A Game of Thrones LCG exhaustive review
By Brian Tanner
First, some background:
I have a moderate amount of experience with card games. I have been playing Magic: The Gathering for many years, though I have only ever played casually. In addition, I have played The Spoils and The World of Warcraft TCG. I only played either one for a brief period of time, and didn’t get to involved with them. In addition, I have been playing the Warhammer: Invasion LCG from Fantasy Flight Games for about a year now. A Game of Thrones will be my second LCG game. In addition, I have read all the books in the series so far. I really enjoyed them, but it has been a few years since I read them. I have forgotten a lot of the non-major plot points.
I have played A Game of Thrones about a dozen times now. Most of the matches have been in the 2 player format, only 1 so far has been in the 4 player format. This is important to note as the perspective of my review will mostly be from a 2 player format. However save for multiplayer titles, all the game mechanics and such work the same (i.e. if you like 2 players, you will almost certainly like 4 players and vice versa, granted everyone will like one version more than the other =D ).
For those who just want the verdict:
A Game of Thrones is a great card game. The ambiguity in some of the rules and the complexity of the timing structure can bog things down, but not enough to ruin the gameplay. However, If you are a fan of card games, A Game of Thrones, or both but are on the fence about getting it, I say go for it. The core set itself does not require too heavy of an investment, especially if split amongst friends, and I don’t think knowledge of the book series is required to enjoy this game.
For everyone else who wants to read:
A Game of Thrones is a Living Card Game (LCG) produced by Fantasy Flight Games for 2 to 4 players. It takes place in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, and mostly centres on the events in Westeros. The goal of this game is to be the first player to collect a total of 15 power. Players can do this in many ways, by using intrigue, military prowess, or political savvy. In addition, winning a 4 player game can involve lots of diplomacy, temporary alliances, and back stabbing as players claw their way to the top and attempt to claim power in Westeros.
For those who don’t know, an LCG basically describes the distribution model Fantasy Flight Games uses for certain card games. The selling point of an LCG is that there is no blind buy model (think booster packs in MTG). Fantasy Flight releases monthly packs of predetermined cards . This eliminates the chance for their to be “chase rares” (e.g. super expensive cards that are needed to be competitive) that plague other CCGs like Magic. With this model, a player knows exactly what they will get with each pack, and as such can purchase only packs with cards they are interested. I like the idea behind this distribution method, but when it first came out I felt it had one big flaw: In order to get multiple copies of some of the cards you wanted, it required buying the same pack multiple times. This has since changed however, and now FFG includes 3 copies of each card in the battlepacks for each of their LCG games.
For those who already know what comes in the box, or how the game is played, you can skip the next 2 sections and go down to the “What I liked” section .
The game comes with: Rule booklet, cardboard power tokens, cardboard gold coins, plastic title figures, a board to house the tokens and figures, and 4 house decks (think races in Warhammer or colours in Magic).
The 4 house decks are as follows:
House Stark: A Deck that revolves around a northern / winter theme. The Stark deck has a lot of noble and lord type characters, as well as dire wolves and other winter themed cards, and mostly focuses on military prowess. They swing hard with large armies and strong characters in an attempt to kill off opponents’ characters and claim power. They tend to be lacking in intrigue and more “control” like abilities.
House Lannister: A deck that naturally revolves around house Lannister. This deck is similar to “control” style decks in Magic: the Gathering and other card games. They lack military prowess but have a lot of intrigue, and deceptive ways to claim power. They have a lot of ways to make their characters unblockable, and to make an opponents’ characters useless.
House Baratheon: A deck that revolves around using aggressive strategies on the battlefield. This deck is probably most similar to an “aggro” or “weenie” style deck in Magic. It contains a lot of low cost characters that can get out onto the field fast.
House Targaryen: A deck that contains dragons! This one is a bit harder to relate than the other decks, but I would say it is mostly similar to a “direct damage” or “burn” style of deck in Magic. While there is no damage per say in AGOT, they have abilities that allow them to reduce the strength of characters, and kill them off.
The core set also contains the house cards for house Martell and House Greyjoy, though these decks were released in later expansions (similar to the High Elf and Dark Elf decks from Warhammer:Invasion).
The cards are of good quality. A lot of people sleeve their cards. I do not, as I hate shuffling cards in sleeves . Since their are no super expensive chase rare cards in this game like in Magic, it doesn’t seem as big a deal to sleeve the cards and keep them in pristine shape (at least not to me anyways). The rest of the components are good as well, the tokens and title figures are sturdy. A lot of people replace the cardboard tokens with fancier counters (something I will probably do eventually as well), but for the game they work just fine.
The artwork on the cards varies. Some of it is really awesome (such as Eddard Stark for example), and sometimes it is just “eh”, or not very good at all. This doesn’t really detract from the game at all (not for me, as the artwork in a card game is generally not very important to me, so long as it plays well). It is really cool putting a face to the characters you read about in the books. Also to be fair, the art is definitely good much more often than it is bad.
As for the rulebook however, it definitely has its short comings. I will talk about this a bit more in the gameplay section. However, do know that you might as well go ahead and print off the FAQ after getting the game. It can be found on Fantasy Flight Game’s website here: http://fantasyflightgames.com/ffg_content/agotlcg/support/LC…
Also, as is FFG’s MO, the box insert sucks . It is almost entirely useless. I ended up making my own inserts with foam board to separate all of my decks (I bought 2 core sets):
Each player chooses a house to play as. This consists of a house card designating that house:
To the left, an example of the Stark house card. Each house card conveniently lists out the phases of each round
A Plot deck consisting of 7 plot cards to go along with the house deck:
To the left, example of a plot card that comes in the Stark plot deck. Plot cards list how much gold you get for the turn, your initiative (determines who goes first), and your claim value (how much of an effect your challenges have after winning).
And finally the actual deck of cards that you play Characters, attachments, locations, and events from.
Characters are essentially the “creatures” of AGOT. As the name implies, these card types are characters that can be played to fight for your house. Pretty much every major and minor character from AGOT exists in card form. In addition to all of the unique characters, there are plenty of other non unique ones as well (such as armies, knights, and other generic type troops).
Attachments are somewhat equivalent to “enchantments”. They are weapons, items, conditions, etc. that can be attached to a character (or location) to augment the abilities or stats of that card.
Locations are cards of various places throughout the Song of Ice and Fire universe. These are cards that generally provide some benefit to the player, such as extra gold income earned each turn.
Finally, events are cards that allow the player to perform a special action. They are somewhat similar to “instants” in Magic (though they aren’t really equivalent). Events are cards that can be played at different times than just the Marshalling phase (depending on the event). They may help a player in challenges, give the player some benefit, hurt a player’s opponents, augment the abilities of certain characters, kill certain characters, etc, etc.
Gameplay essentially revolves around 7 game phases:
- Plot phase
- Draw phase
- Marshalling phase
- Challenges phase
- Dominance phase
- Standing phase
- Taxation phase
I won’t go into a lot of detail on this, as there are tutorial videos from FFG’s site linked to the video section here on BGG that explain the gameplay of each phase.
Plot: Essentially during the plot phase, each player chooses a plot card. The effects of the plot card are then carried out, and initiative is then determined. Whichever player wins initiative can then either choose to go first for the round, or choose another player to go first. In a 4 player game, each player would then choose a title for the turn. Each title gives the player some special benefit. In addition, several of the titles support and oppose one of the other titles. If player 1 has a title that supports another title “X”, and player 2 has title “X”, player 1 can not initiate challenges against player 2 that round. If player 1 has a title that opposes title “X”, and player 2 has title “X”, player 1 receives bonus power when winning a challenge against player 2.
DrawThe Draw phase each player draws 2 cards.
Marshalling: The marshalling phase is similar to the “main” phase in Magic or the “capital” phase in Warhammer: Invasion. This is when each player has a chance to play their characters, attachments, and locations. Each card has a certain amount of gold that it costs to play. Players collect an amount of gold based on the amount listed on their plot card, in addition to any gold that characters or locations may give them each turn.
Challenges: The challenges phase is essentially the combat phase in most other card games. Each player has the chance to issue up to 3 challenges against opponents during their turn. 1 military challenge, 1 intrigue challenge, and 1 power challenge. Winning a military challenge causes the opponent to lose a number of characters based on the claim value on the attacker’s plot card. Winning an intrigue challenge causes the opponent to discard a number of cards based on the claim value on the attacker’s plot card. Finally, winning a power challenge causes the attacker to steal a number of power from their opponent based on the claim value on the attacker’s plot card. A character has to have the corresponding icon on their card to participate in a military, intrigue, or power challenge. For example, a character with only an intrigue icon can not participate (either attack or defend) in a military challenge. There is no individual blocking in this game. Challenges are won by the player with the highest strength total. The strength of all attackers is added up and compared to the strength of all defenders. There is no “damage” or “life totals” in this game, characters do not have hit points. In addition, characters in general must kneel (the equivalent of “tapping” in Magic) in order to attack or defend. Once kneeling, they can no longer be used to attack or defend. This creates interesting situations, as if you over extend on attacking, you will have nothing to defend with when your opponent has their turn (which is why sometimes going second is better ).
Dominance: During this phase, the player with the highest total standing strength left (count up the strength value of each standing character) automatically claims 1 power for their house.
Standing: Each player can stand (un-kneel or “untap” in Magic) any number of their kneeling cards.
Taxation: All left over gold is returned, after which a new round starts again back at the plot phase.
Overall I really enjoy the way the game plays, it has some unique aspects that make it a lot different than MTG or other Magic clones. However a word on the rule book: it absolutely stinks! Like most card games, the basic rules themselves are pretty simple, the problem comes from the million cards that create exceptions to / break the rules, as well as the timing structure of the game. The rulebook leaves a lot to be desired. After just the first game, I had questions about the way in which certain cards interacted, or the way timing worked out for certain events and abilities that the rule book had no explanations for. The FAQ is pretty much required to play. It is 23 pages long and contains no less than 9 different flow charts explaining the timing of player and framework actions during each phase of a round. It is an incredibly intimidating document for a brand new player to chew their way through.
For example, one concept in the FAQ that is explained is the “Morribund” state that characters enter into right before they die. This is an incredibly important state because it affects certain character abilities, actions, events, etc. This morribund state is nowhere to be found in the rulebook, it is never even mentioned.
A lot of the timing complications arise from the fact that the game does not use a first in last out stack structure like MTG and a lot of other card games. This isn’t a bad thing, as I am glad to see a card game that does something different than most, it just takes some getting used to. Especially coming from playing Magic. At first when I was having rules issues, I tried justifying everything in terms of how it would work in Magic (bad habit from playing for so long), which really won’t work at all for this game.
What I suggest doing is playing through a few games first on your own, and getting the basics down. If you aren’t sure how certain events or actions would play out, do “what feels right” or look in the forums for the right answer. After you get a few games in and know all the basics, THEN start reading through the FAQ for the rest of the rules, and clarifications on how everything works.
Things that I liked:
- I really liked the way the game played, after playing a dozen matches or so, I understand for the most part how the game flows. I do not get bogged down as much as I was during the first few games.
- When a unique character is dead, it is dead. Other copies from your deck can no longer be played. I love this aspect of the game! It is something that is unique (at least as far as I know) among the card games I’ve played. If Eddard Stark gets killed, then he is dead, and I can no longer play another one. If I have 2 Eddard Starks in my hand, then one can be played as a character, and the other can be played as a duplicate on that character (essentially an attachment that allows you to “kill” the duplicate instead of killing the character, it’s like giving a character 2 lives instead of 1). This is really thematic, it would be kind of silly to have 2 Eddard Starks on the battlefield attacking together. At the same time, the book series is pretty bloody and filled with death, so a character being permanently dead (baring a few cards that let you bring cards back) really sticks to that theme.
- Tough decisions! When you lose a military challenge and have to kill off some of your characters, it can be a really tough choice (especially with the aforementioned permanent death for characters). Characters do not have any life points, each character is essentially equally susceptible to death, something I think is very cool / realistic / thematic. Granted there are plenty of cards that offer saving effects for your characters, and you will generally want to use them on the important ones. In addition with the timing structure not being a stack like Magic, it really forces you to think about when you want to play an event or use certain abilities. In Magic (and other games) you can save a spell or a creature ability and use it right at the last moment like “Oh I will wait until right before this creature dies before I tap it and use its ability”, in general you cannot do this in AGOT. You have to take chances and decide “well do I use this now, or risk waiting until it’s too late (be it the character is dead, the card got discarded, etc)?”
- 3 different methods of attacking. The ability to attack a player’s power, hand, and characters really creates some interesting strategies.
- The plot deck. Picking a plot that suits your current needs, and attempting to guess what plot your opponents are going to pick really makes for an interesting game. In addition, when you get into deck building, you can customize your plot deck to suit your deck’s needs.
- The core set (and the game) plays well with 2 or 4 players. The titles in a 4 player game really create some interesting temporary allying, and some backstabbing. It is like playing a CCG mixed with diplomacy. The decks all seem fairly balanced whether playing 2 players or 4 players. Though it seem that the Targaryen is weaker than the rest when only playing 2 players. I haven’t played enough to determine if that is true or not, it just seems so initially. I believe the decks were all designed to be balanced with 4 players, but for the most part work really well with 2 as well.
- Playing with 2 or 4 players is a lot different. Though the mechanics are all the same, having 3 opponents as opposed to 1 really does change the game A LOT. It requires a lot of strategy and keeping up with a lot more. In a 4 player game, there is a much larger number of things that need to be kept up with, that really can be overwhelming at first.
- Deck building. Like most card games, there is a lot of room for deck customization. The core set provides plenty of replay value on it’s own, but a big part of these types of games are in creating your own decks. I haven’t done much deck building yet (I decided to get familiar with all the rules and play many times first), but I have already gotten a second core set, and a few of the battlepacks and deluxe expansions. Both the deck and plot deck to go along with it can be built to your liking.
- As I stated, it really captures the theme of the Song of Ice and Fire universe. The book series is filled with blood, war, grit, intrigue, betrayal, etc etc. Actually getting to play with those characters is pretty cool. I don’t think it is at all necessary to enjoy the game however. A word of caution though, playing the game may spoil certain pieces of the plot if you haven’t read the books yet. While I don’t think there is really anything that spoils the plot that bad, certain things can probably be assumed or inferred about the story based on the cards that you are playing and the flavor text on those cards. It is hard to say, as I have already read the books, but I don’t think anything would really be spoiled if you are wanting to read the series.
Things that I didn’t like:
- As I’ve already complained about, the complicated rules! Not enough to detract from the game, but still. It does require an investment in the FAQ and searching forums to play the game properly. I come from playing other CCGs and LCGs, I can’t imagine how complex this would seem to someone who has never played a game like this.
- The art on some of the cards is only mediocre. Though this is the exception, as most of the art is great.
- Our first multiplayer game took A LONG time. Like almost 5 hours long. This is probably due to several factors though. For one, we played with 5 players instead of 4 (I didn’t want to leave one of my friends out). Secondly, it was everyone’s first time except for me and another person, so they had to read every single card, learn the rules, etc. Third, 2 of them were playing control style Lannister decks, keeping all of our big characters out of challenges etc, really slowing down the game. Fourth, the core set decks (like preconstructed decks in most CCG/TCG/LCGs) aren’t optimized and designed to be really powerful and fast winning decks. If we had had only 4 players, and once everyone is familiar with all the rules and cards, I imagine the gameplay really speeding up. Especially once people start making their own decks that are really optimized. Take this complaint with a grain of salt since we played with 5 instead of 4 players. I have had a few 2 player games last almost 2 hours, but the majority of them have taken an hour or less to play.
This game is great! It is a really good card game. Getting to play as characters in a fantasy series that is critically acclaimed is really cool. As I said before, if you are a fan of the series and have any interest in card games, it is definitely worth the purchase, especially if you have friends who can split the price with you (each one of you take a certain deck, etc). If you are on the fence about it, the core set can be found at most online retailers for about $26 or so, so it isn’t a huge investment, and isn’t nearly as pricey as a lot of other board games. It is worth taking the risk =).
- Very fun!
- Great components / Artwork for the most part (putting a face to the characters is cool)
- A lot (4 decks + extra cards) for the value
- Playable outside of the box, no need to get more cards
- Very tense gameplay that requires a lot of thinking and tough decisions
- Vague rules that require an FAQ
- Could potentially have a long play time
Thanks for reading my review! Please provide some constructive feedback for a new reviewer. I realize the review is quite long, but I meant for it to be, and outlined it with sections so that certain areas can be skipped by the reader. Also some of the pictures are linked images that were posted by BGG user ruvion, and BGG user adamknight. Also sorry the images are small, I don’t know how to make a linked geek image appear large in the post, but you can click on them =D.