A Game of Thrones – IQ games 10/01/16

My first tournament for A Game of Thrones in either edition so I thought I’d write some words about it. Arriving literally just in time after negotiating the Huddersfield one way system was not a good omen, and I sat awaiting first pairings with veteran 1st edition players running sensible decks. Whereas I was the only Tyrell player there with a deck which lacked a clear archetype.

The Deck

House Tyrell / Banter to the Stag

Plots
1x A Feast for Crows
1x A Game of Thrones
1x A Noble Cause
1x Building Orders
1x Calm Over Westeros
1x Counting Coppers
1x Filthy Accusations

Characters
1x Littlefinger
1x Varys
2x Maester Cressen
2x Melisandre
1x Ser Davos Seaworth
3x Fiery Followers
2x Dragonstone Faithful
2x Left
1x Maester Lomys
2x Margaery Tyrell
2x Paxter Redwyne
2x Randyll Tarly
2x Right
2x The Knight of Flowers
2x The Queen of Thorns
3x Garden Caretaker
1x Olenna’s Informant
3x Wardens of the Reach
2x Arbor Knight
1x Renly Baratheon

Locations
2x The Iron Throne
3x The Kingsroad
3x The Roseroad
1x Chamber of the Painted Table
1x Highgarden
1x The Mander
3x Rose Garden

Attachments
2x Milk of the Poppy
2x Heartsbane

Events
1x Put to the Torch
2x Tears of Lys
1x The Hand’s Judgment
2x Seen In Flames

The overall idea behind the deck is to build a big board, attacking with big characters like Randyll leaving enough small characters for defence and dominance win. I chose to play Tyrell largely because of The Queen of Thorns, although she really would work better in a Fealty deck once the character pool is bigger. Bannering to Baratheon so that I could take a reasonable amount of kneel to suppress big threats.

The Deck has a very small number of events and attachments so most of the cards are fine for a set-up hand, typically 3 or 4 cards on the board at the start of the game. The events I did choose were probably questionable, only one each of Put to the Torch and The Hand’s Judgment to counter specific threats like The Seastone Chair, The Red Keep and Tears of Lys. Although with only one of each I was unlikely to see them when I needed them. My own Tears of Lys were there to make up for my lack of reliable military pressure.

Considering locations there were probably too many one offs and I would have benefited from more consistency with additional Chambers of the Painted Table, in the end I never used The Mander or Highgarden to great effect.

The characters have a reasonable cost curve peaking around 3 gold but the icon spread is not great being slightly lacking in power icons, making me regret removing 2 Courtesans of the Rose. I was happy with all my Baratheon characters except Renly who ended up being too expensive to put out. The Tyrell characters mainly had strong intrigue which I was continually pushing through, with The Knight of Flowers being a key character, usually able to get through a power challenge with renown.

The plot deck was the part that I agonised over the most, a Building Orders to offset my locations being one off when I would have rather had a Summons or a Marched to the Wall. My favourite plots were A Feast for Crows and A Game of Thrones, helping me to push forward my power and slow down an aggressive opponent respectively.

Round 1 Baratheon-Fealty

I went into the first round pairings very nervous, I was sat across from a reputedly strong 1st edition player, rocking Bara-Fealty a known strong archetype. I would have to pull out all the stops. I started with a 4 card set-up of a few weenies and a Roseroad, but shockingly he had managed to put down Robert Baratheon. Turn 1 I knelt his Robert with a Filthy Accusations and was able to follow up by using Tears of Lys on Robert, killing him and leaving me in a strong position. This lead to a few turns of unopposed challenges getting me a good power lead, however during this time he had got out Melisandre and Stannis and was kneeling my threats pretty consistently. Plot 7 rolled around and it was a Wildfire assault from him, decimating my board leaving me with Margaery, Randyll with Milk of the Poppy on him and Paxter Redwyne up against both Stannis and Melisandre. I was able to rebuild just enough to not lose immediately but it wasn’t looking good. I have a a board mainly of weanies, losing power challenges but retaining dominance. It boiled down to the 10th plot when I flipped A Feast for Crows and time was called, we determined that he could not prevent me from winning dominance and getting to 15 power so round 1 went to me.

Round 2 Lannister – Banter to the Dragon

For the second round I was up against a Lannister deck but I had a good start, a fair few characters for set up and able to drop The Knight of Flowers turn 1 racing up to 10 power in 3 turns, however he had been building his board and was ready to strike back. A big military challenge went in so I chump blocked it, but I was surprised by a Put to the Sword, killing The Knight of Flowers and setting me back immensely. An especially galling loss since I had wasted a Hand’s Judgement on Things I do for Love just a turn earlier. I attempted to build back up but at this point I was staving off the inevitable. Big character after big character, Cersei destroying my hand with Tywin and Jaime racking up renown. It was over before plot 7 and left me 1-1

Round 3 Greyjoy – Fealty

Greyjoy are the faction I feared coming up against, probably wrongly, largely due to Balon and The Seastone Chair for scary targeted kill. He had a pretty great set up, including Asha and an Iron Fleet Scout compared to my mediocre efforts, Paxter Redwyne and a couple of weenies. I felt pretty intimidated when he dropped Euron Crow’s Eye and Aeron Damphair over the next few turns but it got better with a successful intrigue challenge setting up Tears of Lys. However I made a terrible mistake, killing Asha while Aeron Damphair was still alive making my efforts worse than useless. After that it was all downhill, many unopposed challenges through stealth closed out the game in a few turns and I slid down into a negative win ratio.

Round 4 Baratheon – Fealty

Staring down another Bara-Fealty deck was not what I had in mind especially seeing Melisandre on the board straight away, although he was light on military icons. I took advantage of this, keeping the pressure up so he never had rarely had free characters to attack with. I was able to keep creeping up on power and board presence, wary of building too big in case of wildfire assault, but it never came. My main controlling pieces never really got used unfortunately, no Milk of the Poppy due to Maester Cressen knocking about and I didn’t see any Tears of Lys. In the end this didn’t matter as I was able to push for a fairly quick victory through a Feast for Crows turn, evening out my win ratio.

Round 5 Greyjoy – Banter to the Lion

Another Greyjoy deck for my last round, I didn’t feel like I  would make top 4, but I wanted top 8 for some of that sweet store credit so it was all to play for. Neither of us had a particularly good start, an Arbor Knight with some Fiery Followers and some economy for me and a Black Wind’s Crew with some economy for him. I opened up with a cautious Calm Over Westeros, as I had pretty much every game, just in case of Naval Superiority, and so I could relax on my weak military challenges. After a few turns of good gains, able to actually win attacking military challenges against Greyjoy, Balon arrived and put the fear in me again. I endured a couple more turns, throwing down Melisandre and keeping Balon down for a little while and racking up power with The Iron Throne and Chamber of the Painted Table. In fact I had build an almost unmanageably big board but he had not been idle either, supporting Balon with a smattering of smaller characters but crucially not Asha or Theon who might have made a stealth power challenge. He also had down The Seastone Chair so could start picking off my important guys using Balon. Through strategic use of Margaery I figured I could actually stop Balon’s challenges but then Widow’s Wail was played from ambush and all my maths was destroyed. The next turn I dropped Varys to try and stop the rot, either he would waste The Seastone Chair on Varys or I would wipe the board. What neither of us had noticed however was The Knight of Flowers who poked through a cheeky power challenge with renown to end the game just before time. A very close game with plenty of back and forth, I wouldn’t have the tournament end an other way.

I ended up placing 7th out of 18 earning a very pretty Tumblestone Knight and £5 of store credit, which I immediately redeemed on a beautiful Tyrell playmat featuring the two best cards in the game, Left and Right obviously. IQ games in a great venue and I’ll certainly be back if I have time to travel.

 

Final thoughts on the deck.

Having played the same deck with a few tweaks more since the tournament it has become clear that the deck is junk. Half heartedly trying to be like the popular Lannister/Rose decks that are going around but also worse than if it had been a pure Baratheon deck. Looking at the cards in The Road to Winterfell they seem continue to push Tyrell into being  a banner faction or at least not do enough to let them stand on their own. However, even though it probably is just me being a contrarian, I’ll still hold a torch for the boys and girls in green.

Battlestar Galactica – God damn toasters

“Who put that in there?”                                                                                                                                 “Why go there, do you want us to die?”                                                                                                     “No I didn’t fail that on purpose”                                                                                                                 “Right everybody we need to put him in the brig”

These are just a few of the frantic half sentences you might hear during a game of Battlestar Galactica, as you and your friends try to keep the fragile human fleet alive to fight another day, but not all of you will be helping. Battlestar Galactica is the grand daddy of a small genre of co-operative games involving hidden loyalties, based on the SyFy show of 3 1/2 good seasons and 1/2 we don’t talk about. You don’t need to have seen the show to enjoy the game but the theme definitely enhances it.

Some players will be valiant humans holding their own against the relentless enemy fleet, but a few may be Cylon infiltrators, unfeeling skin-jobs, they look like us but all they want is to see us die in the vacuum of space. If I seem biased its because I am.

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My spirit animal.

 

While the overall game state of Battlestar Galactica can seem intimidating with its big map and many decks of cards, an individual player’s turn is relatively simple. You draw your cards, maybe move around, do an action to help out the fleet, then get dealt a crisis card for the team to deal with together. While you can wait a while for your turn you’re always involved in the action on other players turns, helping in crises or watching for treachery. This simple turn along with the game being co-operative really helps teaching.

Ultimately the game of Battlestar Galactica is about resource management as a team, the material resources of the fleet like fuel, Galactica’s compliment of fighters and players’ hands of cards, to be used either as beneficial actions or in skill checks. These skill checks are the openings the duplicitous Cylons can start using to ruin people’s days. There are 5 colours of skill cards, no character draws skill cards from all colours and only some will contribute positively to each skill check, and skill cards are added secretly, no one knows who contributed which cards and the randomised ‘destiny deck’ adds in some wildcards so no one is sure if the Cylons have revealed themselves with sabotage.

If the team of humans feel sure enough they can attempt to put the suspected Cylons in the brig, this is another skill check so Cylons and those who do not agree with arresting that player can resist. If arrested or otherwise rumbled by the humans, Cylon players have a final recourse, to kill themselves and travel to the resurrection ship. Acting overtly now, Cylons have access to a mini board of locations with which to threaten the human fleet.

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Which of these people is an emotionless robot – no I’m not in the picture.

The game does have some problems, the additional role of the Cylon sympathiser in even numbered games is added as a balancing mechanic, if the humans are doing well they join the Cylons and vice versa. But this sometimes feels like too much of a correction, especially with 4 players, either 1 lonely Cylon or some seriously overwhelmed humans. It also sometimes feels a little long, this can only get worse as expansions are added, and endings can be slightly anti climactic, the humans knowing they’re either safe or doomed for a few turns ahead. Another problem is a fault that I personally have, the game is quite susceptible to coaching, where a more experienced player overly steers the others towards a ‘correct’ series of decisions. This combines with the difficulty of being a Cylon as a new player (it’s even harder to know ‘good’ moves than for the humans) to make a first game experience that isn’t great.

If your group has the time I would recommend Battlestar Galactica, at least the base game, if absolutely none of you have seen the show then maybe the flaws will overwhelm you, but this type of semi co-operative game is a great gateway drug, so why not start out with the original.

 

Disclaimer: I have not played this with expansions they may fix/ruin everything, delete as applicable

Love Letter – Everything can be cubes, even love

More content! Yes it’s been a while.

So Love Letter is a classic of light board games, released as far back as the mystical year of 2012. It is also a wonderful piece of object design and I’m going to say that it is THE game to get people into the hobby with.

First let’s talk about object design again, one thing I’ve noticed more and more recently is people love good components, and Love Letter’s velvetine bag and fantastic artwork           (apart from the prince who looks more than a little leathery, in a Hugh Grant kind of way) are no exception. Rather than being a big flashy box covered in aliens and  explosions, Love Letter is a tiny game with a lot of promise.

Rules wise it is again perfect for new players, you draw a card then play a card and all rules text for a card is found on that card which reduces awkward manual reading. The aim of the game is to deliver your letter of love to a heartbroken princess by being the highest ranked character left standing at the end of a round (rewarded, as in all board games, with tiny wooden cubes)  , although you never know which characters the other players are until the end. There are ways to eliminate players but they all depend on playing the odds as to who they are, this is where Love Letter really comes to life. New players get to feel the rush of lucky guesses, then as  they gain experience can make better and better guesses based on the character cards already played.

So Love Letter has a lot going for it but how does it stack up against the other titan of light introductory hidden information games, Skull? While skull is a great game and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it in the future, there are a couple of reasons I think Love Letter is better for new players. Firstly in my experience Love Letter is picked up easier, the ability to lay down extra tiles in Skull being particularly confusing to people, so players get to a stage of learning to play well rather than just learning to play faster. Another reason is the lack of deception, while information is hidden, a lot of the time you aren’t trying to trick people, its enough just to stay quiet about who you are which takes some of the pressure off. Lastly is a more selfish reason, because in my opinion Love Letter opens up more of the games that I am interested in playing, with it’s focus on a character abilities and relative power determined by numbers.

So really you should all be buying Love Letter it’s cheap as chips, show more people the world of board games and spread the love.