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Subject: Would You Be Angry If I Compared This To Diplomacy? rss

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Jim Patching
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A Game of Thrones was the game that got me back into board gaming in a big way. I’d always liked fantasy adventure board games when I was a kid, but by the time of university the only board game I ever really played was Axis and Allies. I’d tried finding similar sorts of light war games just for a bit of variety but they were never very good. Then one day I came across A Game of Thrones and the rest, as they say, is an expensive collection of board games.

Comparing a board game with some other board game always seems to be a dodgy area to get into. For example, take a look at the following conversation that really happened (in my own imagination):

“The game’s a bit like Risk.”

“What!? How can it be anything like Risk? How can you say that!?”

“Well, the board is a map of the world, it’s divided into different spaces and you’ve got lots of little army men that you move about the board and attack other spaces with.”

“You clearly don’t understand the game. It’s as much like Risk as the Atari ST was like the Amiga 500.”

“I’d say it’s more like comparing the Amiga 500 with the Amiga 500 Plus.”

“Hmmm, why wasn’t the Amiga 500 called the Amiga 1000? Surely that would’ve made more sense? Anyway, it’s nothing like Risk!”

Bearing that in mind, it’s with some trepidation that I say the game is a little like Diplomacy. Well, in truth it’s a little like a lot of games. I don’t think there’s actually anything new here in terms of mechanics. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of different game elements, but I’d say it’s got Diplomacy’s brain in there.

The game is set in the land of Westeros. The island of Westeros looks a little like the island of Britain, if Britain had been out drinking with it’s friends and received a serious beating from a drunken larger island. Probably an island like Greenland. I could imagine Greenland being a bit of a bruiser.


(picture by chorbo)

The players each take on the role of one of the great and noble Houses that are struggling for the throne. The winner is the first player to take control of 7 cities and/or stongholds or, failing that, the person who controls the most cities and strongholds by the end of turn 10.

Without spending ages regurgitating all of the rules, here’re the basics. Each House has armies that are represented by little wooden footmen, knights and ships. I’m normally a fan of sculpted plastic pieces, but I actually really like these wooden pawns.


(picture by Tevellion)

The main section of the game is driven by placing orders on your armies. Each house has 15 order tokens that enable your armies to move (and fight), to hold still and defend, to lend their support to battles occurring in adjacent spaces, to conduct raids on adjacent spaces and to consolidate power. At the beginning of a turn each player places one of these orders face down on every space where they have troops. Once everyone has placed orders, they are all revealed (see, it is a little bit like Diplomacy).

Raid orders are activated first. These let you screw up opponent’s support, consolidate power or even other raid orders.

Next, march orders are resolved one at a time. Each unit can move one space. Land units can also move by boat. Boats operate a bit like bridges – you don’t have to load armies onto boats, move the boats and then unload the troops. Your units just slide along the boats as if you had an un-broken line of grease-coated barges between your starting location and your destination and your troops zip along them like a kid on a slide. I tell you, if the Nazis had used this tactic in Operation Sea lion Britain would have been in trouble.

If you move into a space occupied by enemy troops then a battle occurs. Battles are fought by adding up the combat strength of your units (footmen and ships are worth 1 point, knights are worth 2), adding the combat strength of any adjacent armies that have a support order and want to get involved in the fight and then playing a combat card. Each House has a number of combat cards of varying values – some good, some pap. You add the value of the card to the combat strength of your army. Once you’ve played a combat card it is discarded until you’ve exhausted all of your remaining combat cards. The trick with battles in A Game of Thrones is to try to judge when you need to play a high combat card and when you think you can get away with playing a low one. You don’t really want to get into a situation where you’re blowing all of your best cards over-killing weak opponents.

At the end of the turn, consolidate power orders kick in. Power is effectively a bit like money in A Game of Thrones. You use it to keep control of areas you abandon and to vote on the political track (this determines turn order, who wins on draws in combat and how many special order tokens you’re allowed to play – these are essentially the same as the normal order tokens, just with bells and whistles on).


(pictue by Jormi_Boced)

At the beginning of every turn, 3 event cards are turned over that represent things happening in the land. These cards do things like let you muster new troops, adjust the supply of your armies, vote on the political track, etc.

There’s more to the game than that very brief out-line of the rules, but that should be enough to give you an idea of how it works.

I really like A Game of Thrones. It incorporates a lot of elements that I like in board games. You can’t really win the game without making deals with people and I really enjoy the whole skulduggery aspect of negotiations and deal making (even though I’m a bit crap at it – I’ve got too high a preponderance to attack everyone!). Trying to figure out all of your moves with your limited number of orders opens up a good puzzle element to the game. The theme and mechanics sit well with each other and the components are very good. You don’t have to have read the books to enjoy the game – I haven’t made it past the first half of book one despite trying to read it twice (and I've decided I'm not going to try again until I know that the books have a proper ending - I've already been burnt by Deadwood not having a proper ending, I don't think my fragile constitution could handle another disappointment like that ). The game also doesn’t really give away any spoilers for the books if you’re at all worried about that.

The base game does have a few problems.

Most of the Houses are very well balanced but House Lannister is very much the runt of the litter. It’s certainly not impossible for Lannister to win (I’ve managed it once!) but their position is greatly inferior to the other houses. If Lannister’s two nearest neighbours decide to double whammy them then there’s very little they can do to save themselves. It’s true that if any House ends up in a situation where they’re facing two enemies on their own it’s pretty bad news, but Lannister tends to collapse very quickly in this situation.


(picture by rmontemor)

Every now and then you’ll play a game where very few muster cards or very few supply cards turn up. This can lead to a situation where each House has pitifully tiny armies for large portions of the game or doesn’t have enough supply to field large armies. This doesn’t happen all that often but it can be frustrating when it does.

If a House is unlucky enough to lose all of its ships it normally can’t build any more for the rest of the game as there will usually be enemy ships in its coastal sea areas.

Also, the very name of the game makes it difficult to construct a sentence that doesn't sound naff when trying to arrange a games night - "Do you want to come over for a game of A Game Of Thrones?". See, it just doesn't sound right

As tends to happen occasionally with Fantasy Flight games, the first expansion ( A Clash of Kings ) addresses a lot of these problems and is well worth getting.

Don’t let these problems put you off though; A Game of Thrones is well worth giving a whirl.
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Joel Schuster
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Nice try Jim. I think this review gives a pretty good impression of the game without going too much into details, which is not necessary at all for folks who dont know the game yet but want to have a look at it.
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Jim Patching
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Cheers. I found that this is one of those games where, if you really try to explain all of the rules and features it contains, before long you discover you've written an incredibly long and actually pretty boring review.
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David Dixon
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I wouldn't be angry if you compared it to Diplomacy--that's the comparison I make quite a bit, and I think it is a fair one.

Diis
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Richard Berg
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Why worry about what others think of your opinion? It's yours, not their's.

RHB
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Chris Crowder
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Thanks, this was great. I'm very curious about the game, having read all the books published so far. But I'm terrible at Diplomacy, so ...

I normally skip the rules overview and just read people's summary about how they felt in general, maybe the game's strong points, weak points, etc. But you made the whole thing entertaining, so I read it all. Thanks!
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Calavera Despierta
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Are you bad at the strategy in Diplomacy, or the negotiation?

To be fair, the only concrete similarity between GoT and Diplomacy is the orders phase - however, as noted the orders are placed with tokens instead of written.

Comparatively, the primary mechanic of Diplomacy is negotiation. There is no official negotiation phase in GoT, and while a good player will have to play the metagame to win, I think that the game can be played with minimal negotiation and still work fine.
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Hawaka Winada
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panzer-attack wrote:
“Hmmm, why wasn’t the Amiga 500 called the Amiga 1000?

Because the Amiga 1000 was released a few years before the Amiga 500. Had Commodore called both systems Amiga 1000 it would have set a precedent and we'd have to allow two different games to be called "Age of Steam".


panzer-attack wrote:
You can’t really win the game without making deals with people...

That's not true with our GoT group, we never have ANY negotiations or deal-making, yet someone wins every game. None of us think the game is much like Diplomacy at all.
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Mark Swenholt
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I think a knowledgable Lannister player has a lot of leverage in the five-player metagame by telling the Squids "hey if we don't come to an agreement beginning on turn 1, then I will only turtle up against you and I can hold you off long enough that Baratheon runs away with the game. Work with me instead and I'll grab Harrenhall on Turn 1 and threaten Crackclaw point to keep the Stag at bay."

In six-player, there's not much to do other than beg pitiously to the Sandpeople and the Mangy Fleabags to help you out.
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Jim Patching
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Cecrow wrote:
Thanks, this was great. I'm very curious about the game, having read all the books published so far. But I'm terrible at Diplomacy, so ...


The main mechanic is pretty much lifted straight off Diplomacy but the game itself doesn't really feel or play out like Diplomacy at all.
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Wim van Gruisen
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MScrivner wrote:
Comparatively, the primary mechanic of Diplomacy is negotiation. There is no official negotiation phase in GoT, and while a good player will have to play the metagame to win, I think that the game can be played with minimal negotiation and still work fine.

Ever heard of Gunboat Diplomacy? It's a variant where no negotiation is allowed. Everyone just stares fixedly at the board for a number of minutes and then writes their orders.
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Steve e^(iπ)+1=0
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Whymme wrote:

Ever heard of Gunboat Diplomacy? It's a variant where no negotiation is allowed. Everyone just stares fixedly at the board for a number of minutes and then writes their orders.


Exactly - you make and break alliances with the orders you give.
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Dan Newman
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Diis wrote:
I wouldn't be angry if you compared it to Diplomacy--that's the comparison I make quite a bit, and I think it is a fair one.

I completely agree, except that as I made the comparison, I appreciated Diplomacy more and GoT less.

I want to like GoT: so many elements are well-done. The order markers are a smart addition. Bidding for rank on the three tracks is a great strategic layer. The many uses of Power chits lends importance even to backfield armies. The map is gorgeous. Battle commanders are a terrific addition. And Diplomacy has no glowing raven.

But Diplomacy does three things far better.

Player Interaction
Diplomacy has alliances, broken and unbroken. GoT has truces, spoken and unspoken. Alliances are more fun, especially because they snap louder when they break.

There are sometimes alliances in GoT, of course, and you've probably seen them (though we had none at in our game yesterday). But agreements are essential to every single turn of Diplomacy, GoT can be won, especially by Stark, through solo play.

The more numerous hexes of GoT make it harder to have common interests, especially across terrain restrictions. In Diplomacy, each nation has at least three others nearby who can directly support their actions after one move, and is never more than two moves away from a fourth. In GoT, even nations without immediate conflict, like Lannister and Baratheon have far less opportunity to interact.


Battle Tactics
The strategy - broad plans over many moves - is actually better in GoT, thanks to the Power and bidding systems. But the tactics for individual battles fall short.

While there are some battles every turn that require careful planning and guessing of the mind of your opponent, there are fewer where you need to go through the gyrations of guessing your opponent's mind: the outcome of many battles is clear even before Orders are down.

And because Support can be repeated, there are fewer trade-offs to weigh. In Diplomacy, if you have an assisting unit placed between two others who may advance, you must choose which to help - a frequent and often important choice.


Balance
In GoT, there are uneven initial map and force deployments, and the imbalance doesn't shrink with experience: it gets magnified. Experienced players learn that you must do certain things from some positions, and that in others, no amount of skill will gain you a given hex.

In Diplomacy, not all nations are equal - Britain is safer than most and Austria-Hungary is wilder - but no one nation can singlehandedly eliminate another. And there is no list of musts for any nation.. beyond talking with your neighbors every turn.


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Art Bugorski
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Can you assist another player in an invasion like in Diplomacy? That would make this sound like a reflavoured and spruced up version of that game then,
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Jim Patching
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AngryStarAnarchy wrote:
Can you assist another player in an invasion like in Diplomacy? That would make this sound like a reflavoured and spruced up version of that game then,


Yes you can - the support order works pretty much exactly like the support action in Diplomacy.
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Dan Newman
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panzer-attack wrote:
the support order works pretty much exactly like the support action in Diplomacy.


In AGoT, you cannot 'cut' support the way you can in Diplomacy, a key tactical move.

This makes a big difference in gameplay. In Diplomacy, players run through mental gyrations of not only which sides may be working together, but precisely how. Two units can stop three from taking a territory only if they guess the exact set of ordered support. Knowing that one of them will move forward is not enough.

AGoT skips that tactical element, with more emphasis on broad strategy. It's still a good game, but it isn't Diplomacy with a new paint job.

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Steve e^(iπ)+1=0
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CBGB wrote:
panzer-attack wrote:
the support order works pretty much exactly like the support action in Diplomacy.


In AGoT, you cannot 'cut' support the way you can in Diplomacy, a key tactical move.



You can with a torch action: otherwise known as Raid. And support works for all adjacent areas. You can also Raid a Raid, so bidding for turn order is the other aspect of tactics that is critical in AGoT.
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Dan Newman
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JesterKnot wrote:
You can with a torch action: otherwise known as Raid. And support works for all adjacent areas. You can also Raid a Raid, so bidding for turn order is the other aspect of tactics that is critical in AGoT.


Good points. And there's a tactical element of card selection that rewards you for thinking from your opponent's perspective, and that's Diplomacy-like, too.

But for someone who loves the countermove guessing of Diplomacy, he or she should know that the mechanics of AGoT differ enough to change the game.

I'm sure different people have different approaches, but in general, I find myself thinking further ahead in AGoT and I often complete the game without any alliances, despite always offering. I see more national strategy and less, er... diplomacy.
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Steve e^(iπ)+1=0
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I agree: there does seem to be less direct discussion in AGoT - back to the gunboat Diplomacy comparison.

I think the timing of the game turns the 6 hour alliance followed by the luscious stab into 45 minutes of posturing with a slice to the Achilles heel.
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Raf B
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panzer-attack wrote:
The island of Westeros looks a little like the island of Britain, if Britain had been out drinking with it’s friends and received a serious beating from a drunken larger island.

thumbsup

Nice review - as a once avid Dip player, I'm intrigued now.
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