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A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)» Forums » Strategy

Subject: A Strategy Guide - Part 1 - Geography rss

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T.J.
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Hey there. How are things? So, I thought I'd write down some of my thoughts about Game of Thrones: The Boardgame 2nd Edition under the pretentious title 'A Strategic Guide' because I've been slightly obsessed about in the past year or two. As my enthusiasm for the game is receding, and I turn to other games - I thought I'd sit down and write some of my thoughts about how to think about your moves in the game. Or at least - how I think you should think about your moves in the game.

My only caveat (or perhaps, my first one) is that I am not at all sure that this will help you play better, or win. Though I like to win like the next game addict, the games I enjoy most are not necessarily the games I win. The games I enjoy most are those where I (and others) had interesting decisions to make: strategic maneuvering of opponents, correct guessing of other people's motives/plans, fun gambles that did or didn't work and so forth. As a fan of game theory, and decision theory more generally, I believe that results is not really a good way to evaluate a decision - you may take a good gamble and lose. Still, if the odds were in your favor, you should have taken the gamble. Perhaps I'll get to discuss different strategies of risk taking below. For now, let's get to it.

Oh, and before that - another caveat (I knew there would be more). This guide assumes you not only know the rules of the game, but have also played a couple of games, preferably with different houses. You don't have to be an expert or an all-time winner (I'm not), but you need to be familiar with some of the common opening moves of each houses, the frequency of Westeros cards and so forth. I don't review these things and take them for granted. If I make any mistakes, I appreciate correcting me.

The Geography (or: the board)

Control
The first thing to think about, and note, about the game, is the board. GoT is a very territorial game. Many players tend to ignore this aspect of this game and focus on castles. True, castles are the way you win the game. But the game doesn't typically end in turn 3. And the way to get the situation where you can control 7 castles, you need to have control of sufficient areas that support them and/or allow you to move into them. Given the importance of support, and even more of unraidable support, to control a specific castle it is not enough to control the territory itself - one needs adjacent territories to support it, other territories to raid potential raiders and so forth. It is therefore very important to control areas of the board, and even more important to control central areas. For some reason, this idea seems to escape most people. Blackwater, for example, is one of the most important territories on the board – it touches no less than four castles (one of which is a stronghold) and three other territories, one of them a crucial support area (more on this later). For some reason, it is not the territory most players run to as soon as the game begins. Most often, my first moves are aimed at establishing control of the important areas around my territories, not necessarily grabbing castles.

For whatever reason, sea territories do get more of the respect they deserve – players tend to note the importance of those. I therefore won’t belabor the point and discuss the importance of the Narrow Sea or Sunset Sea but I will mention Greywater Watch, The Twins, Mountains of the Moon, the Reach, Prince’s Pass and Searoad Marches as other territories whose control seems underappreciated to me. Note, when I say control I don’t just mean establishing control with a PT (as many players do with Searoad Marches and then leave) but actual physical presence of units that allow you to act from that territory. When looking at an opponent, one needs not only look at what he or she holds but more importantly – where are his or her troops. Where can they move? What can they raid? What can they support?

The setup
GoT initial setup is carefully crafted. The game is designed to create friction – and already on the board one may find features that incite trouble. In addition, there are incentives to attack (most notably the existence of Siege Engines, which might have been added in the 2nd edition because players turtled defensively for entire games, but that’s just a hunch). It is important to understand and note these sources of friction and realize that they are unavoidable. That is, they are only avoidable at a great cost. Because this game is very diplomatic (in fact, much of the mechanics is based on the eternal game Diplomacy), anything really is possible (and I’ll discuss diplomacy later) as long as players accept it. Nonetheless, with fairly strategic, sufficiently motivated, moderately self-centered and modestly responsive to notions of fairness players - these few features of the board are likely to create the inevitable conflict.

Here’s what I have in mind about the setup. Each house has a number of territories, and particularly castles/strongholds, that are in ‘his’ (or ‘her’) natural area of influence. In my experience, players (beginners and veterans alike) tend to be cautious. Most people don’t want to start out by fighting even if it’s just because they like the people they are playing with and don’t want to make them mad (a very common, yet never admitted, motivation). Moreover, first movers are often dubbed as aggressors and are collectively punished. I use here fairness based terms because I think they play a role in many people’s motivation. But if you prefer to see it as thinly veiled opportunism, that’s fine with me.

More experienced and dedicated, not to say fanatic, gamers understand that there is an incentive to attack and are happy to engage in offense. Yet even they understand that there’s a price for being the first aggressor. First, each player has at least two fronts and using your troops/card for attacking one, you are necessarily exposing yourself to the other. If they are fresh, that’s always a problem. Unless you have a very trusting diplomatic relationship, you will be wary about it. Second, even if you have enough troops to attack on one front and defend the other, it is a well-known fact of Diplomacy style Dudes-on-a-Map games that if someone gets too strong too early, there’s a strong urge to gang up on that someone. Leader-bashing is one of the game’s internal balancing mechanisms and experienced players are well aware of it. While leader-bashing is limited in GoT (since usually only your neighbors can attack you once you destroyed the other), an early leader attracts the wrath of the tie-breaking holder of the Iron Throne and my find himself without stars or at the wrong end of a wildings attack.

In a world of cautious and defensive players, nobody wants to attack and use his strong cards, thus exposing himself from the other front. Therefore, people tend to go and grab the territories that are unequivocally theirs, without bothering the neighbors or making any trouble. The irony is that the thought ‘I am weak now, so I have to grow strong before I do anything’ is indeed a very poor strategy to have when others have exactly the same one – it ignores one’s position in relation to other players. Sometimes, when you are weak is when you need to attack – for others are also weak and you are relatively strong. However, I digress.

In any case, often people try to take over ‘their’ territory and not bother other players. I have played games where not battles were fought in the first 3 or 5 turns. Dividing the board ‘equally’ doesn’t only speak to people’s conception of fairness (which makes it easier to agree on such truce) but they also make sense (though, as I’ve said, I think there’s a flaw in this kind of reasoning). They make sense because players are biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to strike and gaining resources. If there is such a tense waiting period, where players are watching each other and looking for missteps, it can only last if players feel that it doesn’t serve the interests of their opponents. That is, players would live through a truce only if they think that they think they are gaining just as much as their opponents from the truce. I actually don’t think that such a state really exist, but players often feel that if they have as many mustering points, supply tokens and such – they are not losing much by losing time.

The board works actively against this. So let’s think about this. Each player has 5 mustering points within ‘his’ natural area of influence that he or she can usually take without challenge. Stark has Winterfell, White Harbor, Moat Cailin and The Eyrie; Greyjoy has Pyke, Seagard and Flint’s Finger; Lannister has Lannisport, Riverrun and Harrenhal; Tyrell has Highgarden, Oldtown and The Reach; Martell has Sunspear, Yronwood, Starfall and Storm’s End; Baratheon has Dragonstone, King’s Landing and Crackclaw Point. Already we have instability, since Stark and Martell need four castles/strongholds to get their mustering points. That means that if no one fights, Stark or Martell will win by default just because they have more castles. However, Stark and Martell have 3 castles and only one stronghold – which means that if Lannister, Greyjoy or Baratheon grabs one more castle, they take over the lead with a stronghold tiebreaker. So there can be no peace as the status quo is always biased in favor of someone. Nonetheless, this division of castles/strongholds tend to manifest itself in the early stages of the game.

More importantly, between each two houses there is one castle/stronghold that they can both reach relatively easily. Therefore, even in the most boring and steady game, there’s always tension because Tyrell can always take Starfall, Baratheon can take Storm’s End, Stark can take Crackcalw Point or Flint’s Finger, and Greyjoy can take Riverrun. You can already see why Lannister and Martell are typically in a tough spot and how Stark and Tyrell enjoy a geographic advantage (especially Stark). The only one of Stark’s castles that is under threat when players stick to their respective areas is Moat Calin – which is hard to conquer and even harder to hold. This is, of course, very thematic, but compare it to poor Lannister – who doesn’t only lose 2 mustering points if he loses Riverrun, but also a supply and a power (though it’s one he could never use for power generation anyway). Greyjoy and Baratheon can only position themselves to threaten Stark by taking one of his seas (either the Bay of Ice or the Narrow Sea) but that is usually considered a declaration of total war, as it threatens either Winterfell or three other Stark Castles. In contrast, if Stark wants to steal a win with Flint’s Finger or Crackclaw Point, Tyrell marches surprisingly into Starfall with Loras or Greyjoy backstabs and takes Riverrun – all these moves could be planned and executed under conditions of total and stable peace (at least as stable as it gets).

Let’s look at Supply. Most player have 3 supply within their ‘natural’ area of influence. Lannister has 2 in Lannisport and 1 in Riverrun; Greyjoy has 1 in Pyke, Seagard and Greywater Watch; Tyrell has 2 in Highgarden and 1 in Three Towers; Martell has 1 in Sunspear, Salt Shores and Starfall. This is one of the reasons that Tyrell and Martell often agree to leave Prince’s Pass empty – it breaks the balance of power in the South. However, PP is a very important territory – adjacent to 5 territories (2 of which are Castles) and has both supply and power. But it has this indivisible supply that breaks the equality in the South (in a similar manner, Lannister and Tyrell often agree to keep Searoad Marches empty).

Baratheon has a problem of supply. He starts with only 2 in Dragonstone and King’s Landing, and has no obvious alternative for a 3rd supply. One option is to go to the Mountain of the Moon; this makes a lot of sense to me, but it’s such an encroachment into the geography of the North that many people see it as a dangerous move that is likely to upset Stark. Thus, Baratheon needs Blackwater. In my opinion, Baratheon cannot survive without Blackwater – it is adjacent to two of his ‘natural’ castles, threatens to raid his power generating advantage in KL and has the supply he needs so bad to keep up with the others. However, by taking Blackwater Baratheon breaks the balance of supply and jumps to 4. Moreover, he is moving away into the heart of the board and starts spreading his troops (though notice that we are often victims of an illusion – blackwater takes up more space on the board than other territories, but it’s only one territory).

Stark has a more complicated situation with supply – he starts lowest but actually has the most number of supplies in his natural area of influence. Only the mountain of the moon is directly threatened when players stay in and around their areas; though Stark has to spend troops, movements and power tokens to take these supplies.

Last thing to note about the setup is that it is highly asymmetrical. I have already mentioned some ways in which things aren’t equally distributed, and will mention more. But beyond just resources, the positions of the players on the board are such that most players will only interact with their neighbors. This is an issue with GoT which also plagues other games, including most notably GoT’s inspiration and predecessor, Diplomacy. In GoT this problem is addressed in a way with the bidding and the influence tracks, where all players directly engage each other. However, in terms of troops on the board, it is very unlikely for Greyjoy to meet Baratheon and it’s virtually impossible for Stark to meet Tyrell. Thus, Stark, Greyjoy and Martell have the best positions because they only need to worry about two neighbors each (Martell’s position is weaker for other reasons). When Greyjoy occupies the Sunset Sea he can expect some friction from Tyrell and on rare occasions a visit from Doran Martell, but other than that he can focus on Lannister and Stark. Stark’s position is very secluded, which is thematically appropriate. Only very late in the game will he have to worry about Lannister, and that’s typically because Lannister took over Greyjoy.

In contrast, Lannister has 3 neighbors and Barathoen has 4. This obviously impact the amount and kind of diplomacy that each of them has to do, but even without it – it increase the complexity considerably. The permutation of options rises with each player that has another set of march orders, a different hand of cards and different incentive structure. Lannister and Baratheon are much harder to play for that reason.

Sea Areas
Sea areas are especially important to control, because they have two important advantages: first, they convoy troops around the board; second, they provide support that ground troops cannot raid (but can raid ground troops). I will discuss Support and Raid areas soon, so let’s focus for a moment on the first advantage.

As with land territories, there are certain sea territories that players naturally take. Most Stark player quickly notices that without the Narrow Sea he will have a really hard time getting anywhere. It is not a coincidence that a standard opening for Stark involves a M+1 in the Shivering Sea, with the goal of ensuring that Baratheon doesn’t try to sneak a first turn attack on the Narrow Sea. The Bay of Ice is not as important but it threatens Winterfell and Stark typically will not want to provide Greyjoy with the opportunity to make a sneak attacks on his capital. Here what makes a sea are fall ‘naturally’ under the influence of one player or another is the fact that it is required for access to that players ‘natural’ castles or because it is an important support area. Thus, Baratheon needs Shipbreaker Bay to get out of Dragonstone and Greyjoy needs Ironmen’s Bay if he is to get anywhere other than Pyke. Martell and Tyrell must control West and East Summer Sea respectively because if they don’t, others will have an easy access to their castles.

Despite the fact that most sea areas naturally tend to fall within the area of influence of a specific house, they typically border at least one area outside of that player’s natural influence. Hence the board is working against your nice little peace – the opportunistic player will always be talking peace but planning war. Thus Martell needs to worry about Starfall falling to Tyrell and Baratheon taking his ancestral home seat at Storm’s End. Baratheon, in turn, will be worried about a Stark sneak attack in Crackcalw Point and will be thinking about raiding that support in the Narrow Sea that Stark needs to defend Moat Cailin and take The Eyrie. And of course, Lannister will never have security in the holding of Riverrun as long as there’s a Greyjoy in the world.

Given the fact that they are essential for mobility and exceptionally costly to lose, sea areas are really important. In a cautious game where players spend the first few turns building and then wake up on turn 5 to the reality that the game is almost over and they haven’t engaged in any battles – I typically secure sea areas as early and robustly as possible. I usually get 6 ships on the board before I get 5 Knights out there, and definitely before I get Siege Engines out there (though, of course, any can change in a particular setting with particular players). The fact that Lannister can’t really do that speaks volumes to his geographical inferiority.

Support Areas
Each region of Westeros has a few key areas that ‘reign’ over adjacent territories, and is therefore a good place to situate support orders. A good support area is not only adjacent to many castles you may control (as Blackwater to Baratheon) but is typically one where it can rarely be raided, or can be covered by a raid of your own. Let’s go around the board, house by house and discuss their support areas.
Tyrell has two important support areas, in my opinion. The first is Redwyne Straights, which is pretty much a consensus. The second is Dornish Marches.

Redwyne Straights is a protected sea area that many Tyrells leave empty. I believe that’s a mistake; usually, it holds the majority of Tyrell ships for me. WSS is surely the most important sea area for Tyrell, the losing of which is quite catastrophic. However, the best way to hold WSS is to have a good fleet that supports it at RS. Furthermore, it provides what is typically unraidable support for Highgarden, which is a relatively exposed capital – Lannisport and Highgarden are the only capitals that are one territory away from each other, which makes each of them relatively vulnerable to a surprised move of the other. Also, if you lose WSS for whatever reason, Highgarden becomes an easy target. You can never have enough support for Highgarden that should dissuade any leader from attacking it.

Dornish Marches is a less common choice for people’s support orders, though I believe it is one of the best choices. The main reason for that is, of course, that it provides support for all three ‘natural’ Tyrell castles as well as Three Towers, Prince’s Pass and the Boneway. It is most definitely the heart of the Roseland. It’s pretty much the only way you can defend the Reach, especially once you’ve moved your Siege Engines up there to get a shot at King’s Landing. The problem with Dornish Marches is that it can be raided by Martell who typically control the Boneway. However, it’s important to note that DM doesn’t threaten any Martell castles and it’s quite a defensive support. If you have even moderately good relations with Martell, and he doesn’t aim to get the Reach (which he usually doesn’t – it’s really hard to conquer and hold, and is quite a pitiable prize) – you should be able to persuade him not to raid that support (if he even has a raid in the boneway). The alternative is, of course, to be ahead of Martell and raid his raid from either the Reach or Prince’s Pass. Since many Tyrell/Martell alliances are built on the demilitarization of PP, the latter option will be hard. I’ve seen many a war start over the occupation of PP.

Another alternative for a support territory is Highgarden itself. Since Searoad Marches often stays empty, Highgarden is a good spot to place a support that protects the Reach. However, overall that’s not as a good of an option. First, because it doesn’t support Highgarden itself that can be threatened unexpectedly. Second, because Highgarden should be free for a special consolidate order as well as gateway for troops who move from the heartlands to the East and back. Finally, sometimes Oldtown is used to support Highgarden when Searoad Marches is breached and Dornish Marches is also under attack. Desperate times need desperate measures but if you’re supporting from Oldtown, you should know you’re not in the greatest position.

Martell’s natural support area is of course the Sea of Dorne. This is one of the main reasons he can typically secure Storm’s End without much trouble. The problem is that other than that, Martell doesn’t have much room to maneuver with support. There is no territory that support both Storm’s End and Starfall, Martell’s vulnerable points, but ESS; and ESS will typically be raided by Tyrell, Baratheon or both. Or Martell will need it to raid Baratheon. Furthermore, because of the danger of losing ESS, Martell typically turtles most his ships in the Sea of Dorne, which makes the support from ESS weaker.

Thus, Martell tends to place support orders in Yronwood or the Boneway, or both. Yronwood is better, but blocks Martell’s ability to muster troops with a special consolidate near any of his borders. Moreover, to place a support in Yronwood requires keeping Prince’s Pass under control or at least empty. That’s way Martell will usually go to war over Tyrell’s invasion into PP. But as we saw, Tyrell really needs to hold PP so that he can ensure his support in Dornish is firm. Not much peace there.

Baratheon also has only one natural support areas. There is not much to say about Blackwater Bay, it’s a no brainer to keep enough ships there to keep the hold over the prized King’s Landing and the bloodline that is Shipbreaker Bay. Besides, Baratheon is often left without much room to maneuver. Many Baratheon players use Kingswood for support, especially if they are planning an attacak on Storm’s End, but that’s a pretty weak position – can and often is raided by The Reach or Storm’s End itself. Moreover, it only supports KL for defense and The Reach for offense.

Nonetheless, Baratheon’s position is so good with his hold of Blackwater Bay that many Baratheons are content to bide their time within this restricted. I think that’s a mistake. I already made it clear in the discussion of supplies that allows himself to stay with 2 supply when everyone else has at least 3 will be severely disadvantaged later in the game. For that reason alone Baratheon needs either Blackwater or the Mountain of the Moon. From the perspective of Support, Blackwater is so much better. Taking Blackwater typically allows Baratheon to use KL as a support area which fortifies his hold over Crackclaw against that Stark sneak attack and also really helps holding the ever important supplies of the Blackwater. Lannister is often too busy with Greyjoy to notice, Tyrell often wants Prince’s Pass more than he wants Blackwater and so as long as Baratheon stays ahead on the IT track (as he does) – Kingswood can raid The Reach and the support in KL remains secure. I don’t know why Baratheon players don’t go for Blackwater more often, except to say that having lots of supply early on can raise the suspicion of other players, and Baratheon has no less than four neighbors to worry about.

Stark has the most support areas of all of them. In fact, Stark has so many support areas he has more than a few options to place support. The most obvious choice for support is White Harbor – the only place from which Stark can support both Winterfell and Moat Cailin. However, if Stark loses one of his all-important sea areas (The Narrow Sea and the Bay of Ice), his interests shift. If he loses the Bay of Ice, White Harbor would probably always have a support order as the war with Greyjoy will mean Moat Cailin will always be threatened. If the Narrow Sea is lost, the supply will typically move to Winterfell.

The Shivering Sea is also a pretty important support are – helps holding the Narrow Sea and adds to the support of Winterfell, in case Stark doesn’t hold the Bay of Ice. But a Stark that trust Baratheon not to raid his support, will also support from the Narrow Sea, which is almost the only way to take the Eyrie early on. A stark engaged in a war of attrition against Greyjoy will have units in the Twins and will use those to either support Moat Cailin (which can be protected with a raid in Moat Cailin) or an assault on Seagard (which can’t be protected, but requires Seagard to not play a defense/march orders). If there is a battle waging over Winterfell, as Greyjoy tries to pull a Theon, Karhold and the Stoney Shore become critical support areas for the sieger and besieged.

Greyjoy’s most critical area of support is Ironmen’s Bay. It is probably the single most important area on the board – it borders no less than four castles, three of which are strongholds. The holder of Ironmen’s Bay is often the victor, and for good reason. Three strongholds and a castle are often sufficient for victory in turn 10.

Greyjoy may not be able to raid first, but the fear of his attack typically keeps Lannister defending rather than raiding in the Golden Sound. As long as Lannister holds the Raven and is ahead of Greyjoy, he can always switch the order in the Golden Sound to raid the all important support in the bay. This is why I always place a march order on the bay in turn 1 even if I discard it. Also, that’s why there’s such a great incentive for Greyjoy to invade the Golden Sound. As Greyjoy, I’m not half as keen on Riverrun as I am on getting the Golden Sound – as soon as you have it, the support in Ironmen’s Bay is safe and that doesn’t only give you Riverrun, it usually makes sure you keep holding the Golden Sound as well as raid those pesky special consolidate orders that Lannister uses to muster more troops.

The other area of support is obviously the Sunset Sea. It is obviously crucial for Greyjoy if he wants to get anywhere around the board. This is a movement, not a support issue, but it is nevertheless crucial to the way the board creates intransigent conflicts. If Greyjoy is to go after Stark, which is what Lannister wants, he must go through the Sunset Sea. But holding the Sunset Sea creates a great advantage for Greyjoy who can now attack from it and support from Ironmen’s Bay or vice versa. A support in the Sunset Sea, under conditions of peace with Lannister, also protect Flint’s Finger against a Stark sneak attack.
Greyjoy really doesn’t have any other support areas, which is a good reason to believe a war between Greyjoy and Lannister is close to inevitable. Greywater Watch is the only alternative but it’s terrible – Stark will almost always raid from either the Bay of Ice or Moat Cailin. Only if Greyjoy holds Greywater Watch, the Twins and the Bay of ice can he start thinking of other support orders.

Lastly, though Lannister’s geographic position is pretty squashed, he does have some pretty good support areas. The best of them is Stoney Sept. The best position a Lannister can find himself is with a bunch of Knights in Stoney Sept and no foreign armies in either Blackwater or Searoad Marches. That maintain both Riverrun and Harrenhal and the hold he might have on Blackwater. Like a KL for Baratheon, the support order maintains its own security. The inevitable struggle over Blackwater is one of the biggest minefields in the middle of the board. Though Blackwater is strangely neglected by many players.

If you don’t hold Blackwater, say because Baratheon rushed to it while you were stabilizing the situation with Greyjoy, the best position is to hold Searoad Marches. When Baratheon is ahead on the IT track, that may not be enough – he could still raid your support in Stoney Sept if he wants to take Harrenhal or just to spite you and encourage Greyjoy to go after you. There is another danger in holding Searoad Marches – Tyrell can use Loras to get to Lannisport with one turn only if you have troops there. It is therefore always better to let Tyrell take Searoad Marches on the condition that he leaves it (after establishing control, of course) and go after Blackwater.

Another important option is Riverrun. Though Riverrun is often under attack, it is a very central piece of Lannister territory. Even if Lannister loses his seas, he may still be able to push Greyjoy out of Seagard, especially with some Siege Engines. If he does so, he can use Riverrun as a support area that secures his hold on Seagard as well as Lannisport and Harrenhal. This gives Lannister a huge incentive to attack Seagard, which is something that most Lannisters are often reluctant to do, especially if they have peace with Greyjoy. A comment pointed out that if Lannister loses his seas, it’s unlikely that he will be able to support from Riverrun. That’s true, to have Riverrun as a full-proof support you will need to hold on to the Golden Sound. However, the Golden Sounded could be raided from Lanisport-port, and I find that Greyjoy will usually have a support order in Ironmen’s Bay, especially if he knows it’s unraidable (as he also holds the Sound). It’s as bit of a gamble then, to support from there when Greyjoy holds the bay, but as audacious and unexpected as it is, it just might work.

Another important option is Riverrun. Though Riverrun is often under attack, it is a very central piece of Lannister territory. Even if Lannister loses his seas, he may still be able to push Greyjoy out of Seagard, especially with some Siege Engines. If he does so, he can use Riverrun as a support area that secures his hold on Seagard as well as Lannisport and Harrenhal. This gives Lannister a huge reason to attack Seagard, which is something that most Lannisters are often reluctant to do, especially if they have peace with Greyjoy.

A really important caveat on this discussion of support (which also applies to raids) is that none of this applies on a turn when the Web of Lies card comes up (arguably the single most important Westeros card) and Sea of Storms. When WoL comes up, all incentives change – Martell gets his one shot at kicking Baratheon out of Shipbreaker Bay, Greyjoy gets a shot at Moat Cailin, Baratheon gets a shot at the Narrow Sea and Tyrell gets a shot at ESS (and if he can take it with Loras, he can wipe out Martell’s fleet in one sweep). It’s really important to prepare for WoL with a backup plan and not depend on your support so much. It means having an extra ship in WSS, ESS or Shipbreaker Bay. It means having a way of retaking KL from Dragonstone or placing a march order on the Sea of Dorne/the Shivering Sea.

Likewise, Sea of Storms changes support order positioning because if you don’t have to worry about raids, you can use Blackwater as a support, or Riverrun, or Ironmen’s Bay or the Golden Sound or any other territory that you can’t usually because you’re concerned you would be raided. Players sometimes think no march +1 orders or no defense orders is a big deal; in my book, no support and no raid are the most important ones because they provide once in a game opportunity to go after the weaknesses in your opponent’s position. And usually, they know it too and so you should expect them to be after your weaknesses as well.

Raid Areas
This is getting super long, so I’ll wrap it up with a brief discussion of raids and leave the rest for another installment. No less important than support are raid orders. In fact, they are often more important. Many support positions require a raid order to defend them. Which is why I find the IT track position to be another undervalued element of the game. many players think, ‘there are advantages in going earlier as there are in going later. I’ll just save my money for the star orders.’ That’s true, but as many players often bid 0 for the IT, one can often get ahead of one’s neighbor’s by paying 1 PT. I find that it’s especially important to Tyrell, Baratheon and, assuming he holds the Sunset Sea, Greyjoy.

In any case, raiding is really an important order that people tend to forget. Players often treat raid like a default order ‘I’ll use it if I have nothing else to do’. My default order is defense, which I find the least useful. Raid is often more helpful that defense for a territory that’s under threat. If you are expecting an attack, chances are there will be a support involved in it somewhere. If there is, it is by definition of at least one, so the defense +1 is almost useless. Unless there’s no support involved, there’s no reason to use it. Moreover, if you’ve deployed your troops correctly, your raid should protect the very support that holds the raiding territory. Thus the raid in The Reach protects the support in Dornish Marches, the raid in Blackwater protects the support in King’s Landing and so forth.

These are not random examples. The best territories for raids are the most central ones. The Reach and Blackwater are natural candidates, as they both raid important areas that can threaten their respective support, and both can raid a consolidate power in King’s Landing (which amounts to a transfer of 5 PTs, a very harmful move). Storm’s End and Storm’s End port are two good raiding areas, virtually blocking Baratheon’s ability to support an attack on Storm’s End. Shipbreaker Bay is a good way to prevent Stark from taking the Eyrie and/or threatening Crackclaw Point or raid Martell’s raid/support in ESS. ESS and WSS are both good support areas and therefore good raid areas since they can raid each other. The Golden Sound (and Sunset Sea, if held by anyone other than Greyjoy) is a crucial raiding point. The Narrow Sea is often raided, so one can use it to raid Crackclaw Point or Shipbreaker bay if Martell hasn’t raided it yet from Storm’s End’s Port. All these raids can be counter-raids and so Stark can raid Baratheon’s raid which will in turn allow Martell to raid Tyrell’s support. And that’s about the only way Stark can directly impact Tyrell’s orders (if you can call that directly). The Twins and Greywater Watch are both crucial raid points which can also house the special raid that takes care of defense orders. A Lannister that doesn’t hold Blackwater might find Searoad Marches to be a good position for raid (though, as mentioned, it opens him up to the danger of Ser Loras).

That’s probably it for raids. This turned to be way longer than I expected it to be, so I’ll end it here and hopefully write another one (or two?) dealing with some other things like diplomacy, and the all-important hand management that controls how and where to fight battles.
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Perrytom wrote:
The most obvious choice for support is White Harbor – the only place from which Stark can support both Winterfell and White Harbor.


That's meant to be 'and Moat Cailin', right? Good reading otherwise.
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Perrytom wrote:
The Reach and Blackwater are natural candidates, as they both raid important areas that can threaten their respective support, and both can raid a consolidate power in King’s Landing (which amounts to a transfer of 5 PTs, a very harmful move)


Not sure what you mean by a transfer of 5 PTs, probably a misunderstanding of the rules.

If you raid another players CP order you get a single PT as per 2ed (you did not get anything at all in 1ed). You dont get what your opponent would get for resolving it.
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Umbratus wrote:
Perrytom wrote:
The Reach and Blackwater are natural candidates, as they both raid important areas that can threaten their respective support, and both can raid a consolidate power in King’s Landing (which amounts to a transfer of 5 PTs, a very harmful move)


Not sure what you mean by a transfer of 5 PTs, probably a misunderstanding of the rules.

If you raid another players CP order you get a single PT as per 2ed (you did not get anything at all in 1ed). You dont get what your opponent would get for resolving it.


He means relatively. Instead of Tyrell +0 - Bara +3, it becomes Tyrell +1 - Bara -1. The difference is 5 PT.

Good read, looking forward to the rest of the guide!
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Interesting read. I can see all the points you are making, but there's an extra layer of diplomacy and manipulation in this game. So while making a move that would be beneficient for your House, might in the long run be diplomatically used against you.
Being a big fan of Lannister, I agree with your assessment that Stoney Sept is a very important spot to Lannister. I would however, recommend not overdoing it on the KN on Stoney; every knight you park there for support is not doing anything else. Two is an absolute maximum on stoney, any more and you risk becoming too defensive, for a lack of knights in your armies.
Your assessment of the Greyjoy position is also very true; the Golden Sound is so much more important than Riverrun. The standard Lannister opening is aimed at reclaiming Riverrun, since most Greyjoy players gamble on the mustering and go for Riverrun/Seaguard/Flint's, so unless you are lucky in the draw, you will have a hard time as Greyjoy. If Greyjoy takes the Golden Sound, however, Lannister is on the back foot, for lack of raiding potential on the Golden Sound. However, taking the Golden Sound in turn 1 usually takes both Greyjoy ships to accomplish or a very early use of Balon. Either scenario opens opportunities for Lannister to take advantage.

It's not an easy game
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Seli_L wrote:
Perrytom wrote:
The most obvious choice for support is White Harbor – the only place from which Stark can support both Winterfell and White Harbor.


That's meant to be 'and Moat Cailin', right? Good reading otherwise.


Yeap, thanks for the correction. I just fixed it.
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Kokken Tor wrote:
Umbratus wrote:
Perrytom wrote:
The Reach and Blackwater are natural candidates, as they both raid important areas that can threaten their respective support, and both can raid a consolidate power in King’s Landing (which amounts to a transfer of 5 PTs, a very harmful move)


Not sure what you mean by a transfer of 5 PTs, probably a misunderstanding of the rules.

If you raid another players CP order you get a single PT as per 2ed (you did not get anything at all in 1ed). You dont get what your opponent would get for resolving it.


He means relatively. Instead of Tyrell +0 - Bara +3, it becomes Tyrell +1 - Bara -1. The difference is 5 PT.

Good read, looking forward to the rest of the guide!


Yes, exactly what I meant. Thanks for clarifying, and thanks for your comments.
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WNxDarkRaven wrote:
Interesting read. I can see all the points you are making, but there's an extra layer of diplomacy and manipulation in this game. So while making a move that would be beneficient for your House, might in the long run be diplomatically used against you.


Diplomacy should be part II of the guide... If I get to write it. In any case, I agree with you. I was just trying to lay out the incentives that the board creates regardless of the diplomacy. If you have peace with the Greyjoys as Lannister, you might not worry so much about their occupation of the Sunset Sea. I've been a happy Lannister with Greyjoy in Sunset, and have been a happy Greyjoy in Sunset that never backstabbed. However, I think it's important to note that with Sunset, Greyjoy is positioned to take the Golden Sound by surprise, so you might want to be prepared for it.

WNxDarkRaven wrote:

Being a big fan of Lannister, I agree with your assessment that Stoney Sept is a very important spot to Lannister. I would however, recommend not overdoing it on the KN on Stoney; every knight you park there for support is not doing anything else. Two is an absolute maximum on stoney, any more and you risk becoming too defensive, for a lack of knights in your armies.
Your assessment of the Greyjoy position is also very true; the Golden Sound is so much more important than Riverrun. The standard Lannister opening is aimed at reclaiming Riverrun, since most Greyjoy players gamble on the mustering and go for Riverrun/Seaguard/Flint's, so unless you are lucky in the draw, you will have a hard time as Greyjoy. If Greyjoy takes the Golden Sound, however, Lannister is on the back foot, for lack of raiding potential on the Golden Sound. However, taking the Golden Sound in turn 1 usually takes both Greyjoy ships to accomplish or a very early use of Balon. Either scenario opens opportunities for Lannister to take advantage.

It's not an easy game


How many knights in Stoney is obviously a question of timing and game progression. I've had two knights and a FM there and was very secure, able to deter most attacks on my borders and build up a formidable attack force. You don't really need knights for attack, in my opinion - you need Siege Engines. Knights are really defensive by nature so you'll want your siege engine in the front, ready to attack, and your knights behind them supporting them and deterring an attack.
When the time to attack comes, with your siege engines in Riverrun against Seagard, you'll want your knights moving from Stoney to Riverrun so that they can provide unraidablde support from there, protecting your siege engines once more and giving you the opportunity to expand even further.
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Nice read overall.

I mainly disagree with you only in one point: Tyrell main land support area is Highgarden, you can CP* in Oldtown if you need. Dornish Marches are too prone to be raided by Martell and provide support to the same vital areas as Highgarden. A considerable force in HG instead nicely supports your border holdings and may reach via Sea transport many others.

Also should Highgarden come under attack you'd have an army ready for defense/preentive attack.
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Tuzzo90 wrote:
Nice read overall.

I mainly disagree with you only in one point: Tyrell main land support area is Highgarden, you can CP* in Oldtown if you need. Dornish Marches are too prone to be raided by Martell and provide support to the same vital areas as Highgarden. A considerable force in HG instead nicely supports your border holdings and may reach via Sea transport many others.

Also should Highgarden come under attack you'd have an army ready for defense/preentive attack.


Thanks for reading. I agree that sometimes HG is a good place for support, as I mentioned it. I think DM is better, but these things are not clear cut and they depend on the game situation. Both are good optinos to consider.
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This is a fantastic article with real insight and clearly presented arguments. Well done, sir.
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Well done! I have to ask: how do you like Dune compared to GOT so far? =)

That brings up my only dispute with something you wrote: I don't believe Diplomacy was the inspiration for Game of Thrones. Rather, Dune was—six houses warring to control a certain number of castles (strongholds) by game's end. Fantasy Flight took its experience with refitting Dune to Rex and developed a new game with more mechanical depth (though at the loss of some of the freer wheeling and dealing endemic to Dune), by including a richer set of battle mechanics (à la Diplomacy). A Game of Thrones is definitely a good meld of several important area control games, but I sense that Westeros's birthmother—only insofar as the board games are concerned—is Arrakis. GOT looks into the future and sees Dune staring back at it.
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grammatoncleric wrote:
Well done! I have to ask: how do you like Dune compared to GOT so far? =)

That brings up my only dispute with something you wrote: I don't believe Diplomacy was the inspiration for Game of Thrones. Rather, Dune was—six houses warring to control a certain number of castles (strongholds) by game's end. Fantasy Flight took its experience with refitting Dune to Rex and developed a new game with more mechanical depth (though at the loss of some of the freer wheeling and dealing endemic to Dune), by including a richer set of battle mechanics (à la Diplomacy). Game of Thrones is definitely a good meld of several important area control games, but I sense that Westeros's birthmother—only insofar as the board games are concerned—is Arrakis. GOT looks into the future and sees Dune staring back at it.


When did they make Rex, wasn't it just recently? GoT is ten years old or something...
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Perrytom wrote:


How many knights in Stoney is obviously a question of timing and game progression. I've had two knights and a FM there and was very secure, able to deter most attacks on my borders and build up a formidable attack force. You don't really need knights for attack, in my opinion - you need Siege Engines. Knights are really defensive by nature so you'll want your siege engine in the front, ready to attack, and your knights behind them supporting them and deterring an attack.
When the time to attack comes, with your siege engines in Riverrun against Seagard, you'll want your knights moving from Stoney to Riverrun so that they can provide unraidablde support from there, protecting your siege engines once more and giving you the opportunity to expand even further.


I do feel that you need to have KN in your attacking armies too. As Lannister, you might get away with attacking only with SE (since you can Cersei a counterattack order, one of my favourite tactics and in my opinion, the most underrated card in the Lannister deck), but SE exposed are very very vulnerable. I am a bigger advocate of attacking with KN supported by SE than the other way around. But we are going off-point here. This article was about geography and in that aspect, I agree with everything you said. People tend to look at castles too much and fail to build up a strong position.

I'm looking forward to your guide about House Cards.
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Quote:
When did they make Rex, wasn't it just recently? GoT is ten years old or something...


You're right! I'll edit my post.
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grammatoncleric wrote:


That brings up my only dispute with something you wrote: I don't believe Diplomacy was the inspiration for Game of Thrones.


I'm pretty sure at some point Christian Peterson actually stated that Diplomacy was a primary influence on the design of A Game of Thrones. Simultaneous resolution of hidden orders being probably the most prominent feature borrowed from Diplomacy, I think.
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grammatoncleric wrote:
Well done! I have to ask: how do you like Dune compared to GOT so far? =)

That brings up my only dispute with something you wrote: I don't believe Diplomacy was the inspiration for Game of Thrones. Rather, Dune was—six houses warring to control a certain number of castles (strongholds) by game's end. Fantasy Flight took its experience with refitting Dune to Rex and developed a new game with more mechanical depth (though at the loss of some of the freer wheeling and dealing endemic to Dune), by including a richer set of battle mechanics (à la Diplomacy). A Game of Thrones is definitely a good meld of several important area control games, but I sense that Westeros's birthmother—only insofar as the board games are concerned—is Arrakis. GOT looks into the future and sees Dune staring back at it.


I love Dune! Haven't played it as much, but recently got a copy of the beautiful Ilya Redesign made by the talented Andrew Tullsen, so I hope to be able to play in person soon.

I guess they must have drawn on several games when they made this one. I'm sure they were aware of Dune even when they did the first version of GoT, before they were working on Rex. The leader cards, adding their combat power to battles, seem to remind of Dune - and it is especially appropriate for games that are based on novels. The bidding also seem to be an attempt to capture the political interaction of mutli-player dynamics from Dune, only streamlined to make it quicker and more efficient.

But I do think that Diplomacy's influence is much greater. The simultaneous blind order placement, the unique support orders, the ship convoying troops, the low number of troops and Diplomacy's reputation of ruining friendship for half a century meshed well with the way they perceive the theme, I believe. The first version, with no ports and no siege engine, was even more prone to stalemate of the diplomacy style. And I think the guiding principle of diplomacy was prominent in the design of the map - they wanted to make sure players will have to confront each other to fight over the scrace resources. GoT and Diplomacy start with a pretty crowded board, and it only gets worse. In other games you start with a few troops on your corner of the world and it may take a while until you see someone.
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WNxDarkRaven wrote:
Perrytom wrote:


How many knights in Stoney is obviously a question of timing and game progression. I've had two knights and a FM there and was very secure, able to deter most attacks on my borders and build up a formidable attack force. You don't really need knights for attack, in my opinion - you need Siege Engines. Knights are really defensive by nature so you'll want your siege engine in the front, ready to attack, and your knights behind them supporting them and deterring an attack.
When the time to attack comes, with your siege engines in Riverrun against Seagard, you'll want your knights moving from Stoney to Riverrun so that they can provide unraidablde support from there, protecting your siege engines once more and giving you the opportunity to expand even further.


I do feel that you need to have KN in your attacking armies too. As Lannister, you might get away with attacking only with SE (since you can Cersei a counterattack order, one of my favourite tactics and in my opinion, the most underrated card in the Lannister deck), but SE exposed are very very vulnerable. I am a bigger advocate of attacking with KN supported by SE than the other way around. But we are going off-point here. This article was about geography and in that aspect, I agree with everything you said. People tend to look at castles too much and fail to build up a strong position.

I'm looking forward to your guide about House Cards.


Hopefully, will be coming up soon.
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Thank you for the article. It is very insightful and well written.


Perrytom wrote:
It is therefore very important to control central areas of the board, and even more important to control central areas.

I'm unsure whether I understand your point here (and since you boldfaced it, it must be an important one you are trying to make); the sentence just seems to repeat itself. Do "central areas of the board" refer to areas literally located at the centre of the board (like Blackwater, which you refer to directly afterwards)? Conversely, do the secondly mentioned "central areas" refer to areas located centrally to each house (e.g. Stoney Sept for Lannister or Sea of Dorne for Martell)?

Perrytom wrote:
Already we have instability, since Stark and Martell need four castles to get their mustering points. That means that if no one fights, Stark or Martell will win by default just because they have more castles. However, Stark and Martell have 3 castles and no strongholds...

I assume this last sentence should read "Stark and Martell each have 3 castles and 1 stronghold," since all home areas contain a stronghold.

Perrytom wrote:
Baratheon has a problem of supply. He starts with only 2 in Dragonstone and King’s Landing,

Baratheon starts with a barrel in Kingswood, not King's Landing.

Perrytom wrote:
Another important option is Riverrun. Though Riverrun is often under attack, it is a very central piece of Lannister territory. Even if Lannister loses his seas, he may still be able to push Greyjoy out of Seagard, especially with some Siege Engines. If he does so, he can use Riverrun as a support area that secures his hold on Seagard as well as Lannisport and Harrenhal.

Riverrun can indeed function as a good central support hub later in the game if Lannister is at war with Greyjoy, but if Lannister has lost his sea areas, this is wishful thinking. Lannister, at a minimum, needs to keep control of the Golden Sound; otherwise, Greyjoy can raid Riverrun's support from sea with impunity.

Perrytom wrote:
Shipbreaker Bay is a good way to prevent Stark from taking the Eyrie and/or threatening Crackclaw Point or raid Martell’s raid/support in WSS.

This should read "Martell's raid/support in ESS".


On a separate note: you make several observations regarding (typical) player behaviour. Since you linked to some of the PBF games that you have played, are these observations then borne from your experiences playing PBF games?

Hope you get around to write about the other aspects of the game that you mentioned.


grammatoncleric wrote:
That brings up my only dispute with something you wrote: I don't believe Diplomacy was the inspiration for Game of Thrones.

Christian Peterson actually commented on the inspirations for the AGOT board game in the rulebook for the Clash of Kings expansion of the 1st edition. This is what he had to say:

ACOK rulebook, p. 2 wrote:
The design that you have gotten to know draws
its inspiration from both a love of George R.R.
Martin's wonderful books and from a deep love
of the classic intrigue/diplomacy games of my
gaming past. An obvious inspiration for the
game design is the classic DIPLOMACY (a
game that both George and I admire greatly),
and a much less obvious inspiration is that of
the brilliant EL GRANDE by Wolfgang Kramer.
I have also heard that A GAME OF THRONES
has passing similarities to the old game KINGMAKER,
which I have never played (but I
know that it certainly shares a theme with A
GAME OF THRONES).
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I agree with the underlying key point that players tend to focus too heavily on the VP areas (castles and strongholds). Unless you are going for an early win (rare but possible), it is often better to set yourself up more carefully and for the longer term, by first establishing your control over the key non-VP areas, which generate less concern from the more distant players at least. But there is a cumulative effect from VP areas if there is a muster.\ that can't entirely be ignored.

As for the antecedents of the game, it is nothing like Kingmaker (except in having a somewhat feudal theme). But clearly there are some elements reminiscent of Diplomacy - in my opinion, far more than any connection to Dune. But there are also key differences (orders being types not specific orders; sequential resolution of orders, rather than simultaneous resolution, etc)
Whatever its origin, it plays very differently from any of those games, and must be approached on its own terms.
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roftie wrote:
Thank you for the article. It is very insightful and well written.


Thank you for reading and more so for your helpful comments and corrections! I've edited the OP to refelct your corrections. I appreciate it

roftie wrote:

Perrytom wrote:
It is therefore very important to control central areas of the board, and even more important to control central areas.

I'm unsure whether I understand your point here (and since you boldfaced it, it must be an important one you are trying to make); the sentence just seems to repeat itself. Do "central areas of the board" refer to areas literally located at the centre of the board (like Blackwater, which you refer to directly afterwards)? Conversely, do the secondly mentioned "central areas" refer to areas located centrally to each house (e.g. Stoney Sept for Lannister or Sea of Dorne for Martell)?


This should read (as it now does) - 'it's really important to control areas on the board and even more so to control central areas'. When I wrote it, I didn't think I would elaborate as much as I ended doing, but it's just a general statement of my main point, which is that the game is not just about getting castles, it's also about gaining ground. In many games I've seen Martell sits on his castles and avoids Prince's Pass, Dornish Marches, Kingswood etc. and then near the end of the game, tries to make a push for it and is stuck with no possibilities. So, my point is that it's really important to try and control the board.
By 'central' I usually mean areas that border lots of other areas - so Blackwater and The Reach are very central, but yes - for Lannister, Stoney Sept is located in a central area relative to his forces, so it's pretty central for him.


roftie wrote:

On a separate note: you make several observations regarding (typical) player behaviour. Since you linked to some of the PBF games that you have played, are these observations then borne from your experiences playing PBF games?


Observations are based on forum games as well as real life games with friends and fellow gamers. On the forums the players tend to be more gamers, which means - they are usually more competitive and goal oriented. They are also pretty risk averse, calculating and cautious. I've played with games where people like to attack for the hell of it, or because they are Greyjoy and in the story the Greyjoys are bastards, or just because they like to see their friends annoyed with their irrational attacks. I'll talk about in the Diplomacy part of the guide, hopefully when I write it.

roftie wrote:

Hope you get around to write about the other aspects of the game that you mentioned.


Thanks so much for reading and responding, and correcting me when I made some errors - I've started working on part 2, and will post it soon hopefully!

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roftie wrote:

Perrytom wrote:
Another important option is Riverrun. Though Riverrun is often under attack, it is a very central piece of Lannister territory. Even if Lannister loses his seas, he may still be able to push Greyjoy out of Seagard, especially with some Siege Engines. If he does so, he can use Riverrun as a support area that secures his hold on Seagard as well as Lannisport and Harrenhal.

Riverrun can indeed function as a good central support hub later in the game if Lannister is at war with Greyjoy, but if Lannister has lost his sea areas, this is wishful thinking. Lannister, at a minimum, needs to keep control of the Golden Sound; otherwise, Greyjoy can raid Riverrun's support from sea with impunity.


I responded to that in the OP, but just to be clear - you are obviously right that without the Golden Sound, Riverrun can be raided from the sound as well as Ironmen's Bay. But the Sound can be raided from Lanisport's port, and in my experience a sea-happy Greyjoy tends to place a support order on the bay - helps him take back Seagard, protects the vulnerable Flint's Finger (and Greywater Watch), and keeps the hold on the Sound firm. So it's unlikely that Greyjoy will raid from there, though of course - if he knows you'll support from Riverrun, he might.
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Awesome stuff!

Hope you find the time to finish the other parts, really great.
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