A Game of Cards

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Chances are that if you’re reading this, the phrase “Game of Thrones” holds some meaning for you, even if only as “that show I don’t watch that some other people like.”

Well, whatever the story/show may be to you, it is also a card game.

Game_of_thrones2

But more than just a card game, I would say that it is one of the best card games I’ve ever played.  I’m not sure I’d say it’s #1, but it is definitely in the top 3.

It often surprises people who are encountering this game just how long its been around.  It was not based specifically on the HBO series; the game is older than that by several years.  A Game of Thrones started as a CCG all the way back in 2002, and in face won the Origins Award for best Trading Card Game in that year.  For the next five years, the game was marketed very much like any other CCG, with starter decks themed around Great Houses, and boosters containing a mix of cards.

2007 saw a change to all of that, though, as the game underwent a radical shift in marketing, becoming the second of Fantasy Flight Games’ LCG Titles.  LCG is a format developed by FFG, standing for Living Card Game.  An LCG is similar to a CCG in that it features an ever-expanding pool of available cards from which to construct a custom deck, but differs sharply in how those cards are acquired.

Instead of buying packs of randomized cards, hoping to chance into cards that are useful to you, or that you desire, LCG cards are sold in fixed boxes.  Each of these Chapter Packs for AGoT contains a full playset (3 in the case of this game) of 20 new cards, and are released on a monthly basis.  This makes keeping up with game expansion a matter of less than $20 a month.

The LCG format has basically ruined CCGs for me.  The thought of rare-hunting, buying pack after pack, or looking online for specific cards at inflated costs now makes me shudder.  I understand that this aspect of CCGs is a source of appeal for certain players, who would look down on the LCG format.  That’s fine; it takes all kinds to make a world; but I am certainly not one of them.

While the LCG style certainly helps to keep me in the game, what excited me from the beginning were two factors: how well the game translated the themes and mood of the story, and the general originality of gameplay.

One of the things that makes A Game of Thrones different an unique is the inclusion of a side-deck called the plot deck.  Your main deck for the game contains all the things you’d expect to find in a card game about this series: recognizable character, places, and things, all with their relevant game statistics.  The plot deck, meanwhile, is a stack of seven cards that can make or break the game.

Each round of play, you will choose one of your plot cards to be your revealed plot.

 plotcard

This plot gives you some important information: your base income for the round (how many points you have available to bring other cards into play- not unlike mana in Magic), your initiative (because which player goes first may well change from round to round), and your claim (how bad it is for your opponent when you successfully attack them).  The plot card will then often finish off with an ability that will benefit you in some way during the round.

This first aspect, income, is one of the things I love so much about this game.  Unlike many other games, where your resource for playing cards from your deck are; in themselves; cards that you must play from your deck, the more-or-less guaranteed income from your plot deck helps to plan out the cost of your cards, and how likely you are to get to play them.

Now, I also mentioned the moods and themes of the source material.  If you’re not a fan of the Song of Ice & Fire, this will be less interesting to you, but I think those who are will appreciate it like I do.  The first and simplest thing I can say to display this aspect of the game is this: the aggressor wins ties.

The game favors action, and proactive game play over reactive game play- though there are certainly ways to play a reactive deck.  In many ways, this game is brutal and unforgiving, as is the world of the story, and that helps to keep game play exciting.

The game also largely rewards faction purity, keeping all the cards in your deck aligned to one House.  You’ve got six to choose from: Baratheon, Greyjoy, Lannister, Martel, Stark, and Targaryen; each with their own play styles, strengths, and weaknesses.  Whatever style of deck you like to employ, you can find it in this game.

Now, after this glowing review, perhaps you might even be thinking- THIS IS FANTASTIC!  I WANT IT NOW! and you’re planning to run out and buy it.

That’s cool, but in all fairness, I feel I should warn you of something.  The game’s days are numbered, in a way.  GenCon Indy this year will see the release of the Second Edition of the card game, an edition that introduces enough changes to make it incompatible with what came before.

So why am I blowing the horn of a doomed game?  Several reasons:

1) I always want more people playing this game, and maybe this will reach new people.
2) I still have a fair bit of tournament support material, and I intend to continue running events for this edition, even after the new one comes out- throwback events.
3) Maybe, just maybe, if you get your appetite whetted, you’ll be more likely to pick up the new one- and see #1
4) The end of the edition also means an end-cap to the card pool.  The LCG then becomes a self-contained entity that can be shuffled and combined into many new and interesting decks- but the cards probably won’t be around for long, so get them while you can!

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