Mechanics of Game of Thrones Board Game
The Board game has quite a large manual. My intention here is to try to dentil the essential parts and talk about this. I am not aiming to tell you how the game is played by rather more about how it has been designed to work.
The game is like a the classic Risk game on steroids. Grabbing land gives you more resources which allow you to raise bigger armies and beat your opponents.
Let’s look at the different aspects of the game, starting with resources.
In Risk, there is basically just one resource, which isn’t even mentioned by name. Having more land gives you some sort of abstract resource that allows you to raise more armies later. In Game of Thrones there are 3 different “resources”:
- Castles and Strongholds. If a land area has a picture of a castle on it, then you can use that area to muster (raise) an army.
- Power. Displayed as a gold crown on a province (land area). Gives you power tokens, which may be spent to hold lands or participate on bids on different rankings which affect different special abilities or powers in the game.
- Supply. Displayed as a barrel. The more barrel you have, the higher your supply level. Your supply level determines how many and big armies you may have.
For every province on the map there may be a supply of 0–2 points of these resources. E.g. a picture of a large castle means a stronghold and indicates that the surrounding province provides 2 mustering points.
While two crowns or two barrel icons would indicate two power or supply points.
How Resources are Collected
A common choice by many games to introduce randomness and avoid forcing the player to handle lots of units of different things, resources are seldom deterministically collected each turn. E.g. in popular board game Catan, you may have a town or city next to a forrest, but that does not mean you collect timber each turn. Instead a dice is rolled determining which areas will produce resources that turn. Hence having more towns and cities only increase your probability of collecting resources.
Game of Thrones is the same, you cannot muster units or collect power tokens each turn. Instead there are three decks of cards drawn each turn. Occasionally one of these cards will allow each player to collect one kind of resource. If a card is drawn which says you can muster armies, then that means you can use the mustering points in each province to buy a foot soldier, cavalry, ship or siege tower in that province.
Or the card may say that you can collect a power token for every crown symbol in provinces you control.
Supply is a bit different, as supplying troops is an ongoing effort. The card will simply say that you can adjust the supply track to reflect the total number of barrel icons found in your provinces. If the total supply goes down, you may have to discard a military unit. That is natural given that if an army is no longer receiving necessary supplies it will no longer function and dissolve.
How to Obtain More Land
Again I like to compare with a classic game like Risk, Chess, Checkers etc. In these games player take turns making moves and you can always see what move your opponent has made before you make your move.
Game of Thrones in contrast is a sort of hybrid of poker and chess. You can bluff and keep your opponent guessing just as in poker, but there are also part of the moves that happen in open in turns just like chess.
You take turns doing actions with your units just like in Chess, however before you start performing actions and moves with your units, there is an initial phase where you restrict your possible moves.
This is done with order tokens. Order tokens represent different actions:
- Move/attack. Move from one province to another.
- Defend. Ready your troops for defense of the province.
- Support. Support the attack or defense of troops in adjacent province.
- Raid. Cancel the order an opponent’s adjacent province.
- Power. Instead of waiting for an event that allows you to collect resources, you can place a power token in a province to collect power tokens. One of the power orders allow you to muster soldiers if placed on a castle or stronghold.
Players place these tokens with the face down on their provinces at the same time. That means nobody knows what order their opponent is giving their troops in each province.
If I place a move order token in the White harbor province, it means I’ve bound myself to make a move later to an adjacent province. However I have not bound myself to move to a particular province.
After all players have flipped their order tokens and exposed what orders they gave, players take turns executing these orders. At this stage it works like chess. You watch the moves your opponent make and make counter moves.
The difference is that you cannot do whatever you want. A move order token allows me to move to any adjacent province. However if I placed a defense order token, then I cannot move my unit. I am stuck using it for defense even if it turns out my opponent was not going to attack anyway.
The fun thing about this system is that it emulates the fog of war. In real wars you never know what move your opponent is going to make. Still you have to make plans based on what you think they will do.
It allows you to engage in bluffs. You can trick an opponent into thinking you’re are attacking getting him to put his units into support and defense mode. But instead you may use the opportunity to muster units or collect power tokens.
Game of Thrones battles are a bit unusual in that there is no randomness involved. You don’t throw any dices to determine the outcome as in e.g. Risk.
Instead battles are determined by adding up the strength of each attacking unit and comparing with the total strength of the defending units. There are certain modifiers to keep things interesting such as siege towers having 4 in strength when attacking a province with a castle but 0 in all other circumstances.
But what turns each battle into a sort of poker game is that each player has 7 special cards with some strength points printed on them. You could play your strongest card in any given battle to win. But here is the catch: that means you got less good cards for the next battles, so you never want to play a stronger card than you really need.
Your opponent will see what cards you have discarded and hence can with increasing certainty guess your next card. It can take several turns before you have played all your cards and they get returned to you. Basically you are constantly cycling through your whole deck of cards.
How to Win
You don’t win by grabbing any kind of land. Whoever grabs 7 strongholds or castles first win. So unlike e.g. Risk not every land area counts towards victory.
A nice twists that I’ve seen in many modern board games is that they try to limit the amount of time you have to play through various means. In Game of Thrones there is a counter that moves up every turn. When 10 turns have passed, however has most castles win. That means you won’t end up playing forever due to deadlock.
Peripheral Parts of the Game
All board games have some core game mechanics, which is essentially what I’ve just covered. However it is common to throw in a a bunch of extra rules and concepts to keep things interesting.
The Game of Thrones board game is no different. To make the game less predictable and give each player more unique abilities the game has the concept of influence tracks. Each player has a marker on the influence track. Unlike the supply track, you each player has to be in a unique position.
There are three different influence tracks:
- Iron throne. When players take turn moving units, they do it in the order indicated on the Iron throne track.
- Fiefdom. The order on the fiefdom track determines who wins a battle, when the strength of attacker and defender is equal.
- Kings court. Determines the number of special orders a player may issue each turn. Each order token has a special version with a star on it, which is more powerful than a normal order token. E.g. a defense token with a star gives +2 in defense. A power order token with a star allows you to muster soldiers rather than collecting power tokens. The catch being that you need to do this on a province with a castle.
This is probably the least important part of the game in my humble opinion. It adds an element of randomness to the game though, which sometimes causes the lead player to abruptly lose their lead.
The event cards drawn each turn can show a pending wildling attack. Players then have to pull together by committing power tokens to avoid an attack. The player who commit the least number of power tokens risk far more damage from the attack than the players who commit the most power tokens.
Effects could be things such as two of your units get destroyed or your ranking on the influence track is reduced.
I have played the game a few times with my son and we both think it has been quite enjoyable. It takes a bit time to get used to all the details of the game. My approach has been to play with simplified set of rules, and gradually expand to incorporate more of the game rules each time we play.
I wrote this partly to highlight the important parts of the game. When you read the rules initially it is easy to get bogged down in all the details.