The Great Houses' Greatest Leaders

A Preview of A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition


The highly anticipated A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition will be on store shelves very soon (and if you’re planning to attend this weekend’s Days of Ice and Fire 2011, you can even pick up your copy then)! Today, we’ll take a look at one of A Game of Thrones: The Board Game’s most compelling aspects: the asymmetrical faction abilities that result in six distinct play experiences, depending on which of the Great Houses you control. More specifically, we’ll see how each House delivers a unique approach to combat, through the individual abilities of its most memorable characters.

Clashing on the Battlefield

Although a silver tongue will undoubtedly serve you well in your campaign to claim the Iron Throne, diplomacy alone will only get you so far. War is inevitable, and sooner or later, you’ll have to get your hands bloody. Combat in A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition depends on your ability to combine the right troops with the right leaders, exploiting the abilities of both to maximum effect. But while one House’s units are no different from another’s, a player’s House cards (which represent leaders) offer a variety of bonuses and House-specific special abilities.

But first, for those who may be unfamiliar, let’s begin with some of the fundamentals of combat (we recently posted the rules on our support page, so if you want more in-depth details, download them).

Whenever the units of two different Houses find themselves occupying the same area, combat ensues. At its most basic level, battle is a numbers game; each combatant wants to count the highest Combat Strength during the resolution step of the engagement. Each unit confers a certain Combat Strength value. Lowly footmen, for instance, are worth one point, while mighty Siege Engines are worth four (when attacking). This element of combat is generally fairly predictable.

The wild card, so to speak, is the presence of leaders. Displayed on House cards, leaders add their own variable Combat Strength to a fight, increasing the total Combat Strength value by as much as four. But each player has only seven House cards in his hand, and can only reuse a specific character once all of his characters have been played. The trick, therefore, is to “spend” your House cards in the optimal order, fielding your leaders in a way that doesn't leave you vulnerable or impotent at the wrong time.

What’s more, House cards trigger effects that go beyond simply increasing Combat Strength. Many have either sword icons, which destroy enemy units after the fight, or fortification icons, which protect against this destruction... and others have more complex text effects that hold unwelcome surprises for your enemies. So while there’s no substitute for a massive army at your disposal, the judicious use of House cards can certainly mean the difference between victory and defeat.

A Struggle for the North

But how do House cards contribute to each faction’s distinctive style and flavor? Simply put, the abilities of each House’s leaders complement that House’s starting position and general tactics. Aggressive Houses will have offensively potent card effects, while more deliberate Houses focus on defense.

The relatively secluded House Stark, for example, is ideal for players who prefer to bide their time, bolstering their fortifications until the moment they finally strike. House Stark’s lowest strength cards also have some of the best defensive abilities in the game (while the inverse is true of their high-strength cards), which suggests that one possible strategy is to play conservatively, at least early on. Let the enemy come to you, sloughing off his attacks with characters like Catelyn Stark and Ser Roderick Cassel as he depletes his own forces. Then, respond with more offensive cards like Eddark Stark himself!

As might be expected, House Greyjoy’s cards focus on naval superiority. Along with a fine balance of sword and fortification icons throughout their seven House cards, Greyjoy provides a few outstanding bonuses to ship-to-ship combat. Victarion Greyjoy, for example, multiplies the strength of an entire fleet! Put Victarion in charge of an army of ships, and watch your enemies part like the waves.

In the Heart of Westeros

Enjoy a challenge? For offensively minded players, Casterly Rock’s House cards are among the most devastating in the game. Ser Gregor Clegane has more sword icons than any other character, but they’re wasted if you field him against small forces. Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister’s special ability lets you undermine the well laid plans of an enemy... as long as you have an army powerful enough to ensure her victory.

House Baratheon, on the other hand, requires a more subtle and nuanced approach. A number of Baratheon House cards are situationally strong, so timing is everything. Stannis Baratheon has the potential to be the highest valued House card in the game... if you’re low enough on the Iron Throne track. Similarly, Ser Davos Seaworth can gain a noticeable boost... if Stannis has already been played. If you time your attacks correctly and field your leaders in just the right order, Baratheon can be a powerhouse.

And in the South...

Although the entire continent separates them, the Tyrells have one thing in common with the Starks: their House cards of higher strength values also tend to feature devastating offensive effects. Mace Tyrell, for example, can wipe footmen off the map with his mere presence. Unlike the Starks, however, the Tyrells have excellent early game mobility, thanks in part to Ser Loras. His special ability makes House Tyrell the only faction that can essentially march two areas at a time with the same force.

Finally, House Martell plots from the sun-scorched sands of Dorne, nursing old grievances and preparing for revenge. The Martells possess an impressive balance of sword and fortification icons, making them both deadly and difficult to kill. And nothing if not a calculating politician, Doran Martell can undermine his opponent’s standing on any of the Influence tracks! This means you can lower your foe on the Fiefdoms track, ensuring that you break ties in Doran’s battle... or even grab the Valyrian Steel Blade (if you started in second place) for a quick attack bonus.

House cards are only one aspect of the compelling asymmetry in A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition. Starting positions, armies, and placement on the Influence tracks likewise contribute to the overall sense of uniqueness underscoring each faction. The only question, then, is this: Which Great House will you lead to dominance?

Look for A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition on store shelves soon!

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