A Game of Thrones: The Living Card Game
George R.R. Martin was almost guaranteed successful licensing deals after naming the first book in his popular fantasy series A Game of Thrones. The A Song of Ice and Fire series follows a civil war between houses Baratheon, Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen in the land of Westeros. Over the years, board games, roleplaying games, and even a collectible card game have been created using Martin’s series. The Game of Thrones Living Card Game is one of Fantasy Flights two new rebrandings of their CCGs, along with the Call of Cthulhu LCG.
Originally published in a format familiar to fans of CCGs, Fantasy Flight has done away with small booster packs in favor of monthly “chapter packs.” After purchasing the core set, which contains everything needed for four players, you can continue your collection as each monthly expansion is released. Where most card games have players hunting for rare cards, AGOT sets contain the same cards in each ten dollar box. Therefore, if you have bought at least one of each chapter pack, you will own a complete collection.
While the game is sold simpler than most CCGs, it certainly plays with more complications. There are several paths to victory, playing as one of the four houses vying for control of the Iron Throne. Military conflicts, power struggles, and intrigue are all employed to gain the upper hand. A balanced deck is crucial to victory; a strong arm or a keen mind cannot win the day alone. I feel the starter decks focus a bit too much on one strength, but that issue is cleared away as you begin collecting more cards.
Characters from the novels are used to commit your actions, while locations improve your economy. This lends an air of civilization development to the game, and having a strong economy is as important as a strong army. Story plays into the game in the form of plot cards. They do not tell as much of a tale as found in the cards of Android, but they do dictate each round with a series of events. On one turn, the winter may have ended, leading to a prosperous building season, while on the next, your armies will meet on a narrow mountain path that limits the size of battles. There is an enjoyably challenging dichotomy between the seven plots you may play and the style of deck you build.
The artwork is impressive enough that I even own the artbook for the game. Maintaining a nice parity of varied artists and consistent style, each card beautifully depicts scenes from the novels. Strangely enough, the cards are not the only well-crafted components of the game. Included in the starter set is a nice board, used to place power tokens and gold as well as cool statuettes that represent extra titles. These are all representative of the complex mechanics AGOT plays with, as opposed to the simpler fair of something like Magic: the Gathering.
A Game of Thrones is very difficult to review and describe. Games can last a few hours; there are several mechanics to keep track of; and how players interact and speak with each other will greatly affect the experience. It is much less of a card game, as it shares more similarities with board games. In that sense, it could be accessible to more people than the average collectible game. Although, I would say that it is tied much more to the books than the AGOT board game, so people unfamiliar with the story may feel a little lost. I would recommend it, however, since the starter set allows four players, making it easy to test out if one member of the group has a copy.
And as Cersei Lannister says:
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”