In Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne three to five players battle it out to achieve the greatest amount of influence across the other houses in Westeros.
With two of the creators of Cosmic Encounters behind this GOT board game it follows a lot of the same core mechanics and I was initially a little concerned that this could end up being a mere re-skin of a classic game.
Each player chooses a house and then a leader of their house, for instance you could choose to represent the Lannisters and then select Cersei as your playable leader. Your initial choice of leader is important as each leader has a different power you can use to improve your chances of success. Next you gather the rest of the houses character tokens which are the characters you will use in the encounters with the other houses. Players also start with a house deck, and five house cards in their hand. These cards will either be hostile cards with various numbers from one to twenty, character cards with special abilities, or truce cards if you are feeling particularly peaceful.
As in the show and books, the great houses have power and influence over other houses with allegiances being made and broken over the course of the games rounds. Each house starts with the same amount of power, which is represented by golden crowns and this power represents their physical and political strength.
Each turn a player takes a card from the event deck which decides who you will be having an encounter with; although there are also special cards which decide the encounter based of other effects, such as the player with the most cards in their hands. Players then prepare for the encounter by choosing with character token they are going to use, and distribute one power from their leader to any of their other characters. They then choose a house card from their hand and place it down - the other active player does the same.
At this point other players have the choice of whether to add their support to the encounter on either side by adding one of their character tokens and power. The active players can refuse support and equally players may choose to not support anyone.
After support has been declared the encounter will be resolved, and depending on what cards were played, the outcome changes. If both active players revealed a numbered hostile cards, then that number is added to all the power of the participating characters, and the player with the greater total of power wins.
Players can also decide on a truce, where they both agree to a peaceful outcome and can bargain for things such as spreading an influence to eachothers house. If players are honest they will both place a truce card, however as is to be expected of Game of Thrones, players can betray eachother and instead reveal a hostile card in order to win the encounter.
The last stage of a turn is the resolution phase where the winner and losers receive the various rewards and punishments determined by the outcome of the encounter. If the challenger wins the encounter, each player on their side gets to spread influence onto the defenders house. If the defender wins the encounter they may add two more cards to their hand and add two more power from their leader to any characters. Whichever side wins may also take a hostage card from the opposing players deck or hand. The hostage cards can be used later in the game to remove power from opposing houses characters or as a bargaining tool to gain support. The losing player and all the players who supported them suffer the same penalty of having to remove half their power from the character they used in this encounter.
This continues until one player has spread five of their influence tokens onto another persons house and therefore wins the game.
Playing Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne feels like you are really part of one of the iconic families of Westeros. The feuds and allies you make along the way are incredibly memorable and the negotiations add a real sense of immersion to the game. The combat isn't really the focus of the game and instead it's the negotiations and alliances you make that are going to help you to be ultimately victorious.
Although the decision of which player you have the encounter with is decided by cards at random, you still need to make the decision of whether to end the encounter in conflict, peace or sneaky backstabbing.
Likewise on the odd turn where another player and I agreed to play truce cards, I found myself often studying their body language in an attempt to deduce whether or not they were telling the truth!
Another aspect of the game which I enjoyed is the lack of downtime since even when you are not an active player, you have the option to be involved in every fight by picking alliances and offering your support. Listening to the active players make their reasoning for why you should add your power to their battle is great fun, especially hearing someone who has previously crossed you now beg for your support.
This is definitely a game where the theme does not just feel pasted on to sell the license, for me it really feels like a Game of Thrones game, and fans of the TV show will love the artwork which is comprised of direct screen grabs from the show. The game is set immediately after Robert Baretheons death so there a few characters we have not seen for a while as the game takes place during the early seasons of the show.
The other GOT themed board games I personally have played have generally been on the more hardcore side of gaming and taken a least a couple of hours to play, where as the Iron Throne, although not a gateway game, is a lot easier to learn and plays in around an hour so it might appeal to the less devoted board gamer and fans of the TV Show who wish to directly roleplay iconic characters such as Cersai Lannister and Ned Stark.
This game has a lot of potential for replayability as there is over 20 playable leaders to choose from and each one offers different powers and unique abilities. We played three player and five player games and found it performed best, as you would expect, with the most amount of players as that's when the allegiances kept being made and broken.
GoT: The Iron Throne is of course going to have comparisons to Cosmic Encounter, and I believe it stands on its own two feet quite well against a game that has been around for decades. For me it felt like a toned down version with slightly less choice, making it an easier game to learn and teach which definitely works in the favour of this mainstream IP.
However in our games, like with Cosmic Encounter, we did find some cards to feel slighty over powered, for instance if you have Cersei Lannister as a leader and you have influence in other players houses, you can force them to support you in an encounter - on the condition that the Lannister player announces this before the other players have offered support. When playing with less players this was particularly over-powered however there is an argument to be made that it seemed fitting for the theme, as you can totally imagine Cersei forcing support and manipulating her enemies.
My biggest problem with this game was the power being represented by the yellow crowns, while great for thematic purposes and very nice to look at, they blend far too well into eachother making it easy to look over the table and see what the other players power is. We were having to physically move crowns to count them which becomes tedious when you have to keep doing it. Also - they just don't stack as nicely as the flying saucers from Cosmic Encounter.
This a great game for GoT fans wanting something different from other themed games out there as you can really spend your hour of gameplay backstabbing your way to success on the throne especially as you can be supported by other players on your way to the top or fall far from grace.