Friday, 30 August 2013

A Game of Cards

Winter is Trumps
General Kas was over for a few days last weekend. And so began a new era in the dark tales of our mutual nerdery, once I'd introduced him to the local Science Fiction Bookshop. It has an epic level basement full of comics, movies, GW products and FF board games.

Of course, we got carried away.

Woooo! Board games!

Despite calling itself George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones The Card Game, I suspect he did very little to develop it. Other than write all the fluff, I suppose.

A Living Card Game, for those who don't speak the lingo, is what a Collectible Card Game becomes once the initial profits start drying up. Instead of buying individual starter packs, then shelling out for randomised foil packets for the rest of your life, you buy reliable expansion sets instead. The markup is about the same, of course.

Despite the chunky box, this is in fact just four starter decks of cards in here, plus some handy tokens and an attractive play area to strew them on. The four decks represent four of the main houses from Westeros: Stark (yay), Lannister (boo), Baratheon (a bit of both) and Targaryen (hot chick).

Kas and I played match-ups of all the Houses in the box, and a jolly time was had by all. No genuine photos, as snapshots of card-laying really is pushing the borders of a gaming blog towards a mind-breaking horizon. Plus several of our games were played in the traditional manner - bleary-eyed in the wee hours, sodden with wine and whisky. Photography would have broken that delicate spell.

(I'm pretty hazy on all the details of all these games, in all honesty. I know I lost most of them, so the rest is confabulated from my fractured recollections.)

Baratheon (Kraken) vs Targaryen (Kas)

Our first game, so a slow one as we got to grips with the rules.

The Baratheon deck proved to be full of knights and lords, with quite a few abilities that could steal land from an opponent. Their chief strength seemed to be in Dominating a game, gathering the vital Dominance resource to win.

The Targaryens are masters of unblockable stealth dragons. They have a good selection of instant damage cards and lots of synergy with attachments (equipment cards that you stick to a character).

So, just like the books so far.

As I fumbled my way through handfuls of knights and ladies, I never really got to grips with what I was doing. The Baratheon line-up got either ignored by dragons soaring overhead to torch my holdings, or drank too much poisoned wine to do anything useful. This at least felt in concordance with the novels, and sure enough, Robert Baratheon died a death. Twice, thanks to duplicates.

Baratheon 0, Targaryen 1

Rage! Rage against the...
No, tell you what. Sod it. 

Lannister (Kas) vs Stark (Kraken)

The classic match-up! And just like in the books, Stark got virtually wiped out.

The Wolfiest House has a lot of very angry red cards and gets deck synergy by slapping direwolf attachments on them all. Bonus points if you get the right direwolf on the right character.

In contrast, the Lannisters have heaps of gold and spies, plus zillions of trained hookers that distract opponents. The gold lets them slap a lot on the table, the spies steal cards from an opponent and leave them without options.

I got a lot of Direwolves out, but all attached to the wrong characters. This inability to stick to canon brought about my downfall. First Rob Stark, then the entire Army of the North were brought to their figurative knees by a combination of Lannisport brothels and Shae, kneeling being what this game calls tapping
.. Whilst the Starks were paralysed by their own loins, the crafty Lions stole a victory.

Lannister 1, Stark 0

This is an annoying card. And this isn't even the version we played with. 

Baratheon (Kas) vs Lannister (Kraken)

Finally, I got somewhere! Kas got a bum deal, which left him strapped for cash and therefore armies for a long time. I lucked out with a reasonable opening draw.  Then I uttered the immortal line "I don't want to curse myself, but I think I'm doing okay here."


Suddenly everyone vanished under an unending tide of steel. The balance of Dominance swung irresistably towards Baratheon. I got stuck with only red and blue on the table; The Highgarden Honour Guard repeatedly snuck past my forces to eat my hand up, and without options, I kind of gave up.

Baratheon 1, Lannister 0

Stark (Kas) vs Targaryen (Kraken)

The Targaryen dragons did initially well, supported by a hit-and-run Khal Drogo. And then they carried on doing well. Even the use of the dreaded Stark plot card that wipes the table clean didn't nullify the early advantage I had. Finally, mostly thanks to another terrible draw for Kas, I clawed back some self-respect.

Stark 1, Targaryen 0

This translates as 'if you win, you get a free temporary Khal Drogo to help you keep winning'. Life needs more of that. 

Targaryen and Lannister (Kas) vs Stark and Baratheon (Kraken)

Finally, we played a mash-up game using some of the multiplayer rules. These add in a rather cunning system of titles to the game. You can pick a short term bonus like extra gold or influence, but it may prevent you attacking another player if your title supports theirs. E.g. the Hand of the King supports the Lord of Laws and can't attack him. But the Hand also hates the Master of Coin and gets bonus points for beating him up, so all quite balanced.

If you're not trashed on whiskey and much too tired after a day swimming off the sunny coasts of Sweden, at any rate. I had no idea what was happening for most of this game. There was one glorious round where I totally dominated everything, perfectly blocking all Kas's attacks, but it was pure luck. Kas wasn't in much of a better state, but he played much better overall.

Representing the original rebellion and coup, our battle mostly saw Stark and Baratheon sitting idly around with no armies on the field, while the Targaryens and Lannisters overwhelmed the realm with poisoned wine and whores. A whitewash.

TargLan 1, StarBar 0

When I play the Game of Thrones, I get drunk and lose.
I shall never play it for real, therefore. 

Footnotes - Mechanics

If you've played Magic: The Gathering, you'd pick this up swiftly. Otherwise it would confuse and annoy you for some time, I don't think card games like this are the easiest to get to grips with for the first time player. Might just be me, I had a long long learning curve on these.

Anyway, the point of this is to gather 15 points of Dominance (small blue tokens). Gold replaces Land, although it's earned via cards, and is used to buy/summon your characters. And these characters (all from the books) have a single stat (Strength) but can attack your opponent in one of three ways to win you the game.

Might (red) kills enemy characters
Espionage (green) forces your opponent to chuck cards from his hand
Might (blue) steals Dominance from your opponent and gives it to you.

Everyone starts with a few cards in play, something M:TG ought to have nailed to its forehead as a really good idea. A poor deal in that game leaves you with no options; here, even if the deck isn't in your favour, you still have a few toys to play with. Pathetic broken ones that your opponent will take off you, perhaps, but it's still something.

Each turn, you must play a plot card from a small, seven-card selection. These give you a set income and decide the initiative order each round, as well as giving a side effect. None of these are small, and most also benefit your opponents (e.g. you and one other search your deck for a card, reveal it, take it and shuffle your deck). Some are massive, like the Stark one that kills all characters in play immediately.

Overall, I liked it much better than Magic personally. The set decks meant nobody had too vast an advantage through knowing rules or owning gold-sheeted insta-kills, and the more varying mechanics of the game kept it interesting throughout.

Kas has the game at home with him, plus the Greyjoy and Martell expansions. I'd recommend a match (which I wouldn't for Magic) if you're passing through!

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