrones: A Storm of Swords for four players and Mare Nostrum for five, but I'd happily play either.

In our game, I was the Lannisters, Shemp was the Barratheons, Kozure was the Greyjoys and Bharmer was the Starks. In the starting setup, the Lannisters start spread out and with Eddard Stark as a prisoner. The prisoner puts me immediately at odds with the Starks, and geographic adjacency + a Barratheon tactics card ensures that there will be conflict with them as well. Still, early in the game the Lannisters managed to conquer two neutral cities and satisfy their tactics card VP condition... I was within a single point of winning the game!

Then came turn 6.

In turn 6 I miss-programmed one of my armies, putting it in a situation where it became decimated. I lost King's Landing to the Barratheons, lost a 7 point army due to rout, etc, etc. I played very badly, making stupid call after stupid call, dropping back to 4-5 points in the process.

Greyjoy and the Starks were similarly exchanging blows in the north for much of the game. Jamie Lannister was planning a raid into the Greyjoy camp as The Starks came down from the north and started putting pressure in the center of the board.

Unfortunately, it was getting late and we were forced to end the game prematurely. It ended up being a three-way tie for most VPs, so we had to go to three levels of tie breaker to find the Greyjoys victorious (most supply was the determining tie-breaker).

A Game of Thrones is quite a long game to play, and requires a certain amount of effort to play properly. That's fine. I enjoy it quite a bit when it does get on the table.


  1. I have to say that I don't really deserve that win - I was overextended at the point of victory determination and probably would've collapsed to Easy's assaults from the south within a turn.

    It's pretty hard to maintain that hold on the shore as well as threaten the northerners AND march south - so you have to choose two of the three, really. I think it would've been wiser to put more pressure on the south flank of my Empire rather than trying so hard for the Twins.

  2. Could be, but honestly AGoT is such a low unit density game due to the supply level constraints that I don't think it's possible to feel anything but overextended at all times... particularly if you want to do anything but turtle. My position was a number of single unit armies and three larger ones, two of which were completely wiped off the board by Shemp (Barratheon) on turn 6. I may well have successfully gone north with Jaime Lannister but I would have been literally helpless against any advance by Shemp or Bharmer unless a mustering occurred soon. I had suffered so many losses I needed an instant win condition or I would get crushed, but I don't remember if conquering your base would have given it to me.