War, strategic alliances and betrayal are all hallmarks of George R. R. Martin's “A Song of Ice of Fire” novels, and Fantasy Flight Game's “A Game of Thrones: The Board Game” captures all of the epic scope and gritty conflict of the books beautifully.
The action takes place on the continent of Westeros, the realm of the Seven Kingdoms, and players take on the role of one of six great houses from the books. From the vast snowy fields of the north House Stark casts a long shadow over the continent. Further south the Lannisters seek to use their wealth to expand their domains. From islands flanking the continent House Greyjoy and House Baratheon plot amphibious operations to capture the strongholds of Westeros, while Houses Tyrell and Martell seek to march north.
The object of each house is to capture the most castles before Turn 10 or be the first to capture seven. This is not an easy task as players are limited to the number of armies they can field and rely upon tactical alliances with their neighbors for help. As soon as one house grows too strong, however, an ally can easily become a deadly rival.
Three-card decks sit beside the board and offer unique scenarios and rules for every turn. A “Wildling” track keeps tabs on the rabble beyond the all in the north, and players must bid their power in an attempt to keep it at bay.
The game mechanic is similar in some ways to the board game “Diplomacy” in that players must constantly negotiate with one another and that orders are revealed simultaneously. There is no dice in combat. Rather units assigned are each given a combat value, and players whose units neighbor the combat may intervene — making negotiation absolutely essential. A random element is introduced in the form of house cards, which can determine casualties and overall strength.
There is some complexity here that may not appeal to everyone, but those willing to put the time into learning the rules will not be disappointed.
Designer Christian T. Peterson did a fabulous job of translating the novels into a face-paced, engaging and highly playable board game. This is a first-rate gaming experience that fans will love but is also equally accessible to those unfamiliar with Martin's novels. Absent are the cruder elements of the books and the HBO TV series, making this game suitable for most ages.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the codeveloper of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org