Renewed For Another Season - Game of Thrones LCG 2nd Edition Review

One of the most highly rated fantasy series on HBO...or Sky Atlantic...or the Internet, depends where you get them from, has for a long time running had a very successful Living Card Game (LCG) associated with it by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). I was introduced to the game locally by some new card players I'd met at one of my Portsmouth venues and suffice to say I really enjoyed it. Going against my better judgement as I already play two other LCG's (Netrunner and Lord of the Rings) I was tempted to get involved with this as well. One snag (and it was a biggy) was that Game of Thrones had been out for a considerable length of time and the sheer volume of expansions and cards was overwhelming - one of the problems that affects all LCG's once they reach a certain point. Needless to say I got my rear end handed to me many a time in the games I played using borrowed decks.

So FFG brought in their new methodology for cycling out older cards for LCG's and for the most part I think it's a good idea. But to compound that even further they went the next mile and revamped Game of Thrones entirely, stating the rules were a little outdated and the barrier to entry for new players was far too high, both truthful statements in my opinion. So we now have the 2nd Edition starting fresh with a brand new core set and streamlining the ruleset. But most of all this allows people like me to dive in at an early point, when everyone's deck is on the same playing field. Of course this won't be the case for much longer as the US have already had the first expansion chapter pack released and we're due it any day now in the UK.

Now I've barely touched on the first edition of Game of Thrones LCG so I'm not going to make comparisons between the two as I'm not qualified to do so. I'm going to rate this from the perspective of an almost total noob to the game, so let's see whether my wallet is going to have another heart attack or not and check it out.




Designer: Nate French & Eric Lang (2015)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 2+
Age: 13+
Time: 30-60 Minutes
Rank/Rating:  754 / 8.41
RRP: £26.99


When You Play The Game of Thrones, You Win Or You Die


Take control of one of the many warring factions of Westeros in a life-or-death struggle. There are two formats to be played with Game of Thrones. The Joust, which is a standard 2 player head to head battle and Melee, which is for 3 or more players to fight it out in a multiplayer war that incorporates elements of diplomacy and role selection utilising authentic titles from the series like the Master of Whispers or the Master of Coin to influence how each round will play out.

Each player has two decks: a draw deck and a plot deck. Your draw deck contains the tactical elements of your struggle, including the characters, locations, attachments/weapons and events. At the start of each round, each player simultaneously chooses and reveals one of the plot cards from their individual 7 card plot decks. Your plot for a round determines how much gold you can spend on cards, which player starts with initiative, and how powerful your challenges are. Your plot also bears a reserve value, which determines how many cards you can keep in your hand past the end of the round. They will also have powerful effects that benefit you or hinder your opponent.

You initiate challenges against your opponents either on the field of battle (military), through back alley deception (intrigue), and in the political arena (power). Each successful challenge will either kill opposing characters, discard cards from players hands or steal influence. All challenges will also help you gain power over the Iron Throne, the first of which to claim 15 power wins. Your ultimate goal is to gain influence over the the Iron Throne! To achieve this goal, you must call upon iconic characters, such as Tywin Lannister, Robb Stark, Stannis Baratheon, Daenerys Targaryen, Euron Crow's Eye, The Red Viper, and dozens of others. You must manoeuvre the members of your House and your allies in a constant battle to gain power. The first player to claim fifteen power wins!



The Things I Do For Love


FFG have had no issues with delivering us a nice looking card game or producing good quality card stock. Artwork is always down to the eye of the beholder, but here it's done to a high standard and it helps to bring the player into the theme of the franchise. Spoilers of future expansion packs show some especially good art to come triggering classic moments from the film series. Now everyone knows that Game of Thrones earns the film classification it has with its frequent portrayal of frontal nudity, violent fight scenes, gore and language, hell it's probably one of the reasons it's so popular. But obviously I can tell that would concern some parents as to how graphic the imagery is here. Well honestly it's not that bad. The vast majority of the artwork doesn't depict gory imagery; however there are one or two exceptions to the rule usually involving heads and wolves. It's nowhere near as graphic as the content found in games such as Alien and Predator Legendary and thus I don't think parents should have to worry too much for now.

Storage is going to be something you need to plan for in advance though. Older LCG's usually gave us a decent sized box to allow for expansion packs and the fitting of wooden divider inserts, of which I'm a big fan of using for card games in general. But here they've gone down the same route as 40K Conquest and used a box no bigger than their deluxe expansion sets. It's fine for the core set and maybe two or three packs, but that's it. So if you want to get serious, you're going to need a backup solution for storage and one tip I would have is to save two or three boxes from any other expansions you've purchased in other games to date and use them. Dominion works very well for this having at least a similar setting to Game of Thrones and I thought it was quite clever using the Intrigue expansion box as my first one. Pop in a wooden insert bought off Ebay and I'm good for probably at least two full cycles if I put my decks in some Ultra-Pro boxes.



What Do We Say To The God Of Death? Not Today.


Recent LCG's released have always been good at introducing a wide amount of variety in their core sets and this is no exception. The original edition had 6 houses to choose from, now you have 8! That's a staggering amount beating even Netrunner in terms of value. Each deck is fully playable from the word go, but of course bear in mind that if you want to get serious on the deck building aspect, you'll need multiple copies of the Game of Thrones Core Set - FFG have done this to us on every single LCG that's come out and unfortunately they're not going to stop now! Each of the factions keeps to the same core mechanics of the game without introducing any weird tricks to throw off newbies, but still have a very obvious unique playstyle to their own and you can combine factions to create some cool combinations. Here's a very basic overview of one trait from each faction:

  • Lannisters will tend to earn the most gold and make good use of it.
  • Starks will employ their iconic dire wolves to aid in military challenges.
  • The Nights Watch play very defensively to gain power behind the Wall.
  • Martells play the long game deterring challenges before striking back with a vengeance.
  • Tyrells are quite trick-sy with ways of boosting characters mid-challenge and benefiting further from successful ones.
  • Baratheons are good at keeping the opposing forces knelt (or tapped) to reduce their effectiveness.
  • Greyjoys utilise stealth to their advantage allowing them to bypass many defences.
  • Targaryen play offensively and are militaristic, looking to kill characters outright (and of course, there be dragons!)


Choosing the right plots both in deck design and during the game is a fundamental part. There are a lot of options in the set and you'll need to decide whens the best time to bring them out during a game. It's original and fun, but expect the odd bit of analysis paralysis for the first few games as you peer at your plot deck long enough for the Whitewalkers to be knocking on your doorstep. Turn order will change frequently and unlike most games, going first isn't always the best option. And once it is your turn you have a lot of choices as to how to initiate your challenges (one of each type allowed) or defend against them and it's very much a case of picking your battles. Sometimes it's better to take the full brunt than kneel to defend and of course that all depends on how each game plays, which is different every time. Essentially what I'm saying is that there's plenty to keep you involved at all times, but it's not difficult to grasp the rules themselves, such is the benefit of streamlining. The learning curve is definitely present with regards to mastering the system though and a beginner will struggle against a pro player, but not to the same silly extent as with Race for the Galaxy for example.


Killing and Politics Aren't Always The Same Thing


As much as the 2 player Joust format is fun, I feel that Game of Thrones wouldn't have the legs for me if that was it. But what really intrigued me was the Melee multiplayer format. On the face of it, it's simply the normal game, but with 3 or more players, but it has a dynamic all of its own that I don't think will ever get repeated in another LCG. Firstly having more than one opponent means you can't defend against every attack so you can't just go all gung-ho and plant a giant target on your forehead without some serious retaliation. Temporary alliances will form and negotiation will play a part in success and this changes the game dramatically and it ties in so well with the theme of the setting. The whole background of the series is one big political power struggle where allegiances chop and change all the time. Also a deck that works for Joust will not necessarily work well in Melee meaning Game of Thrones will be a good test of your deck building skills.

This alone is a good thing, but what makes this format shine is the selection of the title cards at the beginning of each round. Turn order becomes important if you want first dibs, but the random discards mean you can't always plan for a title to be present and thus stops "title-hog" tactics in their tracks. But rather than just worrying about the bonuses, the real gem is being concerned with who each title supports and rivals. Some titles will grant you additional rewards for challenging other titles and some will actively prevent you from initiating a challenge with them in the first place. You can have the biggest army in the world with a trio of awesome dragons, but it don't mean squat if you actively support the Master of Coin and I happen to be holding the title. Now which side you're after will depend on whether you're playing aggressively or defensively at that point, but the mind games you end up playing trying to deduce whether a particular player you fear or are targeting is going to pick a specific title make for meaningful and enjoyable choices. Now granted theme wise even though the titles are fresh out of the Game of Thrones series, you have to take some minor liberties accepting that all these other factions are able to attain these titles, but it's a nitpick in what is a very solid and enjoyable mechanic.




Verdict


Well there goes another chunk of my disposable income! FFG have done it again and created a highly entertaining card game for both fans and newbies to the Game of Thrones franchise. This ranks up there with classics like Netrunner and Lord of the Rings and I would say it's actually easier to grasp than both of those without a doubt. The variety is strong with plenty of different factions and playstyles and a wealth of deck building options, though of course you'll have to wait for future expansion packs to really get experimental.

Having a basic knowledge of the books or series is an advantage, but not essential to indulge the theme to it's full, but it's already pretty strong regardless. What sets Game of Thrones apart from other LCG's is the Melee format, which may not necessarily be for everyone, but for me, it's the best part hands down and this LCG's unique selling point. Two player Joust games require a high level of tactics and an ability to adapt, but in a multiplayer Melee, you get to add role selection and an element of negotiation into the mix, which changes the game dramatically. Even if you don't like Melee though, you'll get your money's worth just because of the decent amount of variety in the box, however note the usual problem with multiple core sets if you intend to get serious.

The lack of a decent sized box for storage purposes is a bit of a downer, but if you can resolve that issue yourself and you've got the funds to keep up with the expansions, then this is one worth checking out.

If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/


YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You're a fan of Game of Thrones - the theme is strong here, particularly in Melee mode.


You want an LCG that caters for multiplayer - LOTR LCG is the only other one that does and that's co-operative only.


You enjoyed the original version, but felt it was getting too cluttered with high barriers to entry.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You've already heavily invested in the 1st Edition and don't approve of the streamlining.


You've never seen an episode of Game of Thrones in your life - it might be difficult to get invested without some basic knowledge.


You can't keep up with the constant expansions - LCG's > CCG's by far, but they're still an expensive part of gaming.


0 comments: