Sun. Feb 5th, 2023
This is what a typical game looks like a few turns later.  Your game board will of course not be so tidy.

This is what a typical game looks like a few turns later. Your game board will of course not be so tidy.

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Six decades have passed since JRR Tolkien’s The return of the king for the first time in bookstores and ever since Under the spell of the Ring ruled the fantasy genre. But in recent years, no challenger has come closer to overthrowing Tolkien’s epic in popular culture than George R. R. Martins. A song of ice and fire.

The series’ widespread popularity, thanks in part to a hugely successful HBO series, has opened the door to countless spin-off products. But even before the show brought Tyrion Lannister into our living rooms, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) had been targeting George RR Martin fans for years. Given a world so populated with dozens of vibrant, unpredictable and often downright evil characters, it’s no surprise that FFG has launched A game of thrones: the card game back in 2008. Who wouldn’t want to fight as Jaime, Cersei or Tywin under House Lannister, or wield Sand Snakes as The Red Viper of House Martell, or fight alongside the other factions?

Instead of a “collectible card game” (eg Magic: The Gathering), A game of thrones was billed as a “living card game” (an earlier incarnation of the game, released in 2002, used the collectible format). Expansions to the living card game were not sold in random packs, but as complete, fixed sets. New sets appeared regularly, and while you still had to invest hundreds of dollars in the game to get the best cards, at least you could be sure that you all the cards.

My playgroup invested quite a lot – both in time and money – in the original Game of Thrones, and we played for hours. The game can be played seamlessly as a one-on-one battle or between three, four or even six players. My main problem with the game, aside from finding time to invent decks and build them manually, was that to build winning decks, players had to prioritize mechanics over conflict. That is, the key was often not to develop the strongest characters, but to find ways to draw the cheapest cards into your hand, place them on the board and overwhelm your opponent.

If your strategy isn’t so much about keeping an ice-wielding Robb Stark alive as it is about showering your opponents with Baratheon bannermen before they can take important cards, the game will be separated from the world of Westeros and the Free Cities. There was a problem with the card pool, which kept growing until it got crass. Eventually these frustrations built up until my group drifted away from the original Game of Thrones card game.

But in late 2014, the game’s senior designer, Nate French, announced that Fantasy Flight would relaunch the game.

“We at FFG faced a difficult decision,” French wrote in a letter to the community. He continued:

On the one hand, we had the ability to hold tight to what we had. To bring forward a rotation policy that could address the immediate ‘size of the card pool’ issues and see if we could squeeze another two or three good years out of a game facing the other challenges described above had. The alternative… Well, what if we relaunched the game with a new edition, an overhauled ruleset, an enhanced core set, and some exciting new features? The idea caught on and as we discussed the possibilities, it became more and more intriguing. Instead of a three-year plan, we wanted to lay a foundation on which the game could thrive for the next 10 years or more.

After the second edition core set was released in October 2015, I picked one over the winter holidays and didn’t know what to expect. Was this a money grab by FFG? Or would the gameplay really improve?

I recently found the time to play, and after two long gaming sessions, I’m happy to report it’s the last. A game of thrones 2.0 has proven itself so far.

By akfire1

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