A Game of Thrones: The Card Game 2nd Edition – Core Set Review

Game of Thrones

When I finally received my copy of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game Second Edition I was excited. On my train ride home, not being able to stop myself I opened the box, flicked through the rules and sifted through the cards. This prompted a few strange looks from one contingent of the commuters around me. However I noticed second contingent. The, “try not to look to interested but be interested” crowd was around me. Drawn to this strange box of cards I was routing through and smiling lovingly at. The main reason it drew this interest is mainly down to the now considerable brand name that was plastered on the side of the box, A Game of Thrones.

It is a name that has weight to it in pretty much every medium of entertainment. It is the default modern fantasy classic for many people and it demands your attention when you see something related to it. It is also a brand that I personally associate a certain level of quality to. So this new edition of the Living Card Game version of it is something that I have been anticipating.

So far I have found it to be a deep but initially confusing experience. One that I can see myself getting heavily into when I become more accustomed to its style of play. There is a lot of enjoyment to be had from this one box but there is also an element of the Core Set feeling incomplete. This Core Set of the AGoT 2nd Edition is just the start, things could get better, they could get worse. Only time will tell.

First Game

Things started innocently enough with me making my way through the Learn to Play book then constructing the two smaller tutorial decks ready for my first game. Stark vs. Lannister, the classic Game of Thrones power struggle. The rule books for the game take a similar approach to Star Wars: Imperial Assault’s. You have the plainly written step by step Learn to Play book. Then you have the more meaty Rules Reference book. Which is there to be used when you need it or if you are curious about some of the more obscure rules and actions in the game.

Before I dive into detail about how the game plays I need to point out that the overall look, feel and design of the cards is exceptional. At first glance you would be mistaken for thinking that they are just like every other card game on the market. Yes they have an image, some stats, numbers and flavour text. But unlike other games you can see that a lot of thought has been put into figuring out how best to present the information required to the player. They follow modern design trends outside of the gaming space and all the cards have this great uniform and slick look to them. To highlight this further you just need to compare them to the past two iterations of the game.

Here are some cards from the First Edition:
GOT112_cardfan

Serviceable but are very much of the time. The main thing is they have not aged well at all.

Here are some cards from the HBO Edition:
GOTCardGameIN

There has been some effort to modernise the look of the cards but overall they are a bit of a mess. They are very flat and feel cold to look at.

Here are some cards from the Second Edition:
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They have taken the best of both and then added on a whole new level of shine to them. The art is great. The colour coding works well and the icons are clearly presented so they can be identified at a glance. The art on the cards is also a good mix of unique takes on the characters, items and locations of A Game of Thrones. Along with including elements of the TV show’s actors and aesthetic with traditional fantasy artwork. It has a similar but different feel that is particularly inviting to me as a viewer of the TV Show.

Game Breakdown


Round Phases

gt01_diagram_plotcard1. Plot – Player choose a Plot Card that sets up their plan for the round in terms of player order (Initiative), money they have (Gold) and damage they can do (Claim). Most Plots also have special actions or effects.
2. Draw – Draw two cards.
3. Marshalling – In order players pay to play cards from their hands to the table.
4. Challenges – In order players Attack and Defend in Military, Intrigue and/or Power Challenges. Cards used are Knelt to take them out of play.
5. Dominance – The Strength of the remaining Standing characters is counted along with remaining gold to determine Dominance. The highest total earns 1 Power.
6. Standing – Standing all your cards for the next round
7. Taxation – Returning your left over gold to the Bank and discarding cards from your hand down to your Reserve Limit.


Challenge Types

GoT Challenge TypesPlayers have to play Challenges to both breakdown their opponents defences and also hinder their plans. If you are the first player remember that once you have completed your Challenges the second player has a chance to retaliate. The number of characters killed, cards discarded and power stolen is dictated by the Claim value on your chosen plot card for the Round. If a Challenge goes through unopposed the winner receives a bonus Power.


Actions

During each phase of a round Players can also play applicable Event, Interrupt and Response Action cards and abilities as long as they are either in play of the Player can afford their cost. The timing of when to play these cards is crucial but fairly intuitive.


Keywords

Special traits or abilities that each card has. There are a lot of Keywords to wrap your head around at first but these are often the key to victory.


How To Win

Aquire 15 Power by any means and you have won. It could not be simpler!

So I roped in my wife and we sat down to play what was meant to be a quick tutorial game. An hour and a half later and deciding to make it first to 10 Power wins, things drew to a close. The game was a painful one. It saw both of us questioning everything we did and effectively playing with open hands after a while. Mainly so we could help each other make the best plays possible. The cards themselves are covered in icons and text for traits, keywords, abilities, types and special rules. It all got a bit too muddled to play effectively.

First Game 2

Almost every card drawn prompted a question which would lead to flicking through the Rules Reference book. You see while the Learn to Play book is great at breaking down setting up the game and learning the phases for a turn it tells you bugger all about the things that happen in between. When to play certain actions, events and interrupt cards are not detailed. Nor are key abilities like Ambush. Our first game was a confusing mess and this is despite both of us having some experience playing the two player HBO Edition based on the TV show that was released a couple of years ago.

While the first game was a slog I could still see the greatness beneath. All the major factions and Houses of A Game of Thrones are here playing to their types. They all have a unique flavour and style of play. You can tell a lot of thought and effort has gone into the construction of each faction.

Factions featured in the Core Set

House Lannister – Earn a lot of extra money, and focuses on Intrigue. The Jaime/Tyrion Lannister cards are good all rounders.

House Greyjoy – Fast, stealthy grumps who ruin your opponent’s plans.

House Baratheon – Focus on Kneeling your opponent’s cards making them unusable for the round.

House Martel – A mix of Military and Intrigue. Also have cards that get more powerful as the game goes on.

House Targaryen – Made up of Dothraki and Targaryen cards. Dothraki cards focus on Military might, Targaryan cards on Buffing/Debuffing. Khal Drogo is an amazing aggressive card.

House Tyrell – Like House Martel, the Tyrell’s favour the long game. Also love their buffs.

House Stark – The Starks will keep Standing up when they shouldn’t. They love it! Also good at Military and Power.

The Night’s Watch – Defence and sacrifice are key to The Nights Watch. The Wall is perfect card based representation of what the Watch does.

Gotta sleeve everything!

After the tutorial game was over with I spent some time separating the cards in the Core Set into the four Out-of-the-Box decks listed in the back of the Learn to Play book. Sleeving the cards in the process because I have bought into the notion that these bits of card are precious. These decks use pretty much every card in the box and leave you with four decks that can be used to learn the finer points of the game in both Joust and Melee formats. Joust is the main 1v1 format game, Melee is a brawl for 3-4 players, or up to 6 if you have an additional Core Set (More about that later!) Each deck is made up of for the most part, thematic pairings of two factions. Each deck also has a good set of powerful cards that will strike fear into your opponents when you smugly lay them on the table.

Out-of-the-Box Decks

The Old Ways (House Stark/House Greyjoy)

At the Wall (The Night’s Watch/Baratheon)

From East to West (Targaryen/Martell)

Secrets and Schemes (Lannister/Tyrell)

out-of-the-box

I have had a blast playing with each of these decks against both my wife and a friend who I taught the game to. My friend enjoyed the game so much that we ended up playing three games in a row. Each deck has its own flavour, pros and cons. With them all being reasonably balanced in the games I played. They give you a sense of the crazy card combinations that this game has to offer its players. There are some great and ingenious cards in the Core Set and the promise that future cards will be even better is great. After a weekend of near constant play the game well and truly had its hooks in me. The purpose of that awkward tutorial game became clear. It was there to teach me how to teach other people to play the game. It gets you to dive into the Rules Reference book regularly so the information sticks in your head. I also had print outs of this really good double-sided Crib Sheet to keep having to rifle through the Rules Reference book to a minimum.

In future I will be happy to break apart any decks I have to turn them back into the Out-of-the-Box ones to teach people how to both play and experiment with the game. I will also use them when I eventually get around to playing Melee for the first time. They are a great focused taste of what the game is and can do. That is essentially what you get in the Core Set. You can do some tweaking and mixing up of the house pairings if you wish. But if you want to take your new found love for AGoT 2nd Edition a step further you will need to be ready to spend some extra cash.

gt01_layout

Being an LCG (Living Card Game) gives A Game of Thrones: The Card Game some big strengths and one or two flaws. One major strength is that this game will be constantly updated and supported for many years to come. When you look at the lifecycle of the first edition of this game which is only just winding down, you can see that the game potentially has a long life ahead of it. Which is encouraging to see if you want to start investing money turning it into a hobby.

The other big win is that if like me your experience with Collectable Card Games consists of the likes of Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon TCG, Yu-Gi-Oh and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft then the LCG format for AGoT makes a huge change to both the general feel of the game and the level of investment you need to put in to remain competitive. There are no rare cards, no booster packs, no chasing for anything in order to get that edge. The upcoming Chapter Pack releases and further down the line Expansions give you all the copies of every card that you need to put in your Decks. Everyone is theoretically building from the exact same set of cards as you. That means the focus for winning on the competitive level is purely down to your knowledge of the cards and how they work together.

Low-ish cost and easy to obtain with everyone being on the same playing field. PERFECT!

However there is a downside to this: The initial upfront cost can be prohibitive.

gt01-box-left

You see, while you get a lot in the Core Set and you feel like you have a wealth of options when you start playing. Things quickly snap into focus and you realise that the Core Set is not really the core experience of the game as it promises. Instead it is just a taste of it. 1/3rd to be precise. To get the full AGoT The Card Game experience you need to buy not one, not two, but three Core Sets. Buying three will give you all the copies you need of the major cards for each of the game’s eight factions along with a nice amount of duplicates of Plot Cards and Neutral Cards allowing you to make some good competitive decks.

The reasoning behind this is fairly easy to understand, Fantasy Flight Games wanted to keep the cost of your first purchase related to this game quite low. £25-£30 is a good sweet spot for both casual and impulse buy players to be introduced to the game. In fact this was my mindset when I pre-ordered the game. If I really enjoyed it I could invest more money into it but as a minimum I would get a tactical card game for 2-4 players. Then after playing it to death over the past week or so I have quickly grown frustrated with the limited selection of cards I have at my disposal.

Important key game mechanics like Duplicates are not really encountered when playing with the Core Set’s Out-of-the-Box Decks. Meaning any competitive deck you make will be at a disadvantage both in terms of strength and mitigating the random nature of the draw deck. This issue becomes particularly evident when you read through the section on constructing decks in the Learn to Play book. It plainly states the restrictions imposed on constructed decks:

Deckbuilding Restrictions

  1. You have to choose 1 Faction Card.
  2. Can use 1 agenda card or no agenda. (These typically allow you to include some cards from another Faction in your deck)
  3. Your Plot Deck has to be 7 cards with up to one set of duplicates allowed.
  4. Deck size is a minimum of 60 cards.
  5. You can have up to 3 copies of any given card in your deck.
  6. You have to use cards from your chosen Faction and the Neutral Card pool and no others.
  7. Certain Agendas give you access to Non-Loyal cards from other Factions.

Then in the following section it tells you to throw away the above rules to make the Out-of-the-Box Decks included in the Core Set. Do not get me wrong, you can and most likely will make your first constructed deck just out of the components of a single Core Set. (You can see my attempt at one here) But you will construct your deck in the full knowledge that it is probably going to be one of the worst decks you will make for A Game of Thrones.

I thought this was a good hand...

Playing within the limits of the core set can surprise you though. At my first night of meta play in London my Night’s Watch/Greyjoy deck did ok. I won my first game against another new player with a similarly constructed deck. Then lost my second game against someone with a deck made from two Core Sets. It was clear I was going to lose the game early on but I stuck with it and managed to fight them back for quite a while before they reached 15 Power. So if anything it was a good learning experience for how to play against more well constructed decks.

The needing to have multiple Core Sets point of contention to one side I would highly recommend picking up A Game of Thrones: The Card Game 2nd Edition if you are even mildly interested. Just take your time with the first couple of games and you will be fine. If you want to take it further you can then either throw down the cold hard cash for the additional Core Sets you need or split the cost with a friend or two dividing the cards for each Faction amongst you. That is unless you are a completionist like myself and want all the cards so you can make different decks for all the Factions. In that case just get one additional Core Set at first and then a third once you have tapped out what you can do with two sets of cards.

gt01_cardfan_1

If you are wanting to get a solid experience from one purchase bare in mind that while what is provided in the Core Set is very good and fun to play. You will not be getting the full experience of the game, rather a quicker and slightly unbalanced version of it due to there being no real restrictions on the Out-of-the-Box decks. If you like the Game of Thrones TV Show, books, coasters, toasters and whatever else gets branded with the logo these days and enjoy more tactical focused games then go buy the Core Set now. It will be a rewarding purchase that could potentially turn into a new hobby for you.

Now if you excuse me I have to start planning out my next Deck. I’m thinking House Stark/Targaryen…

More information about A Game of Thrones: The Card Game Second Edition can be found on the official website and promotional page. The RRP is £29.99 and it can be purchased from Amazon or your Friendly Local Game Store.

Promotional imagery taken from Fantasy Flight Games website and falls under Fair Use. 

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