A Game of Thrones

Fantasy Flight Games (Germany), 2003, 3-5 players, ages 12 and up. A Game of Thrones is a fairly straight-forward war/strategy game in the Risk tradition with a number of very interesting game mechanics that help to elevate it above the more pedestrian offerings in this genre. The game is played out in 10 turns, with the goal being to capture and hold the largest number of provinces that contain either a stronghold or a city. Provinces are captured using your armies (consisting simply of knights, footmen and ships). Once captured, you must leave one or more of your military units in a province to hold it, or leave behind one of your "power" tokens to show that you retain influence there. Provinces may contain cities, strongholds, supply markers or power markers, any of which make them more desireable to hold. How many armies (and of what size) you can maintain is determined by how many supply markers are contained in the provinces you control. This is a very effective feature, as we're usually used to being able to move our pieces around and mix and match them at will. With these very tight limitations, your ability to marshall forces and wage war is very limited and requires a great deal of thought.

Each turn, three "Westeros" cards are turned up. These have various affects on the rest of the turn, and also provide the only way for players to muster new troops. You might go several turns without flipping a muster card, so you never quite know when you're going to finally get some new troops. The number of points you may allocate towards new troops is determined by the number of cities and strongholds you currently control. And your ability to actually place new units on the board is limited by your supplies. You might be allowed to purchase a large number of troops, but due to low supplies, not be able to actually apply them to the board. Towards the end of the game we started finding it almost impossible to place new units on the board.

Another interesting feature of the game are the three "Areas of Influence", three tracks where players bid "power" tokens in order to place their houses' marker in a higher position relative to the other players. Having the dominant position in "The Iron Throne" track allows you to decide all non-combat related ties (note, there are no dice in this game). It also decides turn order. Being dominant in the Feifdoms allows you to decide combat-related ties and gives you a bonus during combat. Finally, being dominant in The King's Court allows you access to more "special orders" and gives you the special ability to rearrange your orders during the planning phase.

Another interesting feature of the game is the way you move your forces around the board and wage war. Instead of the typical "move and attack with anything" system employed by most games, you must secretly decide for each of your forces what it will do during a turn. For this you have 15 "order" markers. However, since there are five potential actions for each force, you can only do any one particular thing up to three times during a turn - thus limiting your strategic options each turn (you can never quite do everything you want to do, always a good way to design a game). Finally, there are some neutral forces that occasionally attack that everybody has to deal with cooperatively that adds yet another level of intrigue to the proceedings.

Reading the rules took us a good long time, probably close to an hour. However, they're nicely conceived and organized and once we got started we didn't have to refer back to them very often. The game itself went surprisingly quickly. Now that we're familiar with the rules, I imagine we could complete a five player game in 3 hours or less. Game pieces are exceptionally high quality. Overall, this is a very entertaining game and one of the best new war games we've come across in a while.

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