Additional reviews, plus the podcast this game was discussed on, can be found here: http://www.allusgeeks.com/tag/a-game-of-thrones-board-game/
A Game of Thrones, published by Fantasy Flight Games, is a 3-6 player territory control game about vying for control of Westeros and the Iron Throne. The player that controls a certain amount of cities and/or strongholds (dependent on the number of players) first or whoever controls the most cities and/or strongholds by the end of 10 rounds is the winner.
Note: A second edition of this game has been published, but this review will focus on the first edition and the expansion; which is necessary in the first edition to allow up to six players.
A turn in A Game of Thrones consists of the following:
Westeros Phase: This phase is skipped on the first turn of the game. After the first turn, flip and resolve a card from Deck I, then Deck II, and finally Deck III.
Planning Phase: Assign orders, face down, to all areas you have armies. Once all players have done this, reveal all orders by turning them face up. At this point, the player that controls the Messenger Rave may switch out one of their own orders.
Action Phase: Resolve Orders, one at a time (and in turn order), in the following sequence (until all of that type of Order is off the board): Raids, March, and Consolidate Power. After all Orders are resolved, advance the turn marker and start the next turn.
End Game: The game ends after 10 rounds, or immediately if a player controls a certain amount of cities and/or strongholds, based on the number of players in the game.
The component quality is what you would expect from a Fantasy Flight Games production. There are a ton of bits and they look very nice. You get wooden army pieces (a marbled plastic in the second edition), cardboard counters and tokens, cards, and a great looking game board.
If you own other FFG games, you know what you're in for with this game. Lots and lots of bits!
This is the main engine at work here. The goal is to use your armies and control specific areas to win. But the areas in between have meaning as well, and you need to balance the use of your armies to maintain control and continue to spread your domination. Controlling areas with barrels on them, give you the potential to field more, and potentially larger, armies. Controlling areas with crowns on them can give you additional power tokens; the currency used in bidding for various things in the game and it is also used to fight back the Wildings.
Secret Order Selection
This is the most used mechanic in the game. Each player secretly places an order, face down, for each army they have on the board. The orders have a variety of uses: adding defensive/attacking support to another army (your own or another players), moving/attacking with an army, defending your rightful area from would be invading armies, raiding other players to negate some of their orders, and collecting power tokens. This is how you implement your plan to take over key areas of Westeros and win the game.
You have to not only consider what orders you want to place on your troops, but you have to also consider what other players (especially those closest to your troops) might be planning as well. Is this the time to defend because that unfriendly army to the the East looks ready to attack? Or do you think they plan on spreading out and will leave an area ripe for the taking?
In the Westeros Phase there are cards that will come up to trigger a bidding sub-phase.
The Clash of Kings card will have you bidding on the following three things: The Iron Throne, Fiefdom, and King's Court. Each of these comes with a special ability for being the highest on each track. The Iron Throne determines turn order, and the person who holds the Iron Throne token breaks all non-combat ties. The Fiefdom is the track used to break combat ties and the person that holds the Valaryian Blade token can, once per turn, add a +1 strength to a battle of their choosing. The King's Court dictates how many special orders a player can place on their armies and the person that holds the Messenger Raven can switch out one of their order tokens after all player's reveal their order tokens.
If the cards dictate the Wildlings attack, a secret bid of power is done to see if the Wildlings are defeated, or if they break through. There is a reward for the player that bid the highest on a Wildling defeat, and there is a penalty for the player that bid the least if the Wildlings win.
In both cases, the players use their collected power tokens and secretly bid any amount they choose for each individual bidding option listed above. All players reveal at once and the bidding option is resolved. All players will lose any power tokens bid during this sub-phase.
Alliances and Treaties can be formed during the game. Players can use their Support orders to assist another player, or simply make agreements not to attack one another. But, no agreement is binding. After all, every player is vying for the shame thing: Dominance over Westeros.
There is sort of a minor hand management mechanic at play. Each player has a set of combat cards and each card can only be played once; until all the combat cards are used up. So is this the time to use that special ability on the card? or maybe your strongest card? Or should you wait, knowing you can't get it back until you go through your entire deck.
This is a game that is hard to start playing without first throwing a bunch of information at players, because at the very least they need to know what the orders accomplish. Once you get through what the objective is and what each order type does; you may start getting glazed over looks. The other phases of the game you might be able to deal with when the happen, but I'd still at least tell people upfront about the bidding and how that works as well.
Simply put, this game has a lot of information dump and some of that information will still not click until the game starts, but a player needs to know the orders and why you're placing them on the board because that's the first thing that each player will do. Once you get beyond the information dump, most players start to "get it" after 2-3 turns.
Casual players, especially those with no attachment to Westeros, will have a hard time with this game. You'll fair a little better with people that are fans of the book/television series, but this is still not a light game.
The theme for this game could easily be any war/fantasy theme and still be a good game. But having this be set in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and looking down at a map of Westeros, give this game a little nudge towards being a great game; if you're a fan of the series.
All the mechanics incorporated in this game work well to give you a feeling of vying for control of Westeros and the Iron Throne.
Fun Factor (7.5)
I enjoy getting this game to the table, but because of it's length and the type of game that it is; I rarely get to see it on the table.
I'm a fan of the series, so I'm a fan of this game and the idea of controlling one of the houses of Westeros that wants to sit upon the Iron Throne. I like the secret orders, the secret bids, and the loose alliances that get formed and broken. It all fits well into the theme.
It is a time beast of a game, and you're looking at 3+ hours; depending on number of players and experience levels of the gamers playing.
This game also shines at 5-6 players, and the fun factor reduces a bit with less players.
I enjoy the times we get this game to the table. The theme works for me as a fan of the series and the mechanics are solid for the theme as well. The time, complexity, and number of players to make it more enjoyable definitely make it a game that we don't get to play often, and that might be fine. I don't think this is a game that I'd want to play every week but from time to time it's a nice departure from some of the other games we play.
Make sure any casual players you want to teach are aware of the complexity and time frame up front, and you should be fine to teach this game. Lecturing about how to play the game from beginning to end might not be the best approach, but getting through the order types is necessary.