Gamers by their nature are nerds. This means that we love the world of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Any game that deals with this theme is going to get serious attention from the Muskegon Area Gamers. One such game is the AGOT Living Card Game. And our champion for this game has always been Matt. Matt has been stalwart in his position that A Game of Thrones: LCG is a game we would like if we gave it a chance. Now that the 2nd edition of the card game I asked if he would do a write up about the game, an overview for those who don’t know anything about it. Here is what he has to say.
Hi everyone. I’m Matt Spencer, and I’m on a mission to expand our group of players for A Game of Thrones: Second Edition in the Muskegon area. I played for a few years of First Edition with Chris Halbower, Rocky Thompson, and Jeremy Scott Pyne, and am now leading the charge to get our group more active in the scene for Second Edition. Today, I’m here to tell you about the game and why you should play! I’ll describe both the mechanics and the source material and discuss how it may be both similar and different from Magic the Gathering (a CCG that most people are at least passingly familiar with in the hobby.) Finally, I’ll tell you how the game has evolved from its First Edition roots into the Second Edition game we now have.
A Game of Thrones, Second Edition takes place in George R.R. Martin’s world of A Song of Ice and Fire; a low-fantasy medieval period similar to England, in which major and minor houses are vying to control the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. This is a world where the good guy does not always win, where having a name and a title does not mean you won’t have a knife shoved in your eye, and where plotting and scheming is as second nature as breathing. Mechanically, this plays out thusly: each round, players will take turns announcing their plot for the turn (a card pulled from a separate side deck which provides income, determines first player, and gives you a special effect for the round), before marshaling characters to the board to participate in challenges.
These challenges can be military (a successful result kills a character), intrigue (a successful result forces your opponent to discard a card at random from their hand) or power (a successful result steals power from your opponent, getting you closer to victory). The first house to reach fifteen power, through renowned characters, unopposed challenges, or events they play is the winner and the rightful King of Westeros.
There are eight distinct factions within A Game of Thrones, Second Edition. House Baratheon is strong at controlling the board through kneeling characters and denying challenges. House Lannister is deceptive; they can destroy your hand, leaving you without resources to fight off their cruel forces. House Stark values the family and sacrifices one for the good of all, for while the lone wolf dies, the pack survives.
House Greyjoy is comprised of what we would think of as Vikings – they use boats and stealth to strike quickly and eliminate resistance. House Tyrell comes from a bounteous and chivalrous land of lords and ladies, and so they have the wealth to compete and armies seeking glory. House Martell bides its time, like the snake in the grass. When the time comes, they strike quickly, stripping the ability to defend challenges from character while giving its characters the ability to fight in challenges they couldn’t before. The men of the Night’s Watch defend the realms of Man from the wildlings of the North through the power of a great Wall, and their style is just that – opposition, endurance, and the slow win. House Targaryen, the former kings, have meager resources and few friends; only the Horselords of the Dothraki serve their Khal and, through marriage, their Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen. What they have that all other houses lack, however, is dragons – three whelps whose fire can burn even the greatest foe to cinders.
When compared to Magic, there are four fundamental ways that the game differs: guaranteed income, challenges vs attacking, resolution rules and the distribution model of a Living Card Game (as opposed to a Collectible Card Game). First, each round a player chooses a plot from their plot deck, guaranteeing them a pre-set income as printed on the card. In this, it is difficult to be “mana screwed” and unable to do anything simply because of a poor draw of resources. Second, “attacking” in A Game of Thrones consists of three separate challenges, each with a different resolution effect. Defending a challenge does not damage a character. It’s still important to be able to defend and still make challenges of your own; because an undefended challenge generates one power for your house; allowing too many through will cost you a game. Effect resolution in A Game of Thrones is absolute. Unless an effect is an interrupt, once a card is played, its effect will resolve completely before any other effect may be played. For example, if I use Dracarys! (give a character -4 strength and kill it if its strength is 0) on a three-strength character, that character will die unless an interrupt saves it – an event that raises its strength by 2 is too late once the card has been played. Finally, the distribution model of the games themselves differs in that a traditional CCG has a rarity distribution with packs, where a LCG has a set distribution of cards in each pack. Every copy of product has the exact same cards within it (three copies of each card in a booster, and 1, 2, or 3 copies of each card in a Core set depending on the card). In this way it is easy to buy a playset of cards, whereas if one were to buy a case of boosters for a traditional CCG, it is unlikely you would receive a full play set of any given card set.
As we move to the Second Edition, there have been a few changes to streamline the game. I’ll briefly explain the changes that distinguish Second Edition from the First Edition. First, the concept of “moribund” state is no more. This occurred when cards could react to something dying, including themselves, but could not trigger from the discard pile, only from play. So a card would die, all reactions would trigger, and at the end of the timing step, the card would finally leave play. This ended up being confusing, and led to plays such as killing everything in play, so Joffrey Baratheon could claim 3 power from 3 lords dying – including himself – to win the game.
In Second Edition “interrupt” is an activated ability type that resolves before an action would, clearing up a lot of timing issues. Second edition also brings us a stronger focus on iconic, expensive characters such as Eddard Stark, Ser Gregor Clegane, and Daenerys Targaryen over cheap, efficient no-names like Archibald Yronwood and The Tickler, by making the former easier to play and stronger. Their presence in the game feels like something important, and something that requires your attention. Theme has also been more refined, giving each house a very distinct feel in terms of what they are good at – While Lannister and Tyrell both have strong economies, one focuses much more on Knights and ladies while the other focuses much more on disabling your opponent by cancelling effects and killing characters on the field. A rotation has been established in the card pool as well, ensuring that over time the entrance point of the game stays low and the card pool stays fresh and exciting.
So whether you are a veteran player coming back, a newbie looking for a good, tactical card game that drips with theme and lore, or a Magic player looking for a hobby that doesn’t require selling plasma to be competitive, give Game of Thrones: Second Edition a shot. Just remember: in the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die!
-Matt, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers