What House Martell Brings to the Struggles of The Iron Throne Board Game

"It is rare to meet a Lannister who shares my enthusiasm for dead Lannisters."
     –Oberyn Martell

In our first preview of The Wars to Come expansion for The Iron Throne board game, we took a closer look at the leaders and House cards that allow House Greyjoy to pursue a distinctively aggressive path to power. We started our previews of the expansion with House Greyjoy because that's the way the Ironborn would have liked it; they have waited long enough, and they want to leap into their ships, sail across the ocean, and wield their axes and bows to take what they believe is theirs.

We also started our previews with House Greyjoy because House Martell was content to wait. Or at least they would have you believe they were content to wait. They have already waited many years for their vengeance—to redress the crimes performed against them—and now they are so close, they can taste it. Theirs is a vengeance that has long been simmering to its boil—and one they want to savor.

Today, at last, the hour is theirs, and we turn our attention toward the depths of their hatred and the cunning of their manipulative mind games—at least as these things are embodied by the new leaders and House cards they introduce to Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne.

Play the Long Game

In The Wars to Come as in the Game of Thrones television series, the Martells bury their hatred beneath their single-minded focus on the endgame.

Their leader abilities don't all speak of immediate and brazen power in the same way as Tywin Lannister's,  nor of canny politics like Margaery Tyrell's.  They're not noble in the vein of Eddard Stark or hungry for material gains like Khal Drogo.  Instead, they simply play the early game nice and steady, making their venomous intent and drawing together the various pieces of their plans.

  • Oberyn Martell,  for example, doesn't care about every little encounter. He's fine with losing the ones he deems less important, as he chooses to focus, instead, on vengeance against those who have wronged him.
  • At first glance, there's no guarantee that Trystane Martell's ability even plays to your advantage. By forcing you to play your House card from the top of your deck, instead of from your hand, it introduces a random element that may just as often play against you as it plays in your favor. At least, that's how it looks…
  • And Doran Martell's Placating ability runs against the game's traditional use of hostages. Instead of taking them to torment them or to coerce your opponents into the sort of deals you'd like to broker, Doran Martell is happy to release the hostages that find their way to him. In return, he gains some card draw, as well as some knowledge he can use to his advantage in his encounters.

The women of House Martell, however, are a tad more direct. But their abilities still aim toward the endgame.

  • Ellaria Sand's ability allows her to ignore the "helpful advice" offered by the round's Event card. Instead of initiating an encounter against the player the Event card indicates, Ellaria can target any player she chooses.

Ellaria Sand can bully someone who's already low on power, or she can hound whichever player has drawn her ire. Either way, by allowing you to target every single one of your encounters, Ellaria serves as a constant reminder of the threat you pose and may help you broker some early truces that you can use to build toward the late game.

  • Even with her Poison, Tyene Sand isn't guaranteed to win her encounters. Certainly, her ability to remove half of an opponent's character's power can make a difference, especially if that character is laden with four or more power. But since Tyene's ability is open information, everyone will already be aware that she might Poison their characters, and they'll assign one to the encounter accordingly.

The secret strength of Tyene Sand's Poison, then, lies in her Antidote,  which she can use to target the character she just poisoned. Playable after the resolution phase, Antidote allows Tyene to strip one point of power from a character unless that character's owner removes two power from his or her leader sheet to place onto yours.

The result is that no matter if you're using Tyene's Poison and Antidote to kill characters, bleed your opponents' power, add power to your leader sheet, or simply discourage players from attacking you, the leader ability and House card position you to succeed in the late game, even as they leave other players reeling on the floor, coughing blood, and suffering from increasingly dark and blurry vision.

Let the Poison Do Its Work

While the House Martell's unique leader abilities all start to pay greater dividends later in the game, the House's true strength—and true endgame bid—comes through the powerful combinations you can weave with your leader abilities and House cards.

Like Tyene Sand, with her Poison and Antidote, each of the Martell leaders can find one or more powerful, game-changing surprises among the various House cards.

  • Naive Trystane Martell seems quite a bit less a Fool for Love when, right before you and your opponent both reveal House cards from the tops of your decks, he allows you to stack your deck with your "20" House card.
  • Doran Martell's Placating ability is far stronger when he can use Even-Handed to ignore all the power on the participating characters.
  • And while Oberyn Martell's Eye for an Eye ability doesn't pair as directly with his Duelist House Card, it still serves as a powerful nexus for all the House's slow-boiling rage.

In fact, when Oberyn Martell is your leader, you gain strength by winning encounters… and by losing them.

  • For example, if you've lost several battles, and you enter a vital late-game battle against a pair of opponents who have spread to you a total of four influence, you can send Ellaria Sand into the challenge and play Vindictive to gain twelve power.
  • You can use Tyene Sand's Antidote nearly as effectively as Tyene herself. Since your opponents' characters lose power, just as yours do, you can threaten to kill them with Antidote—or force your opponents to feed you more power that you can distribute.
  • Finally, you can send Trystane into a challenge simply to play Fool for Love to recycle whichever House card will serve you best in your next scheme.

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

While the rest of Westeros jumps head-first into the loud, chaotic, and bloody battles for the Iron Throne, the members of House Martell prefer to sit back, biding their time, and plotting the perfect moment to strike. After all, you don't win the Iron Throne by winning a series of early battles; you win it only by winning the war.

Act now to prepare yourself for that last killing blow. Head to your local retailer to pre-order your copy of The Wars to Come (HBO16) expansion today!

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