Sunday, 27 December 2015

A Game of Thrones the card game Second Edition from Fantasy Flight Games unboxing and review

I am a massive A Game of Thrones fan, I love the books, the TV show, the world in general.  I had heard there was a card game of it, but there where so many expansions out it was a bit confusing.  When Fantasy Flight Game decided to reboot it into a second edition I thought that it would be the perfect time to dive into the world and see what the game is like.
 The box has beautiful artwork on the cover, and this is carried on with all the cards as well.  It advises it can play 2-4 players from the box which is correct, though with other expansions which will be coming you can up it to 6 players.  In fact it feels very much like two games in one, with the 2 player "Joust" mode, and the multi player "Melee" mode.
It is a Living card game as opposed to a CCG or collectible card game.  This means you do not buy random boosters that come with who knows what in them.  When you get an expansion pack you know what cards you will be getting with it, meaning you never have to hunt for those overpriced rares people sell online.  The last card game I played was Magic The Gathering, so I know all about the random booster idea, and I think I prefer this Living card game method, its an even playing field that way with no "Pay to win" mechanics.
Lets open her up and take a look inside....

The first thing you will see are a slab of tokens.  This being a FFG game its not a surprise that there are plenty, and that they are the usual excellent quality.
 You get 30 gold tokens, which you will use to marshal your cards. 10 influence tokens, that can be used for differing effects in game.
 You get an iron throne token which acts as the first player token.
 30 power tokens are included.  The goal of the game is to reach 15 power for your house, so these are important.
You get 8 faction cards, with fantastic art to go with the 8 factions included in the core box.
 You will use these when you select your house.
They are also double sided, with an "Agenda" on the back which allows you to include another house for support.  In the core box there are not enough house exclusive cards to a run a pure house deck, so to get the most out of the game you must add a faction in.  This is a good thing as it lets you learn the other factions as you play.  :Later though as more "Chapter Packs" are released they will increase the house sizes so you will be able to play a pure house should you choose to.
 You get 28 plot cards.  When you build your deck you must include 7 of these, they will form the core of what you do each turn, and picking one is your first action in the game.
They have several numbers on it, they have how much gold the plot generates, this will allow you to marshal your characters.  An initiative number, which will dictate if you win initiate or not.  The player that wins initiative  decides who plays first, which can be crucial.  The claim Value shows how effective it is, for example a claim value of 1 will allow you to kill 1 enemy character if you win a military challenge. a claim of 2 will let you kill 2 and so on.  Lastly in the bottom right corner is your reserve value, meaning at the end of the turn, you must discard your hand down to that number.  With the huge variety of plots and of course the effects that they themselves grant this is a crucial planning part of the game and adds a very thematic level of thought, do you go for a high gold claim to marshal as many characters as you can, or do you go for the initiative to claim first player, or in fact do you want to get the initiative but choose to be second player.  Does the plot card have an effect you need? all these sort of things.  You cycle the plots until they have all been played, then you can choose again.  You can pick any plot that has not been played each turn from your selection.
 Then you get 192 player cards, covering all 8 of the houses.
 All featuring beautiful artwork
 The art fits the houses themes perfectly, and style wise too.  The Stark art is often set in the snow, and feels cold, whilst the warm southern house of Martell is bright with lush fruits, and sand.
 The back of the cards feature this great art that looks like an old bound book.
You also get Neutral cards that any faction can add into their decks.
You get 6 title cards.  These are used when you play multiplayer melee, with each player picking a new title each turn.  Each title card have effects that increase your abilities, and also they have a list of supporters and rivals.  When you have picked a title card you can not attack a supporter, only a Rival, so this can cause another level of tactical thought as you pick the title that best supports you, but trying to make sure you are protected from your biggest threat.  I think its an excellent idea to really make multi player feel different, and very much in theme with the books, as the small council is divided and scheming.
Lastly we get two rule books.  Following on from FFG`s recent change you have a learn to play book, that teaches you the basics and gets you going, and then a rules reference that is laid out like an encyclopaedia, where you can flick to any specific trait or rule you need to know.

On the back of the learn to play book, is a quick guide to the run down of play phases, and the main traits (ability words on cards) that you will see in the game.  It is a great thing to keep near you to make sure the game flows smoothly.

Lets look at how it plays....

The basic idea is you need to get to 15 power for your faction.  This can be won by taking it from your opponent, or claimed during an unopposed challenge (where your opponent does not block you)

Each card can have up to 3 symbols on them, which correspond to the different challenges you can issue.  A sword for military challenges which result in the claim value being killed if you win. an eye for intrigue challenges which results in the claim value of cards being randomly discarded from your opponents hand, or a crown which is power challenges, which result in the claim value of power being taken from your opponents house card.

Each round you can initiate only 1 of all of those challenges, so you could issue 1 of all 3, or just a power, or an intrigue, it is your choice, but to attack and to block you need characters that have the corresponding icons on them.  Cards have a strength value, so you add the strength of your attackers, and the defenders strength the highest one wins.  If they do not block the challenge is unopposed and you get another power for your faction.  When you initiate a challenge you kneel your character (turn it 90 degrees to show it has been used) you also kneel a character that blocks, so you need to make sure you are using them at the best times.

Traits on cards add to this making decisions much tougher,  such as characters with Renown, who gain an additional power when participating in challenges, but this stays on their card rather then the faction one, so if they die that power goes.  Stealth allows you when attacking to pick one defending character with out the trait stealth and they can not block.  There are many other traits you will discover as you play, and how they work together can be crucial for victory.

Take a look at this excellent tutorial video to get an idea of the game here
 In the early game the Lannister Tyrell alliance is outnumbered by the Stark Greyjoy forces
 Here an unopposed challenge due to the fact that the Starks have no standing characters has given me an extra power, and made them discard a card from winning the intrigue challenge.
 When the Lannister money machine starts building, it can give you an edge, Tywin provides you extra gold, and location cards like the Rose road also provide effects or income.
 Tywin claims an unopposed challenge, and drops an event card to gain even more power.
 The Starks had the Lannisters outnumbered, but a well timed Wildfire Assault brought things level again, but with the Lannister forces having more powerful cards gave them the edge.
As you can see the game was close, but Tywin swung an unopposed military challenge due to them having no characters to defend to claim that final power to win.

The game played above was a classic match up, and it felt perfect in theme.  The Starks with their allies took the early lead, over whelming the Lannister forces, with Robb Stark leading the way, until some typical Lannister sneakiness disposed of him, and Tywin started clawing it back due to the Lannister economy powering the cards, and the intrigue challenges stripping the opponents cards so he had few options to play with.

I have played plenty of card games in my time, Magic the Gathering, Warlords, old Decipher games like Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings (not the FFG one).  I have to honestly say this is the best one I have ever played.  It works well, the rules are clearly written and laid out, its an LCG so I don't have to chase the powerful cards.  It looks beautiful on the table, has perfect theme to fit the subject, with the levels of strategy required, when to challenge, who to use, what plot to play, what events to bring out and when, so many factors, and styles of play are available it makes this a must have for card gamers, and Game of Thrones Fans. n Even if you have not seen or read A Game of Thrones, but are a card gamer you will love this, and it may encourage you to dive deeper into the world where you will only enjoy it more knowing more about the characters, and seeing how their traits actually do relate to them in game, and in print and on screen.

You can pick up your own A Game of Thrones the Card Game second Edition core set with an RRP of £29.99 from your local game store

Stick with us as we look at the Factions in future articles to give you an idea of how they play, and take a look at some of the upcoming chapter packs that add more to your game.

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