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

Subject: Fun but Clunky--After 10+ games rss

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Bob Durf
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Having played Game of Thrones many times in less then a years time, I've decided to finally share my opinions on the game. I shared one session already on the BGG, for a more flavorful depiction of a single game, check it out at [url]http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/922372/game-of-thrones-intri...[/url.] I won't spend a large amount of time on reciting its rules, as there are plenty of other reviews that do that. I'll instead share my likes and dislikes about the game, patterns that I see in play, and how its held up in my groups over time. Lets get started!

Components:
I will give some brief opinions on the components. The board is beautiful. Its big, solidly built, and really pulls you in. The coloring on it is a great mix of dark muted colors with bright accents that are engaging and make it stand out. The components are equally top notch, and the marbled units are similarly an equal blend of brightness and understatement. The chits are all thick and sturdy as well. A wonderful game to look at. There are almost no flaws in my opinion in the raw material department. The action chits are the one small flaw in my opinion, specifically the support, move, and defend icons. At face value, their purposes don't seem intuitive. However, the game makes this up with the well done player cards with the definitions of all of these chits.

Gameplay
The gameplay of Game of Thrones is best defined as a complex game made of many simple mechanics thrown into one game. As such, the game is extremely easy to play and remember after one game, but awkward to teach.

Movement, support, convoying to an extent, is extremely reminiscent of the game Diplomacy. Placing down chits for orders instead of writing them as in Diplomacy is actually faster, easier to teach, and quite intuitive. The combat is simple, with House Cards really lifting it above a math stalemate. My group generally plays with the Tides of War cards, not to induce randomness for theme or fun, but to reduce the math calculations that happen every combat. The different types of units in the game give a bit of diversity without making the game more complicated.

Supply and Mustering is odd. Supply is definitely necessary to balance the Houses and prevent giant stacks of doom roaming the board. It also gives Houses something to fight over besides the castles and adds strategy. Mustering however, is strangely done. It is essentially random in when troops can be built by all powers. That can produce slightly wonky games. However, combined with the fact Special Consolidate Power can muster troops, this randomness can really harm the game, giving one House an undue amount of power in certain situations. The three decks of cards are a fun interesting way to move the game forward. The randomness, as mentioned earlier, can produce weird results, but that's part of what makes the game fun to come back to. Bidding on the 3 special powers is the most interesting twist in the game, giving players a side game that is perfectly balanced in how it affects strategy on the map.

Opinion on Strategy and Enjoyment
I've played over 10 games of Game of Thrones, and friends have used my game without me several times as well. Clearly one of my gaming groups like it. However, my other group, while not disliking it, wouldn't pick it to play. After playing so many games, I have some issues with Game of Thrones as well on a strategic level (not about the components or game mechanics).

The Lannisters: One of the six Houses in the game is criminally under-powered. In a 5 or 6 player game (which are the only number of players I would really play this game with), the Lannisters are surrounded by hostile Houses. Furthermore, even with the best negotiation, there is little reason for players to necessarily help the Lannisters. The Greyjoys have inherit advantages over the Lannisters right out of the gate, and have no reason to go north instead. Early, the Baratheons can't help the Lannisters, and late they don't necessarily want to. The same can be applied to the Tyrells, who are in the center of the board as well, but not at an inherit disadvantage as the Lannisters are to their neighbors. To date, the Lannisters have been the only House to be completely eliminated from a game. Even a player of Austria-Hungary in Diplomacy would shudder to play Lannister in Game of Thrones.

House Flavor: The different houses vary in their starting locations and house cards, giving each a distinct flavor. The only problem is, some Houses seem to have more 'flavor' then others. Greyjoys, Starks, and to an extent the Bratheons tend to have some fairly strong House cards that other Houses don't have, Martell in particular.

Game flow: The game flow varies each game due to negotiation, mustering, and bidding on influence tracks. However, the order system of chits, while mechanically great, is strategically constraining. There can be no grand attacks on all fronts for example, as you have very limited movement, especially late game. Added to this, if you happen to not have access to special moves, you are even more constrained. After many games, the system comes off as clunky and limited.

Final Thoughts
I mentioned before that one of my groups likes Game of Thrones, and one doesn't. I believe that is because the group that doesn't like it has played Diplomacy first. I've made several references to Diplomacy, because the similarities between the two games are impossible to ignore. After many games, Game of Thrones feels like a watered down version of Diplomacy. Game of Thrones has undeniable theme, and its what drew me in to it. It's chrome, it's components, and the gameplay all immerse you in a Game of Thrones universe. Even if you haven't read or watched Game of Thrones, the components and gameplay are enticing and very fun.

Unfortunately, Game of Thrones loses its glow after numerous plays. The gameplay begins to feel restrictive. Balance issues begin to become more problematic. It is a game of Diplomacy with many more rules and chrome and theme piled on, and each successive play makes me feel more restrictive comparing it to other negotiation and grand strategy games. The restrictions protect players. Out of the many games I've played, only one has seen a player eliminated. The chrome gives player more to focus on than simple movement and negotiation. That does not make Game of Thrones a great game. Without even comparing it to Diplomacy, as I have focused on, Game of Thrones is hardly a top 30 game.

Some on this site have said Game of Thrones improves on old games such as Diplomacy and other negotiation games by both quickening gameplay and adding mechanics to protect players more. Game of Thrones is not an improved version of any game. If you want negotiation and strategy, sit down and play a game that will give you more freedom and more options. Game of Thrones is great for portraying its theme, truly great. But considering the gameplay itself, there are so many better options. Game of Thrones balances negotiation and strategy with protection of the players, and in that way, shackle them.

OUTTAKES

CONVOYS: They are really just giant bridges. Moving from this to a real war game convoy system is jarring.

MARTELLS: Generic House is generic.

NO DEFENSE ORDERS CAN BE PLAYED: Prepare for the Game of Thrones version of "blitzkrieg."

TIDES OF WAR: Using dice without using dice.
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Curt Carpenter
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I dunno. I haven't played AGoT 10 times yet, but I have played Diplomacy at least that many times. And I won't play it again. I will play AGoT. Mainly because AGoT can be played in a single session, and does not require private conversations. Diplomacy is best played by email, over weeks or months. At that point it's not really even a "boardgame" by my definition. I think AGoT and Wallenstein for games that that have that secret planning and double guessing element, but playable in a single sitting.
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Branko K.
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I always despised Diplomacy as an actual boardgame, to the point that I actually consider it borderline unplayable - you simply do not invite folks over at your home and bring out Diplomacy. Email Diplomacy? Works great. Having friends over and playing Diplomacy? Barring some really rather specific circumstances - as in "we are stuck on holiday and it will rain heavily for the next 14 days and the only boardgame here is Diplomacy" - Diplomacy is most definitely NOT a boardgame you need in your house.

Game of Thrones however - for me personally at least - works great as a boardgame. There's theme, there are high production values, streamlined mechanics, a not-so-abnormally-long running time. It's not a perfect game by any account, but whatever flaws I can find with it I simply do not see the fix which would actually make the game better. Limited march options may seem clunky, but that's merely a resource management element thrown into the game which I personally like. Lannisters maybe have a terrible starting position... but since the game is negotiation-heavy, Lannisters might just actually be significantly better off - a player getting them can even use the metagame in his advantage. It all kinda-sorta balances out.

But anyways, a nice review. I can agree on most of the other points.
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Jim Kane
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Love the show, reading the books, love this style of game but after several plays I completely agree with your assessment of this game. I have described it to many people as a nearly great game. The Lannisters and Greyjoys share that one piece of water and have to choose to form an immediate alliance or spend the rest of the game fighting over it and not progressing with the rest of their empire building.
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John Leo
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It's been discussed ad nauseum so I won't be making a fuss of it here, but there have been plenty of posts dedicated to analyzing the viability of Lannister. They actually have quite a lot going for them. I actually really enjoy playing them, mostly because they do start out in a tough spot. With some good maneuvering, they really can become a powerhouse.
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Branko K.
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distractingflare wrote:
It's been discussed ad nauseum so I won't be making a fuss of it here, but there have been plenty of posts dedicated to analyzing the viability of Lannister. They actually have quite a lot going for them. I actually really enjoy playing them, mostly because they do start out in a tough spot. With some good maneuvering, they really can become a powerhouse.


I enjoy Lannisters too. In fact, one of my favorite things about drawing Lannister is watching who got Greyjoy and than based on the personality of that player trying to devise the best approach.. you just don't get that in your usual Euros..
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John Leo
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Absolutely true. Lannister is one of the strongest houses for fighting land battles, and The Mountain is the single most destructive force in the game. Nobody wrecks an army like Clegane does.
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Steven Wall
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I've played about 3 games now, which probably isn't enough to make a decision about the overall worth of Game of Thrones in my collection, but I'm also starting to find some of the points you raise in your review a little frustrating.

Lannisters have been smashed in both the 5/6 player games I've played in so far - we could probably put this down to inexperience. But, risk of player elimination causes a few issues for me, especially for a game that can take this long to play. It can be a long afternoon if you're under the cosh as the Lannisters.

I have no problem with the limited number of order tokens, as someone else said, I feel that this adds another element of resource management to the game.

My biggest beef with the game at the moment is just the sheer complexity. In all games now we have had players making repeated mistakes such as: confusing support/defense or raid/march orders when placing, placing more special orders than they were allowed, placing orders that are forbid by a Westeros card, thinking raids remove defense/march orders, forget to take a power token when you use a raid to cancel consolidate power, accidentally breaking supply rules temporarily with a move, thinking they could support from a space adjacent to the moving army rather than the embattled region ... I could go on and list another dozen frequent mistakes, but I think you get the idea

Once a mistake is spotted you might have to "undo" a few actions, allow the player to choose an alternative order, or punish their mistake with no order at all for that region. For me, the impact of mistakes feels exacerbated in Game of Thrones, because suddenly what the player thought they had planned is not happening, the consequences of that can be very harsh and the fun is suddenly gone for that player.

So maybe this game is "not for us" or we are still too novice with the rules. My comments aren't a criticism of this game that will apply to everyone (especially experienced gamers who like heavier games with lots of moving parts), but the original post just struck a chord with my most recent experience with the game this weekend so I wanted to share.

It's a shame because there's a lot I like about the game, but I feel like I'm drowning under the complexity right now.
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Branko K.
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stevenwall wrote:
My biggest beef with the game at the moment is just the sheer complexity.


I think it's a given in a game like this that if there are inexperienced players present one player - preferably the game owner - needs to be the dedicated "game master". He can also be a player, of course, but that should be secondary; his main role should be checking if the game is played correctly because - as you noticed - when a few mistakes pile up it can pretty much ruin the game, because no matter how you decide to "fix" them, someone will feel unfairly treated, the game will feel "spoiled" and the overall enthusiasm will greatly diminish.

So anyway, the responsibility of that player would be to oversee everything and to correct mistakes as soon as they happen - mainly if someone placed too many special orders, has resolved an order wrongly, has forgotten to adhere to supply limits etc. His secondary role should be to advise - especially when it comes to tricky stuff, like how ports work for example. For that reason this player really needs to know the rules inside out and should have at least a few games under his belt - solo ones, if needed.

Personally I don't find the rules to GoT that complex - if you stop trying to remember them all by heart and try to find a logical reason why something works like that (ports only open up "outwards" for example, and the biggest reason they exist is to stop superfleets from existing), then it should be really easy to hold all strings in your hands, so to speak. Just forget about competitiveness in the first few games - it might even be helpful to become a sacrificial lamb and let the players eliminate the game master first; a minor inconvenience that will pay off in the long term, as well as an opportunity to become an advisor to all the players at the table, something that many new players would appreciate wholeheartedly.
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Mike F
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I've played AGoT once! (yesterday) And that was with Steven Wall (above) and four others.

I'm normally pretty good with complicated-ish games (Terra Mystica, recently Battlestar Galactica) but I was frustrated by AGoT.

My concern was the way I had to constantly count-up or otherwise check things in order to play the game well. Things like:
- how many supply locations people had, to help decide where to march next.
- how many power tokens people were spending, so I could have a rough idea whether certain players were getting low and therefore perhaps less like to leave certain locations or to help vs wildlings etc.
- who had stars on the King's Court track, to remind myself of whether they could do three or only two march moves etc.
- what combat cards my potential opponents had left.
- etc etc.

I guess it gets faster with experience, but honestly how much faster can all that get?

Then there's the amount of down-time for players (perhaps unless there's tons of negotiation happening everywhere). And the way some players will find a lot of negotiation less enjoyable than others, especially if it's feeling like it's slowing down an already slow game.

I guess with the right mix of players it can be a fabulous game. But to me it feels padded-out with grinding detail. However I do want to try it again, to start answering my questions about how much more fluid it can become.

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Matteo Angioletti
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I think that you need just more experience to unravel the initial complexity and "clunkyness" of Game of Thrones, as unfortunately there are tons of pieces and variables to account for.

Some things that may help:

-The amount of Supply of every player is always shown in the Supply track, so you could just glance at it to immediately have that piece of information. There's no need to check everytime the single areas (remember also that the Supply track updates only when the appropiate card is drawn from the Westeros Deck II).

-The same applies for Power Tokens: the amount of each player is (should be) always known to everyone (except when you are in the act of bidding of course). Again no need to track each PT movement.

-Print recap sheets with every House Cards and hand them out to each player to avoid having to manually pass the cards around to check their abilities. Players may then use a pencil to note which House Cards have been used.
 
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Mike F
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If the supply track is only a snapshot of what supplies were last time the supply westeros card came up, then surely I'm right that in-game you still need to add-up current supply land on the map to know where you and other players really stand?

I think we (some of us anyway) were hiding our power tokens. Oops.

Photocopying and crossing-off cards sounds useful, but a bit of a faff.

But yeah I'll have another go to find out if it gets better. And I feel bad being that dude who's commenting about a game I only played once! You're all cool for responding helpfully and *cough* 'playing fair' with newcomers!

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Matteo Angioletti
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Supply is only checked and updated when an appropriate card say so, not constantly.
If you lose or gain areas with Supply icons inside your Supply amount doesn't immediatly change.

There are some nice and compact sheets out there in the files section, like this or this other one.
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Branko K.
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Tuzzo90 wrote:
Supply is only checked and updated when an appropriate card say so, not constantly.


Well in the Feast of Crows expansion they slightly changed this, but you still do not need to do it constantly, only at the end of the each action phase.

I honestly never really thought of the Supply mechanism being too much of a drag, in fact I always kinda liked it. Count barrels, check clumps of armies, check numbers. And if it is really becoming a bore, I suggest borrowing a few "barrels" from a nearby Euro and putting them on the board for even faster supply management.
 
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Steven Wall
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I think what Mike is referring to is forecasting ahead for the supply, for example, will a particular house stand to gain a lot if the supply card comes up, is it worth prioritising trying to take a region with barrels this turn versus a crown, who can I hurt the most by taking it from? Etc

Maybe we are over-thinking some of the tactical decisions, but I found a similar level of brain burn from all the information.

And thank you everyone for the advice - it seems we will need some play aids to supplement teaching next time we get this out.
 
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rigol wrote:
If the supply track is only a snapshot of what supplies were last time the supply westeros card came up, then surely I'm right that in-game you still need to add-up current supply land on the map to know where you and other players really stand?

If by "really stand" you mean the relative strength of you and other players on the board, then judging it is a little more complex...

The supply track only determines how many/big armies you may have this turn. If you are not at your supply limit, then it only states the potential size of your armies, since you still need to muster the actual units (which could take several turns) to fully benefit from your supply-track position.

Furthermore, by counting in-game the number of barrels on the map controlled by the different players, you only see where you and the other players could potentially stand on the next turn in terms of supply. Several turns can pass by with different players gaining and losing areas with barrels, but if no supply card is drawn in that time, then their allowed army sizes stay constant. Think of the barrels on the map as a kind of insurance policy. In the event of a supply card being drawn, they pay out; otherwise, their only worth is insuring you against the next supply card being drawn.

rigol wrote:
I think we (some of us anyway) were hiding our power tokens. Oops.

The available power tokens of each player must remain visible for all players to see, except during bidding. In fact, the rulebook recommends that players state their total amount of available power before bidding begins.

rigol wrote:
Photocopying and crossing-off cards sounds useful, but a bit of a faff.

You don't need to cross-off any cards on the sheets that Mateo suggested. House cards that have already been played is open knowledge to all. When a player uses a house card, he/she has to discard it face-up in front of him/her, where it stays for all to see until the player plays the last house card in his/her hand.

Those printed sheets of the house cards should only be used as a convenient way to check what abilities the house cards of other players have.
 
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Branko K.
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I don't like when people start overthinking this game. I think it works much better when everyone plays by instinct. This is why I always advocate quick action phases, and we have even started using a 2-minute timer, Space Hulk style. You have 120 seconds to negotiate and place your tokens, when the time runs out that's it. We are not extremely strict, there is a grace period if someone hasn't managed to place everything he planned, but the unspoken agreement is that he has do to it as hectically as possible.

I know this may seem silly to more "serious" gamers but I truly think that this game suffers a LOT if people get all analytical and start optimizing. I mean, the gameplay time is already horribly long, the probability of the game not even getting finished is always in the air, so moving things along is for our group pretty much paramount.

Btw, this is also why I think the Feast of Crows expansion is very helpful, to the extent of me actually suggesting that new players should always play a 4-player FoC game before doing the "real" 6-player thing. Having objectives gives clear goals to the players, so instead of constantly trying to optimize their position and grabbing castles through sheer inertia, they usually focus on tasks at hand, whatever they might be. Not to even mention that the expansion immediately jumpstarts a battle between Baratheon and Lannister, while leaving Stark and Arryn semi.stranded on the North, so the sense of immediacy is much more present.

So TL;DR - less thinking, more fighting. Leave the convoluted scheming and plotting to Littlefinger and just try to have some fun..
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Bob Durf
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Thanks for all the responses guys, I like the discussion, the argument over Lannister balance is something that challenges my own opinions on the game's balance, and had me rethinking my stance. I realize Lannister can be strong in the right hands, but the situation where they can prosper never arose in our group's numerous games, with one exception when they finished 3rd out of 6. That is why I shared those opinions.

baba44713 wrote:

So TL;DR - less thinking, more fighting. Leave the convoluted scheming and plotting to Littlefinger and just try to have some fun..


Disagree with your earlier statements on Diplomacy (seems like you lump GoT with Eurogames, I assume you play mostly Euros) but you are spot on with this point. Keep things moving or the game gets painfully slow. We never used timers per say, but I like the idea. We did use tides of war to speed up the combat phase, where we tended to have the most action paralysis. The randomness wasn't ideal, but it sped up and actually encouraged more fighting and moving, which is the key to keep the game moving.
 
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Branko K.
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Tides of War "expansion" is a godsend.

The analytical guys hate it, but for me nothing kills the game faster than constant calculation and recalculation of battle outcomes, especially if one player cannot start a battle before carefully reading the reference cards and going over all the possible house card combinations so he can optimize the outcome. It makes the game as interesting as filling out tax forms and the game never gets finished. But hey, as long as the battle outcome is deterministic, right?
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Steven Wall
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baba44713 wrote:
Tides of War "expansion" is a godsend.

The analytical guys hate it, but for me nothing kills the game faster than constant calculation and recalculation of battle outcomes, especially if one player cannot start a battle before carefully reading the reference cards and going over all the possible house card combinations so he can optimize the outcome. It makes the game as interesting as filling out tax forms and the game never gets finished. But hey, as long as the battle outcome is deterministic, right?


I agree - but the design of the base game encourages players to play in this very analytical way with regards to combat. I had avoided Tides of War, but it might be a good fix.

Making house cards private information might also help to speed things up (but would favour players with better memory or who were more familiar with the game).

I had also considered removing the abilities of house cards as a solution to help speed things up and reduce the amount of reading and comprehension required to make decisions, but that might unbalance the houses too much.
 
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