First Impression: A Game of Thrones The Card Game

I bought this game on a whim from Static based on the fact that we were looking for a good board/card game that could be played with two players, but could also handle more than two players, and the fact that we have a bit of a thing for the Song of Ice and Fire universe that George R.R. Martin has crafted.

I’ve only played 2 games of this, one with the two player variant rules and one with four players, so I’m still not familiar with all the cards, and I’m sure there are levels of strategy that I’ve yet to delve into.

I’m going to start by addressing what is probably the elephant in the room for an awful lot of gard games, The Game of Thrones Card Game obviously borrows a lot of ideas from Magic the Gathering. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, MtG is a very popular game with lots of die hard fans, it did make me think twice about it getting this though, because if I wanted to play just play Magic the Gathering: A Game of Thrones, I’d probably just buy some magic cards and glue stickers of Ned Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and the Hound onto existing Magic cards and play that while I watched both seasons of Game of Thrones in the background on a split screen TV, and listened to my Kindle read out George R.R. Martin’s epic work in it’s dulcet if a little robotic tones.

I’m not that kind of fan though, sure I like the series, but I also wanted a decent game that wasn’t just a rip off of another game, and I’m going to say this outright:

A Game of Thrones The Card Game does not disappoint.

Firstly AGoTtCG is not a collectable card game, that was one of things that stopped me from playing Magic some 20 years ago, I couldn’t be bothered with the financial burden the game put on you, always having to buy hundreds of booster packs to try and get the cards you wanted/needed or having to pay an inordinate amount of money for a single card because the game designers decided arbitrarily that that particular card was going to be extremely rare.

That isn’t for me, and that isn’t what AGoTtCG is. Fantasy Flight Games are calling this a living card game, it’s one of a number of LCGs they do such as the Call of Cthulhu Card Game, Android: Netrunner, and The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. The only one of these I’ve played in the past was Netrunner (I’ll be posting my impressions of that soon) and I might have gotten that if it were also suitable for more than 2 players, but it’s not and as I said I like George R.R. Martin’s books so we got AGoTtCG.

So what is an LCG?

Basically it’s a bit like a Collectable Card Game (CCG) except you don’t buy millions of packs with random cards in them, if you want to play a Targaryen deck you buy the Targaryen booster pack and you get all the Targaryen cards. It’s as simple as that, you can buy what you want to build the deck you want. The same goes for the other 5 houses.

It looks like you can specialize your deck to for example play a Baratheon Knights deck, a Targaryen Dothraki Deck, or a Nights Watch deck (Presumably? I’ve only encountered three members of the Nights Watch Benjen Stark, Jon Snow, and Maestor Aemon) by buying appropriate booster packs too.

How Does It Play?

To start with each player chooses a house, you have the option of Playing one of the Six Major Houses:

  • Stark
  • Baratheon
  • Targaryen
  • Lannister
  • Greyjoy
  • Martel

The Game comes with premade decks for the first four houses, you only get house cards for Greyjoy and Martel. Out of the box, two players can’t play the same house, but if you spent money on the expansions and have built a deck for a particular house then multiple players can play the same house.

Interestingly House Tyrell don’t feature, I’d have expected them to be in the game as they are in the Game of Thrones Board Game also by FFG, there are various Tyrell characters strewn across the other houses cards, but they are not an entity unto them selves.

The object of the game is to  be the first player to collect 15 power tokens, these are tokens that are won by winning challenges against other players, or being the player with the most strength left over at the end of each turn.

Play Sequence

Play takes place in 7 Phases:

  1. Plot
  2. Draw
  3. Marshalling
  4. Challenges
  5. Dominance
  6. Stand
  7. Taxation

1. Plot

The “Plot Phase” is a strategic phase where all the players choose one of their “Plot Cards” to be in effect for the rest of the turn. These cards are all revealed at the same time and it’s worth noting that this is the only simultaneous play part of the game.

Each plot dictates a number of things:

Income:

This is how much gold the player gets to spend on cards this turn.

Initiative:

This is used to determine who goes first, the player with the highest initiative selects which player is the first player for the rest of the turn.

Claim:

This is used to determine how much “Damage” a player does when he challenges another player, it’s usually 1 but there are some 2s and 0s.

Special Rules:

As well as all the above, each plot card has a special rule that either has an immediate one off effect or a lasting effect that lasts for the rest of the turn.

Some example effects are:

  • No one gets any income this round.
  • Every player has to pick up to three location/characters and Discard/Kill everything else.
  • Player picks one opponent, player and that opponent can search their deck for a card of a particular type (character, location etc…) they declare it to everyone else and put it in their hands.
  • Kill every character on the table (This one is particularly nasty)

The plot cards once played enter a plot discard pile so you have to play through all your plots, even if the outcome of the plot is detrimental to you. This happened to me the first time when I had a huge army and was forced to play “Wildfire Assault”, which kills all but three of everyone’s characters, as my plot card as it was the only one I had left.

Once you’ve exhausted all your plot cards you gather them up again and can play them in any order.

The plot cards in a way make the game, you can completely screw someone, or yourself, over by playing the right or wrong plot card at any given time, and you have to play all of your plot cards so you need to pick the right time to play each of them.

Once the plot cards are revealed, the player who won initiative (Highest initiative with ties resolved by the player with the least power) picks the “First Player” for this round. Going first is not always a good thing though as it leaves you open to being attacked once you have expended your resources.

Rotating round from the First Player each player selects a title token from the small council:

  • Crown Regent
  • Hand of the King
  • Lord Commander of the Kingsguard
  • Master of Coin
  • Master of Laws
  • Master of Whispers

Each has it’s own in game effect, as well as some of them getting bonuses for/not being able to challenge other seats on the small council. This part is not used in the 2 player game and I guess your could ignore it in a four player game too if you wanted to.

That being done you move onto the next phase.

2. Draw

Each player in turn draws 2 cards from their deck, there are certain cards or that “Master of Law” title that allow you to pick more cards. That’s it…

3. Marshalling

The “Marshalling” phase is when you pick up your income, and spend it to buy shinys. Shinys in this context refers to Characters, Creatures, Armies, Attachments, and Locations. Each player marshals their forces in turn before moving onto the next phase, so everyone has a chance to get their armies out before anyone declares any challenges.

Characters, Creatures and Armies:

These are your legions of faithful soldiers, they have a strength value and several attributes which allow them to attach in different ways and or perform actions when they are knelt (tapped) or just have a constant effect on the game.

Some are unique, which means that no one can have more than one of that person or thing in play at any one time, and if the character dies then no one can call it into play for the rest of the game.

Attachments:

These are cards that affect other cards to which they are attached, they can be weapons, skills, rank ailments whatever (One of them is called something like “Stinking Drunk” and it reduces the power of the character it’s attached to by 4).

Locations:

Locations are permanent cards that give you some sort of bonus, some of them give you extra cash at the start of your marshalling phase, some of them make stuff cheaper, some of them allow you to disable characters, some of them make your characters stronger. Winterfell for example gives all Stark characters +1 Strength.

4.  Challenges

The players take turns starting with the first player to challenge each other in one of three ways:

Military

You are physically sending your armies against an opponent’s armies. If you succeed one or more of your opponents characters will be sent to the “dead” pile. Dead characters cannot be brought back, and one a unique character is dead no one can play that character.

Intrigue

You are making an intrigue attack on the opponent’s hand of cards, if you succeed that player discards one or more cards from their hand, at random. This is surprisingly effective, as you might make your opponent lose some very powerful cards.

Power

You are making an attack on your opponent’s power pool, a successful attack means you can steal a power token from your opponent.

So how does a challenge take place?

In their challenge phase each player may perform one challenge of each of the above types, they do this by “Kneeling” characters that have the appropriate icons on them and totalling up their strength and any bonuses to determine their attack power.

The defending opponent may choose to kneel some or none of his characters to defend against the attack. If the sum of the defending players knelt strength is more than that the attackers nothing happens, other wise the attack succeeds and the defender has to suffer the consequences. Note that the attacker wins ties.

If the defender doesn’t defend against the attack at all the attacker can claim a bonus power token from the pool.

There are also a host of effect and event cards that players can play to turn the tide of of challenge, for example I as House Baratheon was attacking  the Stark player and was going to kill two of his banner-men, because one of my characters had the “Deadly” attribute, I’d put all my military might into the attack because I needed to ensure that the other player was cut down to size. Little did I know that the player I was challenging had a card that they could play that killed every character that participated in a challenge against them. I was crippled for the rest of the game.

5. Dominance

The dominance phase has the players totalling up the strength of their remaining standing characters, and their remaining gold. The player with the highest total wins dominance and gets a bonus power token. If there is a tie no one gets anything.

6. Stand

Any characters that have been knelt and don’t have an effect on them preventing them from doing so are stand.

7.Taxation

Any gold remaining with any of the players is taxed, unless there is an effect that prevents this from happening.

So is it any good?

On the whole I’d say this is a really fun game to play, it’s different enough from other games, and the strategy involved in playing even with the pre-built decks that come with the game to make it worth playing and the mechanics are fairly well balanced.

It can be hard work trying to maintain a balance between being able to challenge opponents to get power, and not leaving ones self wide open to attack. And while in context I understand the reasoning behind characters dying permanently when they are killed, it can lead to a situation where a player slowly wastes away due to not having any military units because they were all wiped out in one fell swoop because of a plot card.

The game is very fun for 4 players, I’m not 100% sold on the 2 player variant though, as some mistakes/effects/plots can be very hard to recover from and can lead to a slow and painful death. Don’t get me wrong, the 2 player variant is very fun, but it’s not very forgiving.

Throne of Screams

Throne of Screams by Brinkerhoff<br />
USD$10 for 24 hours only

Throne of Screams by Brinkerhoff imagines StarScream on the Iron Throne. The crown he wears in the Transformers movie is a nice touch but I can’t get past the fact that the colours on this image seem a bit too dark.

If it tickles your fancy you have 24 hours (Probably less by the time you read this) to get it off of Ript Apparel.

Via GameFreaks.NZ

Game of Thrones The Board Game: First Impressions

I had a go at playing the Game of Thrones board game on Saturday, and from what I’ve seen I quite like it. The game centres about the battle for the control of Westeros, and you play one of 6 houses (Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Greyjoy, Tyrell and Martel)

Depending on how many players you have some of the houses aren’t available to play, we were playing a 4 player game so houses Tyrell and Martel were out of the picture.

The game lasts for 10 turns 3 phases:

  1. The Westeros Phase
  2. The Planning Phase
  3. The Action Phase

The in the Westeros Phase you deal with a set of random events that happen as described by drawing 3 cards from the Westeros Card Deck, these cards tend to involve a choice for one of the players, usually the player at the head of one of the three tracks (Iron throne, Fiefdoms, Kings Court) or they allow players to muster their armies or change their resource levels.

During the planning phase each player puts a token on each area he controls face down, the tokens signify what they want to do in that area, the options are:

  1. Raid
  2. March
  3. Defend
  4. Support
  5. Consolidate Power

Raiding essentially equates to screwing up other players order, marching allows you to move troops to another area or attack an area, defending enhances the defence of an area, support allows troops in one area to support troops in another area in defending or attacking, and consolidating power allows you to get power tokens or under certain circumstances build up your army a little.

Once everyone has finished putting down their planning tokens they are turned over and the action phase starts.

First you resolve raid tokens and then march tokens, this is done by resolving one token at a time starting with the player who currently sits on the Iron Throne then rotating clockwise round the board allowing each player to resolve a their raids and then their marching orders.

I think this order of play is actually one of the games great strengths, because the players aren’t taking turns all the players have something to do all the time, which means that it’s less likely that players will get bored while waiting for their turn to come around.

Combat is straightforward, you win if you have more armies than the territory you are attacking, otherwise you lose. Each player can play a card to modify the results of the battle, these cards also affect the number of casualties from the battle. When a territory is lost the losing troops retreat, to an adjacent territory owned by that player, if they can’t do this I think they all die, but I’m not sure and I don’t have the rules to hand to check.

The game continues like this until one player has 7 territories with Castles or forts in them or until the end of the 10th turn at which point the player with the most castles and forts wins.

All in all the game is fun and is quite quick to play, I’ve been playing the Battlestar Galactica game an aweful lot recently and because this game is by the same people (Fantasy Flight Games) I was a little worried that it would require the same epic time-scales to play thankfully it doesn’t.

My one comment is that the starting positions on the map and the layout of the regions seem to favour certain houses, specifically house Lannister and house Baratheon, Lannister is surrounded with both forts and resources, while house Baratheon seem to have easy access to a very large empty area of the map to conquer. This (I think) is only really an issue when playing the game with 4 players, as the empty areas of the map are taken up by the two houses that you can’t play unless you have more players.

Having played a friend’s copy of this game I’m very tempted to invest in my own, which I think speaks volumes for it.

 

I remember when I wanted to work in a book store…

 

 

This image is doing the rounds on the internet to be honest most of these grievances are applicable to almost any retail outlet. There was a time when I wanted to work in a bookstore, I was actually very close to applying for a job as a midnight shelf stacker in the Borders in Glasgow before I got my first job as a software developer. I think it was mainly because I hated working in a mobile phone shop, but also because I love books.

I miss Borders, but not because I ever bought any books there (I did occasionally but it was almost always cheaper on Amazon). I think that was their problem, they didn’t seem to care what they didn’t sell to people, they wanted to provide an environment where you could in fact just read the book in the store rather than buy it so that you might buy it half way through. This failed them because I think people just ended up reading the first few chapters in Borders and then ordering off of Amazon to finish the book.

  • We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie.
  • It confused us when we were asked where the non-fiction section is.
  • Nicholas Sparks is not a good writer … if you like him, fine, but facts are facts.
  • We greatly dislike the phrase “Quick question.” It’s never true. And everyone seems to have one.
  • Your summer reading list was our summer reading NIGHTMARE. Also, it’s called summerreading, not three days before school starts reading.
  • It’s true that we lean to the left and think Glenn Beck is an idiot.
  • We always knew when you were intently reading Better Homes and Gardens, it was really a hidden Playboy.
  • Most of the time when you returned books you read them already — and we were onto you.
  • Limit One Coupon did not mean one for every member of your family — this angered us. Also, we did know what coupons were out.
  • It never bothered us when you threatened to shop at Barnes & Noble. We’d rather you do if you’re putting up a stink.
  • “I was just here last week and saw this book there” meant nothing to us. The store changed once a week.
  • When you walked in and immediately said, “I’m looking for a book,” what you really meant to say is, “I would like you to find me a book.” You never looked. It’s fine, it’s our job — but let’s be correct about what’s really happening here.
  • If you don’t know the author, title, or genre, but you do know the color of the cover, we don’t either. How it was our fault that we couldn’t find it we’ll never understand.
  • We were never a daycare. Letting your children run free and destroy our section destroyed a piece of our souls.
  • Oprah was not the “final say” on what is awesome. We really didn’t care what was on her show or what her latest book club book was. Really.
  • When you returned your SAT books, we knew you used them. We thought it wasn’t fair — seeing that we are not a library.

 

Via Shelf Life

My Induction to The Kindle World

I recently went on a 2 and a half week holiday, and in the airport I broke and bought an Amazon Kindle

Why did I do this? I’d borrowed my mums Kindle for a week and was really impressed with it, and I was sick an tired of 90% of the weight of my carry on luggage being taken up by dead tree.

Don’t get me wrong I love books, I will never stop reading books but given the option of carrying around this:
My Hardcover Copy of a Dance with Dragons

Or this:

I know which I prefer, I still own a copy of that hard cover but the Kindle was a heck of a lot more comfortable to read on a plane. This, I think, is the key selling point of the Kindle. If you are a daily commuter or a traveler the Kindle is a a lightweight easy way to read, the e-ink is so convincing that I often found myself going to flip the page manually as I would have a book.

I’ve read more since I got my Kindle than I think I would have without it, simply because it was there and easy to get at.

That said the Kindle is not without faults, if I buy a physical book it joins the other books in my library and either I or Annabel can read it. This isn’t really possible with the Kindle, if I buy a book on my Amazon account then I can only read it on my Kindle and vice-versa if she buys it on her Kindle I can’t read it on mine. This issue isn’t just endemic to the Kindle but to any device which allows you to download content to a device, it’s an issue with our X-Boxes (Yes we have one each) it’s an issue with our phones (Both Android) it’s an issue with our iTunes libraries (Annabel buys music on iTunes I refuse to because of this reason) and it would be an issue if I had an iPad to match Annabel’s iPad.

This is the main reason I am reticent about buying digital content, it’s linked to an account and not a household like physical media, there is another blog post in this but it really annoys me that no one has come up with a way of saying these people live together let them all have equal access to this content. This is also the reason that my kindle is currently registered as “Annabel’s 2nd Kindle” she bought a bunch of books that I want to read and I can’t read them unless I pretend to be her.

My second issue with the Kindle is that I like owning physical books, I like buying books, I like reading them, I like seeing them on my book shelf. What I don’t like is having to buy books that I want to own the hard copy of twice. With a CD I have the option of format shifting the CD to MP3 to listen to on my iPod, I don’t really have that option on my Kindle, so if I want to read a book that I have already bought I have to pony up the cash for it again. Why can’t books come with a single use code that allows me to say “Hey I bought this book legitimately from a book store let me have the digital copy for free” I know an awful lot of  technical books are doing this, giving you free access to a pdf or .mobi version of the book which you can download if you have bought the book, why not do this for print?

Better yet since amazon knows what books I’ve bought off of them, why not give me the kindle version of those books for free if I buy the physical book from Amazon. That gives them a competitive advantage over other re-sellers, not only do you get Amazon’s prices and amazing customer service, but you also get the a digital copy of the book for free, I’d buy into that, I’d probably never buy books from anyone else ever again.

Aside from these issues though I’m loving the Kindle, I’ve updated the firmware so that I can put my own wallpapers on it, I’ve even tried to put a Manga on it using Mangle, it was legible but the text was a little too small for my liking, that is down to the Manga and not the Kindle though.

I’ve even signed up for a beta copy of the Kindle Developer Kit, though I’ve not heard back from them about this yet.

If you are thinking of getting a Kindle but have held back because you weren’t sure, go for it, it’s awesome. I held back for while but having tried it I love it.

 

Richard-Wilkinson releases ‘Little Brother’ Image for free download

Richard Wilkinson has teased his artwork for Cory Doctorrow’s little brother up for free under a creative commons license. The one above is of the Vampire Flash Mob scene in the book. Check out the link below for more

Richard-Wilkinson · ‘Little Brother’ Free Hi-res Image Downloads.

Book Review: Company (Max Barry)

I’ve been trying to get a hold of this book for some time. The only Max Barry book that appears to be readilly available in the uk is his best selling Jennifer Government. I’ve managed to hunt down his other two books Syrup and now company on amazon but i’ve yet to see either in book shops. Which is a shame…
This is Max Barry’s third book, he specializes in corporate Satire, his first book “Syrup” was about a guy getting screwed over by the marketting practices of the Cola industry, his 2nd book Jennifer Government was about a a near future where corporations ruled the world.

Company looks at management practices, The main character Jones is a graduate recruit at Zephyr Holdings Ltd, he’s eager to to work his way up the corporate ladder and when he joins the corporate sales team he finds they are in the midst of a crisis of monumental proportions. Somone has had two doughnuts leaving none for Roger.

Jones tries hard to fit into the company who’s strange pratices and crazy bureaucracy confuse him, it takes him a while to ask the question “What does the company actually do” and when he asks it no one seems to know. His investigation and what leads on from that form the rest of the book which I can’t really tell you much about without ruining it for you. The scary thing is I can believe that it could be true.

Company is a really easy to read book, I’m normally a slow reader (My record for reading one book was 6 years) but I read Company in 2 Days, and thats only because I had to go to work. My one criticism is that having read Barry’s other books I’m noticing some similarities in the characters, I think that Jones is really similar to the main character in Syrup, and the I’m-your-friend-but-you-have-to-watch-your-back-because-I’m-in-this-for-me-but-I-love-you-really antagonist/protagonist/love interest reminds me an aweful lot of the character who played the same role in Syrup. That not to say that they are bad characters, just they are awefully similar.

I’d recommend company to anyone who’s ever worked in a company, or taken a management course, it’s a good story with interesting (if predictable) twists and turns, and it covers novel subject matter.

Bloomsbury Give-away



Bloomsbury GIvaway, originally uploaded by Ohmzar.

I won a book from Bloomsbury books on twitter I had no idea what the book was about. Only that I cold wini t by quickly emailing their marketting department.

The note says “Congratulations, Keep following uson twitter.” I think I’ll use it as a book mark for when I read the book.

From glancign at the cover and my memory of a quick review of the book on Amazon that I read two weeks ago, the book is about Catherine Hubbard, a woman who’s life is falling apart who inherits her grandmother Georgia’s house in Vermont.

When gets there she finds her grandmothers diaries while cleaning the attic, revealing the true story of Georgia (Her grandmothers life).

Reading the life of somone who is separated from her by a generation, apparently the things that are seen as Taboo by her grandmother but are completely normal to Catherine make it a surreal journey, or some such.

Whe I get round to reading this I’ll post an actual review based on more than the back cover.