I have never watched or read any A Game Of Thrones (AGOT) shows or books in my life. So this review of the AGOT The Card Game: Second Edition (let’s shorten it to AGOT 2.0) might be a little different than usual, given that I actually know and follow, all of Fantasy Flight Games’ other Living Card Games (LCGs).
A couple of years ago, I played a couple of rounds of the first edition of the AGOT LCG. The game felt average: not terrible, but not memorable enough to make me run out and buy some cards either. The artwork was quite underwhelming for me: everything just felt boring.
So here we are, and it’s already been some months since AGOT 2.0 has landed. It’s definitely gained some traction amongst the card game fraternity here. I’m honestly not sure if it’s because of the TV series, or the books, but AGOT as a whole seems to get some attention, when a game based on it, does get made.
Since I’ve tried every LCG that Fantasy Flight Games (FFG)’s ever made, and someone in my group did buy it, I decided to give it a whirl. Hey maybe I’ll like it so much that I won’t sell it, like what I did to Warhammer 40K Conquest LCG! (Yes, I was stoked with that game, but decided to sell it after coming to the conclusion that I wasn’t ever going to play it that much. Plus, deck-building games get so much more mileage for my group.)
The plot thickens
Like all of FFG’s other LCGs, AGOT 2.0 was first made available in Core Sets, which contain playable decks, rules and game tokens. A single Core set has over 200 cards, and is playable between two to four players, while combining two Cores will enable up to six players to have a go at things.
And yes, that’s one key “advantage” for AGOT LCG from the “get-go” / its first official product: it supports multiplayer. One of the (intended?) quirks or traits for LCGs such as Star Wars, Android: Netrunner and Conquest, is that none of them start out with a multiplayer option. AGOT 2.0 might be going for its key audiences of book and TV series fans, by being more “group-friendly”, and thus maximising its chances of flourishing. Well-played FFG.
The components all feel high quality, and AGOT 2.0 is as fine as any of FFG’s other LCGs. The artwork is also nice: there are some from the Core Set which I personally find dull, but it’s a noticeable improvement from the first edition.
The objective of AGOT 2.0 is to earn 15 “Power”. Represented by tokens with the crown symbol on each of them, this LCG ends immediately when someone gets to the magic number.
Each turn starts with the Plot phase. This is when players choose their Plot card for the turn, and then simultaneously reveal them. Each Plot tells you how much Gold, Initiative and Claim you get, for the turn. The player with the highest Initiative “resolves” his or her Plot first.
The catch is, after you picked a Plot for the turn, you have to send it to a “used Plot” pile. You can start “recycling” or reusing a previously used Plot card, after when you’ve got no more Plots left topick. This of course prevents players from abusing particular ones that might be too strong in selected situations.
After Plot, each player draws two cards from his deck. We then enter the Marshalling phase, which is where players deploy Characters, Locations and Attachments.
Then, the game starts to get nasty and interesting, with the conflict-ridden Challenges phase. Characters are pretty much the key players here, as they indulge in Military (red sword symbol), Power (crown) and Intrigue (eye) challenges.
Each character card has all or some of the above stats. There’s a number which denotes the particular stat’s value. The design of the cards are very clean and clear: props to FFG’s graphic design team for making AGOT 2.0 one of the more visually-impressive card games I’ve ever played.
When you win a Military challenge, your opponent has to “kill” a character. The “killed” go to a “dead” pile, which is different from your discard pile.
Winning Power challenges allow you to steal an opponent’s “Power” token, while Intrigue challenges are about card discards.
The end of the turn is then when the Dominance phase kicks in: each player totals up the Power of all his/her characters, with the highest one gaining a Power token. If there’s a tie, no one gains Dominance.
In a “Melee”, multiplayer mode, there’s a slight difference on when Taxation happens. In the one-on-one game, Taxation happens after the Dominance phase. In Melee, it happens immediately after Marshalling.
There are also Title cards to kick off every round of play, right before players select their Plot cards. These cards introduce powerful effects which often influence how turns end up being played. I saw Crown Regent being fielded regularly in the Melee games I tried: natural, given that it can redirect any challenge, for the round. Yes it can only be triggered once, but it’s a useful enough deterrent against anyone wanting to sneak in an attack or two!
Summary and conclusion
I found AGOT 2.0 to be pretty quick to learn. Maybe it was the “tutor” (thanks Alwyn!), or perhaps it was the logically organised rulebook (which wisely does away with the traditional “let’s explain what everything is first before teaching the actual rules), but no brain aneurysm here trying to figure out how to get going.
The Challenges is where things often get fun, as players strive to bleed and outlast the opponents, using the cards on the table, as well as Event cards in hand. It’s a real to and fro, and for experienced players, things move at a brisk pace. Downtime was not observed to be a great deal to me, even for Melee mode.
The Melee multiplayer option is where the LCG really shines, and is a great way for three or four players to spend an hour plus. Yes, it’s pretty fast too.
If I had to describe this revitalised AGOT LCG, I’d simply summarise it as a “moderately complex boardgame, with cards”. I think fans of the lore will love it, and gamers will too, since it’s really a fun romp till the 15 Power game-ending condition.
Having said that, the 15 Power winning threshold can excite some, or be a bummer for the rest. It seems to reward aggressive play, which is great, but doesn’t give anyone much incentive to “stop” the guy who’s racing ahead.
At RM200 a pop (that’s the price of a Core set), the game gives decent value-for-money, as you get four incomplete but playable decks for casual games. Competitive players will want three Core sets so you can have 60-card decks with three copies of everything (maximum number of copies per card).
I seldom recommend casual people games like LCGs, so AGOT 2.0 could be the first. I still think Android Netrunner’s the best-made FFG LCG, but this other famous fantasy franchise card game would be a close second. Here’s to more expansions for AGOT 2.0!