No, not the TV show, which I disliked (yes, I know…a quick informal survey of “everyone else” has already educated me that I was the only one that didn’t like it), or the book series, which I found well-written, but never quite hooked me in. I mean the board game from Fantasy Flight.
Every six months or so I get a chance to sit down with some friends and family for a game night. Last time it was the Mansion of Madness, and before that more Cthulhu goodness, and before that some Twilight Imperium. As much as we enjoyed TI, it ended up being just too much for us to handle…too many rules, too much time to finish in an evening. We had looked for awhile at the Conan Board Game, but for one reason or another I never picked it up.
Enter my brother with thise Game of Thrones business. It was like the third set of everything for Goldilocks as far as I’m concerned. The time to play was – just right. The complexity/ease of the rules was – just right. The ability to maintain interest and attention was – just right.
We played a four player game with a small house rule that my brother had developed in previous play sessions elsewhere – we blocked off the ports and VP territories in the south end of the continent. Otherwise the game takes a predictable path of the northern powers allying and running south before the southern powers can steamroll the NPC garrisons and claim victory without virtue of diplomacy or even meaningful battle. That is the one and only weakness of the game as far as I could tell, though with six players the balance should not be an issue. We also used the random deck for battles, just to add some spice to life, and I can’t imagine playing without it to be honest. That extra element of uncertainty adds charm to the battles and to the selection of your commander card.
Which brings me to what I loved about it. The random events are great, forcing players to think on their feet and forcing interaction and diplomacy at a basic level. The battles themselves are fantastic. The additional of leader cards to the standard “army strength” notion gives excellent flavor to the individual houses and creates an “ebb and flow” to the movement around the map.
In other words, the game has a nice balance of picking a strategy and requiring players to adapt on the fly to things outside their control. At no time did I feel like the random events were too constricting – rather they often provided double edged opportunities. And most of my strategy revolved not around knowing the rules like the back of my hand (or military power for that matter), but rather from playing my opponent directly – their motives and tendencies.
And perhaps it is that last part which makes the game so great. In that, the game mirrors the book in a beautiful way. A game of thrones indeed, and a worthy bearer of the name.