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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Second ‘Thrones’ fixes faults, excites players

    Winter is coming and war has spread across all of Westeros. Now players can take control of their favorite of the six great houses in George R. R. Martin’s series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and battle for the fabled Iron Throne. This is “A Game of Thrones,” and you either win or die.

    Made by Fantasy Flight games, hands down today’s top producer of board games, “A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, Second Edition” is, as the name suggests, the company’s second go at it. The first edition had a great concept, and subsequent expansions managed to fix many of the holes and incorporate more elements from the later books.

    Now the expansions have been consolidated, eliminating what didn’t work and striking, almost impossibly, a true balance no matter how many are playing. It’s made to be played by groups of three to six, but the latter is required to get the full effect. The board is cramped and moves are much more difficult to make without stepping on toes and making enemies out of allies.

    While on the subject of the board, it’s set up like “Risk,” though it has only one large continent. Players start off at different ends of the board with one of the aforementioned six houses — Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Greyjoy, Tyrell or Martell. Another beauty of “Thrones” is that in other games, there’s often a separation at the start to serve as a buffer, but it doesn’t exist in this one. No one is completely safe.

    The mode of play is a bit tricky to master at first, as instead of just moving armies at will, there are various order tokens that can be used in an area to various ends. One lets armies move, one increases their defense and the final three have more complex uses. Either way, at the start of every turn, players cover the board in these tokens.

    As the game begins, players set out to position their armies and conquer territories on land and at sea. The goal of the game is to control seven areas with a stronghold in it (an icon which is displayed in certain areas); when a player accomplishes that, the game is immediately over. This encourages a slow buildup until a player is close enough to risk a final mad grab for their last strongholds.

    At the end of each turn, a series of cards is drawn, and all the cards offer certain benefits and penalties, though the rub here is that not everyone will need that turn’s benefit and some people will be especially hurt by the penalty. This adds a touch of chaos to an otherwise orderly game and has the potential to bring a player up from last place to first or knock leaders down a few pegs.

    Eventually players will clash with their armies, and combat is much simpler than in the game’s closest cousin, “Risk.” Players merely add up the value of their units and then pick a house card that both adds to that combat value and includes characters from the books. Some rules allow for chance, but normally the player with the higher value wins. The loser leaves the area, perhaps taking some casualties, and the winner stays.

    The whole thing sounds more complex than it really is, and its simplicity shines through in the end. The real pull of this game lies in how true it is to the series, namely in the fact that those who play it will plot and scheme against each other as much as the characters in the book. It can turn the best of friends into temporary enemies and induce fits of rage.

    It’s also amazingly rewarding for those with a mind for strategy. It’s about as close as a player can get to leading actual medieval armies these days. It can take 10 minutes just to plan a turn, but watching plans succeed or fail can be extremely emotional, and that’s rare in a board game. Plus there’s unlimited bragging rights.

    The game is a little pricey, and comes with more than 100 individual pieces, but it’s still a worthwhile purchase if there’s a willing group of players. Unlike a video game, the replay value is infinite and each experience is different — no two games will ever be the same.

    — Jason Krell is the assistant copy chief. He can be reached at arts@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatArts.

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