I Have card game

Impressions: A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (2nd Edition)

game thrones topQuinns: In a couple of weeks the 2nd edition of Fantasy Flight’s Game of Thrones: The Card Game, with its direwolves, chunky coins and endless pictures of sultry nobles, will be released. A lot of people are very excited, and with good reason- the 1st edition amassed a cult following, and the 2nd edition looks incredibly sharp.

You won’t be getting our review just yet. As a Living Card Game, this box encourages players to collect monthly expansions and build their own decks, and we want to have conviction when we suggest you get involved (or not). But I can offer some early impressions and comparisons to the LCGs that this site has gone on the record as recommending, namely the bizarre Doomtown and the sublime Netrunner (on the subject, Paul will have a review of Plaid Hat’s new card game Ashes in the next few weeks).

game thrones lannistersSo let’s begin. How do you win the Game of Thrones?

I’m thrilled to say that it’s by being an appropriately sneaky f***.

Caveat: I’ve not played the 1st edition, so while I’ll touch on what they’ve added, I won’t be talking about the many improvements they’ve made. For that you want to go here, click “read more” and scroll down to “What are the differences?”

The immediate simplification I want to make is that Game of Thrones: The Card Game is like Magic: The Gathering except you’re fighting your opponent on three fronts. The characters that you play from your hand have a “strength” value, but also big coloured buttons above it showing whether they can be used in fights for Military, Intrigue or Power. As you’d expect, Ned Stark contributes a vast reserve of strength to your military and power struggles, but he’s about as much use in clandestine spywork as a high-visibility jacket.

If you wouldn’t have guessed that, because you've somehow trundled through the 21st century neither having watched or read Game of Thrones nor absorbed the spoilers through osmosis, you’re going to miss out on an awful lot of the fun here.

game thrones fireThe colourful themes of card games aren’t just set dressing. They’re vital for drawing players into the game, and as new cards come out they’re responsible for brand new interactions that are dramatic, thought-provoking or laugh out loud funny. In my first game of 2nd edition my Lannister opponent played a “The Things I Do For Love” card, except in our alternate history he pushed a puppy out of a window.

If you don’t get why that’s funny, I’ve made my point. The problem here is that you’re being entertained not by grand themes a la Netrunner, but by the actions of characters you know and love. While you can glom a character’s personality from their gorgeous artwork and the occasional scrap of flavour text, you’re nonetheless going to be missing out, and your friends are going to spend a lot of time saying “You know nothing” in a Northern accent.

game thrones handBut you’ll still be able to enjoy a very strong game indeed. The fundamental puzzle of how best to use your characters; when to attack, HOW to attack, and even when to bother defending, is utterly absorbing. Failing to defend a military attack means killing one of your characters. Failing an intrigue attack means you throw away cards from your hand (which can be crippling under - say - the Lannisters intriguing the crap out of you every single turn). Power attacks simply see you getting mugged for your power tokens. Does that sound bad? It should, because it's the first player to 15 power tokens that wins the game.

But we’re just getting started. Each player also builds a tiny deck of seven Plot cards, and every turn starts with players simultaneously picking one. The card you pick will have a spread of numbers determining how much gold you get, how likely you are to go first (or last, if you like), how many cards you have to discard down to at the end of the turn, and a special power.

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