[Review] Make Them Pay The Iron Price

This is my review for A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (2nd ed.)

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Overview:

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is, if anything, true to its name.  This is a strategy game for 3-6 players where players fight for control of strategic points on a map of Westeros.  Each player controls one of the prominent houses (Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, etc.) and the first person to conquer seven strategic points wins, or the person with the most points after 10 turns is declared the winner.  Due to the proximity of starting locations, informal treaties must be made with other players (and later broken if one wants to win), and in general, the more ruthless you are, the better you’ll do.

Mechanics:

This game has a lot of different mechanics going on all at once, but the bottom line is what happens on the board with your units.  Each player has a limited pool of units he can deploy, made even more limited by the supply track, and yet you seen even more limitation by having a set amount of orders you are able to give to your units in any given turn - but this limitation is what makes every decision so important.  

Each area that contains units can be given one of five different orders in one turn: March, Support, Defend, Raid, or Consolidate Power.  Each one of these orders can be equally important when played in the right position, so players who plan multiple turns in advance will see their play rewarded.

The game makes use of simultaneous play and hidden information in the “Place Order Phase,” as all players will give each of their units their orders in one go, revealing them to the other players only after all orders are on the board.  The good player will plan all of his orders so that each unit is doing something the benefit his plan to capture seven critical points, but the great player will also predict the orders that his enemies have made and foil them with orders of his own.

Combat is resolved based on the strength of the attacking units versus the strength of the defending units, plus any bonuses from adjacent supporting units, then modified by a house card played by each player.  Every house has different special abilities, but once a house card has been played, it goes into the discard pile until all other house cards have been used.  Additionally, there are Tides of Battle cards that can be included as an optional supplement to the game, adding a random factor to conflict, but I generally play without them.

The only resource in the game comes in the form of Power Tokens, and the wide utility of these tokens makes every decision to spend them a complex one.  The tokens are used to maintain areas on the board that you wish to abandon, which is necessary due to not having enough units to leave any behind, but they are also used to thwart incoming attacks from Wildlings and to buy Influence.

The three influence tracks bring even more interesting decisions to the table for every player, as each track has it’s own particular value that will change along with your plan of attack.  I absolutely love this aspect of the game, as yet again, players are making calculations and predictions on how their opponents will play, and they are trying to stretch their Power Tokens as much as they can, and the results of the bidding can often result in huge swings of power.

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Components:

Like most games from Fantasy Flight, the components are very nice.  The board is beautiful, the artwork is fantastic, and the tokens and plastic pieces look very sharp.  There are quite a few different components and setup can take a decent chunk of time, and the inlay isn’t fantastic but it does the job.

Positives:

  • Rewards planning and strategic thinking
  • Many viable options in multiple aspects of the game make for endless interesting decisions
  • Social activity with other players is a must; you will often have to plead your case to make someone turn their eyes elsewhere, and despicable lies and treachery are encouraged
  • Captures the theme from the books/show quite well
  • Variation between house abilities and starting position adds to replayability

Negatives:

  • Somewhat difficult to teach to new players; there are a lot of rules and different things happening and it’s hard for someone new to take them all in at once
  • "Gang up on the leader" mentality means that one particularly successful player could be targeted for punishment in subsequent games
  • When playing with less than 6 players, it is easy for some houses to venture south for access to a few free critical locations, and there are some other slight imbalances between houses relating to starting locations

Other Things to Consider:

  • This game is built on solid, fun mechanics, which means you don’t have to be a fan of the AGOT series to appreciate it.  In fact, at least one person from my gaming group decided to start watching the show due to this game
  • Games generally last 3 hours in my experience, but I’ve played some as short as 45 minutes, and our first play took closer to 6 hours
  • You must be accepting of betrayal to play this game, if you or someone in your group takes things excessively personally, this game may cause some conflict

Overall Rating:

I give this game a 9/10.  It’s been a staple in my group for months and probably has more plays than anything else in my collection other than The Resistance.  There are tons of interesting decisions that all lead up to amazing feeling when it falls into place, and when it doesn’t, you’ll walk away from the table thinking about where you went wrong and what you can do differently next time.  Most of the design elements are new to me, and I think the execution on the influence tracks, power tokens, and order tokens is excellent.  There are definitely some issues as far as starting positions go, such as the Greyjoy/Lannister proximity, but they aren’t insurmountable and I’ve personally enjoyed the game from all 6 different perspectives.

Here are the details behind my rating system:

I grade based on the categories that I find most important in games, which you can read more about halfway through this previous post. Each category will be graded on a scale of 1-20, contributing to the overall score (which is then divided by 10).

  • Interesting decisions: Excellent (20)
  • Inherent competitive aspects: Excellent (18)
  • Unique/new design: Excellent (18)
  • Player input-over-RNG: Excellent (18)
  • Social Interaction: Very good (16)

Again, I feel the need to reiterate that I realize almost every concept in a board game has been used somewhere else before, but judging based on uniqueness of an element relates more to how the game deals with implementation of these concepts, and newness relates to how the game “feels.”  It’s very easy to play a game and feel like you’ve been there before, and just as easily you can realize when a game provides you with a whole new experience.