The Game of Thrones Experience
I had a great introduction for this. It was a description of upscale debutantes, myself somehow included, arriving at a lavish party – the kind you see in Stanley Kubrick movies or imagine take place at the Bohemian Grove. You could practically hear the ritual daggers being drawn from jeweled sheaths while guests struggled to keep their animalistic urges in check. Then, in the last sentence, just as it’s becoming clear that things are about to get frighteningly real, I did a little fancy world play and revealed we were all here to play A Game of Thrones (2nd Edition, published by Fantasy Flight Games).
It was really good. It’s gone now, of course – my hard drive failed and this treasure has been lost to us – but it was far better than the mediocre paragraph I just wrote. Still, it seems appropriate that an introduction to Game of Thrones should be accompanied by tragedy. Valar morghulis and all that.
Game of Thrones is currently my favorite board game. I love it. I want to proclaim its right to rule and crush all other claimants to its level of awesomeness. That said, Game of Thrones can be daunting to learn, set up, and play. It yields great rewards, but it is undeniably complex. Thus, I present to you my short list of ways to get the most from your [Eyes Wide Shut orgy] Game of Thrones experience.
This is not a strategy guide or a game review: It’s just a list of things I’ve found helpful for coordinating a solid game night and waging bloody war for Westeros. For a strategy guide, I recommend the Strategy forums at Board Game Geek. For a tutorial, Fantasy Flight did a nice job with this video. For a game review? I can handle that one: “It’s great. You should play it.”
1. Read the rules ahead of time. It sounds like a no-brainer, but believe me, no one is going to have fun unless someone knows the rules well enough to teach them.
2. Wear paper crowns, drink mead, and listen to the soundtrack from the TV series. Or don’t. Maybe you’ve had a long week and need to listen to Nelly and drink a Dr. Pepper. I won’t stop you. Just don’t try to stop me from wearing a cape and cursing in Dothraki.
3. Commit to playing. Game of Thrones is a 3-5 hour game and, if someone leaves during the middle, the loss of that person will be acutely felt. Also, the game plays best with six. Five is all right, but six is best. There’s an expansion called Feast for Crows that is balanced for four players, and Dance with Dragons is an alternate set of House cards intended for play with five or six players. I have yet to play either of these expansions, so I can only speak about the merits of the core game.
4. If you’re a veteran, help the newbies. Try to be humble. Yes, taking King’s Landing is a good opening move when you’re playing as House Baratheon, but if the Baratheon player knows the opener and does something different, don’t get upset. Just because you rate a line of play as sub-optimal doesn’t mean it’s not a valid move. Likewise, newbies, pay attention to helpful veterans! Don’t scroll Facebook while they’re explaining how Orders work.
5. It should be obvious from the phrase Game of Thrones, but this isn’t the greatest game to play with children. Unless your kids are streetwise killers with tarnished souls and that’s a side of them you want to nurture. Or maybe older teenagers. I don’t know. I’ve never met your kids.
6. Game of Thrones is all about betrayals, backstabbing, and killing your friends. Play with mature folks who won’t hold a grudge. Likewise, it helps to be one of those mature folks yourself.
7. The Internet has strong opinions. Some say Greyjoys are overpowered and Lannisters underpowered. Some say that the effectiveness of a given House is highly dependent on the intangible thoughts and strategies of your local gaming group. Some people just like to yell spoilers. Personally, I think it’s best to ignore the armchair generals and concoct your own strategy. The real joy of Game of Thrones comes from playing against the other people at the table. You can memorize all the opening gambits and positioning tricks you want; in the end, it’s all about outwitting the people sitting next to you.
8. Reminisce about your experiences, preferably out of context. Remember: When people overhearing you get upset, you can tell them that Sansa Stark killing the Mountain is not a spoiler (or maybe it is – there are still two books to go, and there’s really nothing stopping George from going all End of Evangelion on us). It’s just a thing that happened to you, personally.