A Game of Thrones the Card Game
"Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle."
The first edition of A Game of Thrones LCG (Living Card Game) has officially died, after the final World Champion was crowned this week in Minneapolis. By the way, the new Joust (head-to-head) Champion is a Swede, Stockholmer Jakob Hultman, which is a testament to how vibrant the game's community is here. In fact, another Swede, Andreas Aldrin, was also in the final for the multi-player Melee Champioship. But now those hard-core first edition players will set aside their old decks and the second edition will truly take over and lead us into the future of this great and rich game.
When Fantasy Flight initially announced a second edition would be coming, making first edition obsolete, it was not universally greeted with enthusiasm. Initially, I was among the more grumpy receivers of this news. My problem was that I had bought into first edition about two years ago and hadn't had much of a chance to play it much and I was debated investing in a whole new edition. But like nearly everyone else. I came around and am currently in full second edition embrace mode.
With every game played I get closer and closer to A Game of Thrones LCG, second edition. Closer and closer to the heart of the game, which is at once inviting and elusive, promising and coy. This is a game of deep, long-distance complexity, but also one that immediately immerses new players into alternating thrilling rushes and crushing lack of grace. I have found second edition to be much a more inviting of game, partly because the new system has been tweaked to be smoother to play and partly because when I entered first edition it had already existed for years and had become intimidating for new players. So, if you are debating about getting into the second edition, now is the time! Over the next two years the game will have a small enough card pool to allow beginners to jump in and learn the game and be competitive within a short amount of time.
So, what is new for second edition? There's been a lot written about this already and if you are interested in a detailed explanation of the changes the best thing is to read co-designer Nate French's letter to the Game of Thrones LCG community.
But perhaps the biggest update is with the timing system, which had become cumbersome and confusing in first edition. Now, there is a well-designed timing chart, with clear rules about who can/should do what and when during the course of play. Most of the other changes made for second edition are intended to streamline gameplay, taking away many elements, like the extra resource influence and many of the clunky keywords weighing down gameplay.
However, for me the most exciting changes are to the factions and how you play with them. There are two new factions added, House Tyrell and the Knight's Watch. And now when you are choosing what faction to play, it is much easier to play with two than it used to be, with the added option of choosing a banner faction to add their cards to your main faction in lieu of another agenda. One thing I have noticed from my games and observing others is that while there may be a very slight advantage to choosing a single faction, having a banner faction is now a much more viable strategy and is fun trying to figure out which combinations are best and how to combine them.
Each faction is unique and plays very differently. My two favorite combinations so far are Targaryen (with their dragons and strong attacking power) with banner Lannister (with their high income and intrigue challenges) and Knight's Watch (with their staunch defenses) with banner Baratheon (bringing opponents to their knees and leaving them impotent and vulnerable). And if you know anything about George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, then you can see that the playing styles of each of the factions matches what they are in the TV show and books. This is really the strongest aspect of the Game of Thrones LCG: the theme, characters and story are intricately wrapped up in how the game is played, especially in the second edition.
There are two ways to play the game: the two-player joust format and the multi-player melee. Joust is by far the most common format played, but multi-player is refreshingly fun and works much better than most other LCG or CCG card games. In a melee game, players draft six different titles (roles) every round, like Hand of the King, Master of Coin and Crown Regent. Each title, except for the Crown Regent, supports one other title (cannot attack the player who chooses that title that round) and is rival to two other titles (giving a bonus for attacking players with those titles). The titles create a constantly changing dynamic of alliances and rivalries between players, which again reflects Martin's story.
Apart from Joust or Melee, there are different ways of playing A Game of Thrones: the Card Game LCG, second edition. You can go all in like Jakob and Andreas and travel the world competing, you can just buy one core set and build four decks to play casually with friends or anything in between. The game works well on all those levels but if you want to play more regularly and be more competitive (even at a local level) it is a good idea to get three core sets and keep up with the monthly chapter packs when start being released. This is why it is a good idea to jump in now, or in the next couple of years, because as the card pool grows and grows it gets more and more difficult to get up to speed (which is what happened to me when I tried to get into first edition). I am mostly a novice when it comes to these type of deck building games and already it has been an amazing experience learning how to put decks together, play with them, go back and re-work them and then play them again. And this is just with the core set, there is so much to come and I cannot wait to see what Fantasy Flight has in store.