Monday, 12 September 2016

How To Win At The Game Of Thrones Board Game: Part 6- Taking the Win, Meta-Game and Alliances, and Alternative Ways to Play

Hello, and welcome to the final part of my guide on how to win at the Game of Thrones board game. If you have missed any of the previous parts, they can be found below:

Part 3- Stark and Greyjoy
Part 4- Lannister and Baratheon
Part 5- Tyrell and Martell

7: Taking The Win

“In War.
Prize victory,
Not a protracted campaign.”

Sun Tsu, Waging of War

So, having discussed general strategy and potential issues for each house I am now going to look at making the winning move. There are two ways to win; take a 7th castle, or hold the most castles at the end of the game. Depending on the house you are playing is as the best option will vary.

Obviously taking 7 castles is a safe and instantaneous win, but you are unlikely to be able to reliably do this. Since hitting 6 castles makes you a big target you should try to hover around 5 castles and then aim to take two in one turn. Obviously this means splitting your resources more, and requires careful timing of housecards to give guaranteed or probably victories. Bear in mind that ties are initially broken by number of strongholds, followed by supply track position. This has an important bearing on what each house should attempt. For example, if Greyjoy are sitting on 5 castles, 3 of which are strongholds, and every other player is on 5 or fewer castles, they are probably a strong contender to win the game in turn 10. Conversely, if Martell hold 5 castles they are unlikely to be holding more than one stronghold, meaning they should probably push for a 6th or 7th castle.

The best time to make the push to 7 castles is turns 8 or 9, as other players will not necessarily be prepared for this when compared to turn 10. Another great time to do this is if the Westeros cards deal a “no support orders” card, as this allows territories considered “safe” to be taken (Crackclaw Point, Storm's End etc). If making the push for 7 castles it is important to put the rest of your orders down in a defensive strategy that mitigates risk; unless you can be certain of the victories required to take your final castles then you need to prepare for the worst.

The last aspect of endgame to talk about is turn 10. Turn 10 is different to the rest of the game, mainly because no one has anything to lose. As such, players will be much more reckless and will throw units and house cards at any problem. How you respond to this will depend on your position; if you have a comfortable lead you should play defensively and aim to prevent all attacks. If you are slightly behind you should prepare to march on the loser in any large battles. A particularly good strategy can be suddenly mobilising units that have existed all game as power token farmers. A sudden march from the Arbor or Dragonstone can be unexpected and allow you to easily taken an undefended castle.

I had to get a picture of Stannis in somewhere, and here is as good as anywhere.
Generally if you are in a strong position you should be aiming to end the game in turn 9 and avoiding the unpredictability of turn 10, as it is easy for the rankings of all players to change in the final turn.

8: Meta-game and Alliances

“Words of peace,
But no treaty,
Are a sign
Of a plot.”

Sun Tsu, On The March

One aspect of the game that is often linked to it that I have hardly touched on is the table game, including alliances and deals. Obviously this is not a formal part of the rules, but is thematically encouraged. Depending on the group you play with will depend on how often alliances come into play. That said, once two players make an alliance in a game it is only a matter of time until other alliances form to counter this (for more information, see World War 2).

Generally the most effective alliances are not made between neighbours. Greyjoy and Lannister may make an alliance in good faith, but having a large military presence on your doorstep is something that can only be ignored for so long. Rather, alliances can be mutually beneficial between houses that lack common territories. This could include:

Baratheon/Tyrell
Stark/Lannister
Stark/Martell
Greyjoy/Baratheon
Lannister/Martell
Greyjoy/Tyrell

All these focus on a “pincer” attack on a common enemy. Of course, if you find you cannot trust other players with even this kind of alliance, another option is an alliance that only lasts for a certain time. For example, an alliance up until the start of turn 6. This means both players are aware of when aggression is acceptable whilst not worrying about being the one to be stabbed in the back.

"I did warn you not to trust me"

How alliances work will likely develop between any group of regular players. Another aspect that normally develops between a group of people who regularly play together is a local metagame. This means that there are certain strategies or moves that become the expected move amongst that group. This, in turn, leads to those moves losing value due to being predictable. For example, if a group always used my suggested Lannister opening then the Greyjoy player would likely use a different opening in response to this. This is something that will inform your strategy when playing with this group; how this manifests depends entirely on who you play with.

9: Alternative Set-ups and “House” Rule Suggestions

The last area I would like to discuss is some suggestions for alternative ways of playing that either give the game some variety or help address balancing issues. These are of course not official set ups but give variety to the game.

Rumble In The South (4 players): Block off Pyke, Moat Cailin, Greywater Watch, Flint's Finger, and everything north of them. Houses in play are Lannister, Baratheon, Martell and Tyrell. This set up lets Tyrell have the Valyrian Steel Blade and puts Martell second on two influence tracks, making Doran a more interesting card, as well as giving each house limited space to work in. This also works for groups who want to use Tyrell and Martell but don't always have 6 players.

No Salt Or Sand (4 players): Block off Pyke and Dorne (Prince's Pass, Yronwood, Starfall, Salt Shore, Sunspear), and have Lannister, Baratheon, Stark and Tyrell in. This is less claustrophobic than Rumble but does not give any one player too many resources. It also means Lannister have some breathing room without having too easy a time of things.

All But The Lion (5 players): Block off Lannisport and remove Lannister. This 5 player set up keeps the middle of the board empty, meaning that Baratheon, Tyrell and Greyjoy expand further than usual and get into blows with each other. Since Lannister do not have a lot of uncontested territories this does not substantially change the goals for any house, but does remove the house that suffers most in a 5 player game.

Custom House Decks: The Dance With Dragons expansion adds a new set of house cards for each house, and this can be used to create custom decks. The most balanced ruling is that each house chooses a 4, a 3, two 2s, two 1s and a 0 from the two decks, and these are not publicly announced until the cards have been played. This allows for a lot more strategy and planning for players, who can tailor their house to their play style. This can create some ridiculously powerful house decks, which can put a greater focus on combat. A second alternative to this is to randomise which house gets which cards (e.g. Baratheon use Lannister cards etc).

Army Building: Each house in the base game starts with either 5 or 6 mustering points worth of units. This set up allows players to choose how these are deployed. Each player in turn must place a land unit on their home territory. They can then place on any territory they own or any adjacent territory (with boats required when crossing the sea). Each player places a unit each turn until they have used their mustering points up. Players cannot place into a territory that contains any unit belonging to another player. This allows players to mix up the starting set ups, and thus the starting moves. There is also strategy in deciding how much land to take versus having a stronger army.

Pre-Game Influence Bid: Rather than using the usual influence track positions, each house is given 10 power tokens and a round of bidding occurs before turn 1. This means each player can decide what they want to prioritise, as well as how many power tokens they want to hold on to. This gives some variety to the opening of games, as well as giving each house different opening options.

Messenger Ravens: One group I play with came up with the idea of using “messenger ravens” to send messages in secret to other players. These are written on scraps of paper and handed directly to the player you wish to message, with all players seeing who is messaging who but not the content. This creates a lot more depth to the table game, as alliances and coordinated moves can be created in secret. One optional rule with this is to only allow players to use ravens on alternating turns, meaning private communications are limited.

Summary:

That is about everything I have to say about the Game of Thrones board game. Due to the size and complexity of it it is a game that allows for a lot different ways of playing. I haven't really discussed either of the two official expansions, nor have I talked about the innumerable fan expansions that seek to add various houses. I hope this has been useful and provoked thought and discussion. Thank you for reading, and thank you to all the people who put up with playing this game with me and helping form this article.

Monday, 5 September 2016

How To Win At The Game Of Thrones Board Game: Part 5- Tyrell and Martell

In this article we will look at the strategies for the two remaining houses, Tyrell and Martell. If you have missed any of the previous sections they can be found below:

Part 1- Territory Control and House Cards
Part 3- Stark and Greyjoy
Part 4- Lannister and Baratheon


Tyrell:

One of the great things about the Game of Thrones board game is the focus on strategy over luck. That said, luck is of course a factor, and nowhere is this more obvious than with Tyrell. Starting with abysmal placings on the influence tracks, Tyrell can't do much about their lot until the right cards come up. If they don't get a mustering or a influence tracks bid they can't get any new units. The same is true of Greyjoy, but they at least have the Valyrian Steel Blade, giving them a substantial edge in combat. Tyrell therefore must start with a defensive set up with a focus on building up power tokens and capitalise once the cards turn in their favour.

In terms of positioning Tyrell are in a decent position. The Redwyne Straits provides a position for a strong naval defence, and Oldtown is effectively free, meaning Tyrell get 4 muster points from Highgarden and Oldtown each mustering which will almost certainly never be threatened. There are also plenty of barrels and printed power tokens for Tyrell, meaning they are not short of resources early game.

The Tyrell house cards are simple but strong. Margaery and Ser Axell are standard 1 strength cards, and Randyll Tarly and Garlan Tyrell provide decent attacking opportunities. The real strength of Tyrell is their more tactical cards. The Queen of Thorns is fairly situational, but is the only 0 strength card that can actually deliver a win by cancelling support. Obviously this requires a specific situation, but being able to cancel a large support is very damaging. Even if it does not deliver a win itself, by cancelling a support it can set up for a stronger march later that turn. It also works brilliantly for taking out consolidate power orders (ideally a starred one). Mace Tyrell is also excellent, as when used correctly is effectively a 5 strength card. Being able to deliver a guaranteed casualty is very dangerous and will disincentivise a lot of marches against Tyrell. And then there is Ser Loras Tyrell. 

*swoons*
Although not having the reliability or brute force or Mace, Ser Loras' effect of being able to move a march order into a conquered territory can win games by itself. Effective use requires careful planning, but he is a lethal card for several reasons. Firstly, assuming you win the first combat you are likely to be able to march on the routed army immediately afterwards, meaning he can kill off a lot of units without a single sword. Secondly, he can reach areas that would normally be out of reach, making him very hard for other players to defend against. Finally, if used as the penultimate card in a house card cycle, Tyrell can initiate another combat elsewhere to refresh their hand, and then march with Ser Loras again, meaning they can move a single army across 3 areas in a single turn. Again, if used at the right time this move can push on to a winning castle amount. The only thing Ser Loras needs to fear is Arianne Martell, as the ruling is that her effect cancels his, meaning he is effectively wasted in any combat against her.

The Tyrell strategy is very likely to involve conflict with Martell sooner or later. Similarly to how Riverrun eventually tends towards Greyjoy, Starfall tends to fall towards Tyrell, as it is in a difficult position for Martell to defend. This is particularly dangerous for Martell, as once Starfall is taken Ser Loras can make a quick march on Sunspear, effectively taking them out of the game. Once Starfall and the Reach are taken Tyrell need to consider where to make their push. King's Landing is a possibility if Baratheon don't get set up early, and Lannisport is only a Ser Loras double march away. Lannisport is actually one of the easiest home territories to take, due to the above issues Lannister have with Greyjoy. This can open up Harrenhal and even Riverrun if Lannister are flailing; perhaps the best approach is to take the Blackwater and see where Lannister's defences are weakest; if they are in a strong position use this as an opportunity to attack Baratheon

Tyrell should play an initially conservative game, as they have a reasonably defensive position which allows for easy farming of power tokens from the Dornish Marches, Prince's Pass and the Arbor, as well as an easy 5-6 barrels. Tyrell should then focus on reinforcing their position until they can grab position on the influence tracks. Overall Tyrell are one of the most straightforward houses to play as, and, aside from their terrible opening positions on the influence tracks, have no major weaknesses.

Suggested Openings:

Redwyne Straights: Support (no other march orders available)
Highgarden: March 0, knight into The Reach, footman into Oldtown
Dornish Marches: March -1 into Prince's Pass

OR

Redwyne Straights: March -1 into West Summer Sea
Highgarden: March 0, knight into The Reach, footman into Starfall
Dornish Marches: Consolidate Power


Martell:

Whilst not always the most exciting house to play as Martell rarely do terribly either. They have decent influence track positions and average resources. One thing Martell lack are options for expansion; unless Martell play an exceptionally aggressive navy they are unlikely to expand more than 1-2 territories away from Sea of Dorne for the whole game. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as the Sea of Dorne makes every area around it very defensible for Martell. As such, Martell's first focus should be building a strong navy there, whilst also having single boats in the East Summer Sea and the Sunspear port for raiding and consolidating respectively.

The Martell house deck is one of the least tactical, consisting almost exclusively of swords and forts. The two cards that do have some strategy are Arianne and Doran Martell. Doran is a great threat to other players, working in a similar way to Patchface, although maybe not quite as dangerous early game. Whilst Baratheon losing the Iron Throne does not directly benefit Martell they will be keen to not lose it and as such will normally delay aggression towards Martell until necessary (also fearing the plethora of swords). Arianne Martell is probably the best defensive card in the game (sorry Blackfish), and is best saved for siege engines and Ser Loras, ideally both. If used carefully she can also be used to effectively march your units for free when retreating whilst also not conceding territory by retreating them into a new area.

"Come on baby; don't fear the Viper..."
The major disadvantage Martell have is a lack of strongholds. The nearest ones are King's Landing and Oldtown, which are likely to prove very difficult to take. This means Martell will often be mustering fewer units than other houses. As such, an early priority is grabbing 4 castles to reinforce their position, and then mustering from Sunspear as often as possible. Yronwood and Starfall are both easy for Martell to grab early, although Starfall will need reinforcing eventually. Storm's End should also be taken as soon as possible. Having a single boat in the East Summer Sea gives raiding opportunities against both Tyrell and Baratheon, which helps hold Starfall and Storm's End. This is particularly useful for the latter, as Martell can still support from the Sea of Dorne, making it very difficult for Baratheon to take it as they cannot rely on naval support.

After taking these 4 castles it is a long way for Martell to take a 5th. The obvious choice is the Reach, although it will take effective and sustained aggression against Tyrell to push them back. Also, the Reach is not easy to hold, so should either be taken suddenly and then abandoned, or ideally taken as a 7th castle. As already discussed, Martell cannot practically reach 7 castles without taking a home territory, and the Tyrells are probably the easier target. Martell should try to push aggressively into Tyrell lands early in the game, as if Tyrell fail to set up properly, as above, they may lose too much ground and not be able to recover. This would put Martell in a strong position to take the win. Alternatively, Martell can offer an alliance with Stark against Baratheon; this works well for both players, as they have no common lands but a common enemy, and a coordinated naval assault can be devastating for Baratheon, opening up Dragonstone, King's Landing and Crackclaw Point as possible castles for Martell. Without northern support this attack is unlikely to succeed, but Stark have nothing to lose by siding with the opposite end of the board.

Martell are another average house, and as such there is often a back and forth between Martell and Tyrell that does not go anywhere for either player. Martell are very unlikely to take 7 castles, and as such should make their corner as defensible as possible whilst making calculated attacks on Tyrell.

Suggested Openings:

Sunspear: *Consolidate power (muster two ships into Sea of Dorne)
Salt Shore: March +1 into Starfall
Sea of Dorne: March 0 into East Summer Sea

OR

Sunspear: March +1, knight into Storm's End, footman into Yronwood
Salt Shore: March -1 into Starfall
Sea of Dorne: March 0 into East Summer Sea


In the final part we will look at taking the win, allances, the meta-game, as well as some house rules and alternative ways of playing. Thanks for reading and see you then.

Monday, 29 August 2016

How To Win At The Game Of Thrones Board Game: Part 4- Lannister and Baratheon

In this article we continue our look at the specifics of playing as each house. If you missed any of the previous articles, they can be found below:


Lannister:

Thematically enough, Lannister are undoubtedly the most controversial house on the board. A lot of people feel that, due to the strength of Greyjoy, Lannister cannot resist them, and will quickly be pushed back (and, as in the previous part, once Lannister lose Riverrun they are on the back foot). Moreover, Lannister are the most central of the houses, with pressure from Baratheon and Tyrell on their doorstep. The Lannister player must therefore predict their opponents' aggression and give them cause to tackle their other neighbours.

Lannister hold a very flexible house card deck, and although it can't quite match the Greyjoy deck it is still a strong basis for combat. A tactical use of Kevan can swing an unexpected combat, and is ideal to use as a counter against Balon, since it adds power unrelated to house card strength. Tyrion is also an exceptionally tactical card. He is best saved until an opponent has used most of their cards, either to force them to play a strong card last (and thus lose it for the next cycle of house cards) or return their last card to their hand, effectively making them lose any house card bonuses. He is also excellent at countering situational cards; for example, sending Victarion back to the Greyjoys during a naval battle.

The other key asset Lannister start with is the messenger raven. Although only guaranteed for the first turn, it is reasonably likely you will hold it for at least a few turns, due to you deciding all “Dark Wings, Dark Words” cards. The other great use of the raven is the potential for riskier plays. Examples include putting consolidate power tokens on Riverrun, and then swapping to a march or defence in reaction to Greyjoy. It also allows safe pick ups of The Blackwater and even Crackclaw point, since you can see what Baratheon and Tyrell are doing and tactically aim for the holes in their defences. This, along with acting second in turn order, should form the basis of the initial Lannister setup.

Firstly, Lannister need to do what they can to mitigate Greyjoy, and the key territory here is the Sunset Sea. Since Greyjoy cannot afford to burn their marches taking it on turn one, Lannister should seek to move their ship there, and then muster two ships into the Golden Sound from Lannisport. This sets up the Golden Sound supporting Riverrun and Lannisport whilst Sunset Sea continually raids Greyjoy support. Of course, sooner or later Greyjoy will get sick of this and attack with Victarion, but this draws their energies away from the land, as well as creating a strong naval defence for them to fight against.

After setting up in anticipation of Greyjoy, Lannister need to consider their game plan, as Riverrun and Harrenhal are the only straightforward castles. The strength of taking the Sunset Sea means Lannister have a claim on Flint's Finger, which is a strong claim if the support from Ironman's Bay is raided. A Stark-Lannister alliance can be used to take down Seaguard, but even more effective is a march on Stark after taking it, as they likely move away from their support and won't have an order placed. As discussed in the Greyjoy strategy; it is likely that a strong Lannister means a weak Greyjoy, and vice versa, so if you succeed in the above setup it could spell the beginning of the end for Greyjoy.

Greyjoy should also watch out for rickety bridges.

In terms of the south and the east, Lannister have a very mixed bag. On the one hand, they are likely to hit 6 barrels fairly reliably, and can pick up a lot of printed crowns as well, with Stoney Sept being a key focal point for both support and consolidate orders, depending on the situation. On the other hand, the next castles are a long way off. Once Baratheon have their navy set up Crackclaw Point becomes very hard to take, since Baratheon can support from both Shipbreaker and Blackwater bays. A more effective strategy is to set up an army in the Blackwater and Harrenhal as if moving to take Crackclaw Point, and then taking a stab at King's Landing, since it gets less naval support and is more likely to be under pressure.

Moving south does not give Lannister many more options, short of an out and out offensive against Tyrell. This is not as unreasonable as it might seem, depending on where Tyrell puts it's energies. Again, the best hope Lannister has is catching a Tyrell player off-guard; holding the Searoad Marches with a solitary footman is seen as a peaceful but secure position for Lannister, but also opens up a chain march (march into a friendly area with another march in) of a much larger army from elsewhere into Highgarden. This also opens up the Reach as an option.

As is probably clear by now, Lannister's biggest weakness is their board positioning, as they can end up in combat with almost every other house. As such, it is vital that Lannister expand slowly but surely; they should focus on constantly mustering from Lannisport and Riverrun, and taking advantage of their easy access to barrels. By doing this a careful Lannister player can secure the centre ground and wait for the right opening from other players. Whilst their board positioning is a problem, it can be turned to your advantage, as you have access to most of the board, meaning you can wait until a player leaves an area undefended and then march on it. Although certainly a challenge in a 6 player game, a Lannister win is definitely possible.

Suggested openings:

The Golden Sound: March 0 into the Sunset Sea
Stoney Sept: March +1 into Riverrun
Lannisport: *Consolidate Power (muster two boats into the Golden Sound)

or

The Golden Sound: March 0 into the Sunset Sea
Lannisport: March +1, knight into Riverrun, footman into Stoney Sept
Stoney Sept: March -1, one footman into Harrenhal, one into the Blackwater


Baratheon:

If Lannister have a slight disadvantage overall it is probably fair to say that Baratheon have a slight advantage. The biggest aspect of this is the sheer number of options Baratheon have; they can focus on holding the centre ground and go against Lannister and Tyrell; they can go south and attack Dorne; or head north and take the Vale and the Stark lands. Moreover, they have an excellent naval position, as having a strong navy in Blackwater Bay not only gives strong unraidable support to King's Landing and Crackclaw Point but also provides support to ships in Shipbreaker Bay. This means it is effectively impossible to take due to the strength of the Salladhor Saan house card.

(In Shatner voice) "SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!"

Another big advantage Baratheon has is very strong access to power tokens. After taking King's Landing on turn one they can effectively farm five power tokens each turn, which helps them get a massive lead. Also, since they will likely hold King's Landing and The Kingswood at the end of turn one they can collect four tokens each time there is a “Game of Thrones” card effect. This easy early access to power tokens feeds into another advantage Baratheon have; the Iron Throne. Whilst it may be tempting to deliberately lose it at the first Clash of Kings to power up Stannis, Baratheon should aim to have it as long as possible, as being able to break ties combined with lots of power tokens means you can very easily end up on very strong positions on the influence tracks.

The Baratheon house cards are functional but not great. Salador Saan is, as mentioned already, a superb naval deterrent that means Martell and Stark are basically incapable of marching into Baratheon waters. Stannis and Renly have very situational effects which are nice if you can get them but most of the time they are effectively blank cards. Ser Davos is a strong card, as there is never a reason not to use him after Stannis and effectively have a second 3 strength card. Brienne and Melisandre are both average, but Patchface is probably the best 0 strength in the game. There is no counter players can make against him, and he is one of the few cards who is great in both a “definite win” and “definite loss” situation. He is best used early to remove cards that are likely to give you issues (The Red Viper, Ser Gregor, Eddard, Roose Bolton) and take the edge off opponents' house cards.

In terms of overall strategy, Baratheon have lots of choices, and can attack with relative impunity due to their strong defensive position. Priority number one should be setting up 3 ships in Blackwater Bay and 1 in Shipbreaker bay. The Blackwater ships can continually support as above, making Crackclaw Point and King's Landing almost impossible to take. The Shipbreaker ship can be used either as a second supporting unit or to raid Martell or Stark. Once this is set up Baratheon should look to take either Storm's End or the Eyrie. Which one should be based on the situation; if Stark are not focusing on the Vale then a march, either by sea or land, is definitely a safe bet. Martell should take Storm's End but may get embroiled with Tyrell, which can make it an easy castle to take. If not Salador can be used to take out any support from the Sea of Dorne and push Martell back. If Baratheon manage to take Storm's End they should focus on building up a supporting army in the Kingswood, as this can bolster Storm's End and King's Landing whilst also helping to take the Reach.

Another option is an attack on Lannister against Harrenhal. Good times to do this are after a failed attack on Crackclaw Point or when Lannister is focusing on defending Riverrun. If things go in your favour Baratheon may even be able to pick up Riverrun, particularly if it has just changed hands between Greyjoy and Lannister. This should ideally be as a 7th castle, since Baratheon are unlikely to be able to hold it.

Generally Baratheon don't have any major weaknesses due to their flexibility. The lack of readily available barrels can quickly become a problem, which is one reason why moving into either the Vale or the Blackwater should be a priority. Hitting a resupply before doing this can be very damaging to Baratheon, as Tyrell and Lannister are likely to be sitting on 4-6 barrels with little effort. Otherwise Baratheon do not have to take many big risks to be a forerunner for the win.

Suggested openings:

Shipbreaker Bay: March -1 one ship into Blackwater Bay
Kingswood: Support +1
Dragonstone: March 0, knight into Kingswood, footman into King's Landing

or

Shipbreaker Bay: March -1 one ship into Blackwater Bay East Summer Sea
Dragonstone: March 0, knight into Kingswood, footman into Crackclaw Point
Kingswood: March +1, knight into Storm's End, footman into The Reach (unless held by Tyrell)


In the next part we move down to the south of Westeros and discuss houses Tyrell and Martell, and have a look at what is probably the most dangerous house card in the game.




Monday, 22 August 2016

How To Win At The Game Of Thrones Board Game: Part 3- Stark and Greyjoy

In this part I am going to start talking about the specifics of playing as each house. I have broken this discussion into 3 parts, as each house has a lengthy section attributed to it. In this first part we will look at Stark and Greyjoy (if you missed the previous parts, part 1 can be found here and part 2 here).

"Do we have a house slogan?" "We do not, so...?"

6: Specific House Strategies and Weaknesses

"Know when to fight
And when not to fight"

Sun Tzu on Waging War

During this discussion on general strategy I have also alluded to the specifics of playing as individual houses. In this section I am going to talk about the key strategies that each house should deploy, as well as proposed opening moves. The majority of these opening moves are based on the principle that a large land grab in turn 1 is the best move, but also allowing for flexibility and time to react to opponents' moves.

Stark:

House Stark are often seen as the most defensive house, since a lot of their house cards are designed to protect units, as well as them being geographically the furthest away from the action. Probably the biggest strength for Stark is the large number of land areas that they can take and hold without much fear of retaliation; the only house that may consider heading north is the Greyjoys. The Starks can create a choke point at Moat Cailin, as well as having easy access to the Vale. It is therefore a priority for Stark that they set up a defensive position around Moat Cailin (or even Seaguard if the opportunity arises), and send 2-3 footmen to pick up the undefended territories in the north and the Vale. This creates easy power token farming as well as allowing Stark to pick up extra barrels, which has to be an early game priority for them, as they only start on 1.

Perhaps Stark's biggest weakness is their navy. Winterfell is the only territory that can be marched on from both the west and the east sea areas, and as such it needs a strong navy on both sides. The problem with this is that Stark's neighbours, Baratheon and Greyjoy, boast the strongest navies in the game. Furthermore, Stark has at best 6 ships to play with, which is not going to be enough to hold both sides. Therefore, Stark must consider how to put pressure on these two houses. By continually making aggressive moves towards Seaguard Stark can force Greyjoy to keep their navy in and around Ironman's Bay, as they will not want to leave their land forces unsupported. This means that Greyjoy will not be able to spare an attacking navy to head north. That said, it is vital that Stark muster 1-2 boats into Bay of Ice as soon as possible to ensure that Greyjoy have a strong enough incentive not to head north.

Pictured: A strong incentive

To defend against Baratheon, Stark need boats in the Narrow Sea. Ideally having a force of 3 boats, possibly with additional support from either the Shivering Sea or White Harbor port, will make any naval attacks an unappealing prospect for Baratheon. Their trump card is Salador Sahn, who only works when Baratheon are being supported, which they can't be when marching north.

Stark have the most unusual house deck, in that Roose Bolton's ability to avoid playing through the full deck means that Stark can ensure they always maintain a strong hand of cards. This means that Eddard, Robb and the Greatjon should be used first to maximise Roose's value. The best time to play Roose is by marching into a key territory for an opponent, which forces them to play a winning move. For example, a march into Seaguard puts pressure on Greyjoy to play a strong card to ensure a win, whilst also posing little threat to you, since Greyjoy have few sword icons at their disposal.

Unless Greyjoy or Baratheon are completely wiped out it is unlikely that Stark can make a play for 7 castles. Therefore, Stark players should aim for 5-6 castles; namely, Winterfell, White Harbor, Moat Cailin, The Eyrie, and ideally Seaguard and Flint's Finger. As long as Greyjoy are kept in check Stark shouldn't have too many problems making a safe attempt at the win.

Suggested openings:

Shivering Sea: March -1 into the Narrow Sea
White Harbor: March 0 into the Fingers
Winterfell: March +1, knight into Moat Cailin, Footman into the Twins

or

Shivering Sea: March 0 into the Narrow Sea
White Harbor: March +1 into the Moat Cailin
Winterfell: *Consolidate Power (Boat in the Bay Of Ice, Footman on Winterfell)

Greyjoy:

It says a lot about Greyjoy's position that, in the 3 player game, Stark and Lannister quickly come to blows without them squeezed in the middle; as such, Greyjoy, more than any other house, will feel the pressure of being on top of other houses. Put simply; Stark needs to march south through the Greyjoys, and Lannister do not want Greyjoy sitting on their doorstep. Fortunately, Greyjoy start with the Valyrian Steel Blade, as well as having by far the strongest house cards. If used correctly, Euron, Victarion and Balon are all effectively guaranteed wins. Theon and Asha are very strong in the right situations, and Aeron is arguably the most dangerous 0 (he can burn himself and lets Greyjoy respond to whichever housecard they come up against). All this gives Greyjoy a huge number of options in combat, which they desperately need, especially due to their lack of special orders.

Special orders not always required.

Another plus point for Greyjoy is their naval presence, in that it is possible for Greyjoy to support all their key territories with a single strong navy in Ironman's Bay. The two key naval positions that Greyjoy need to consider are the following. Firstly, there is enormous power in being able to hold two adjacent sea areas, as it allows any naval supports to be raided, whilst also protecting your own support. As such, it is key to try and take Sunset Sea as soon as possible, as this allows raiding of Lannister support from the Golden Sound. This feeds into the second key aspect of the Greyjoy navy; Ironman's Bay is adjacent to Riverrun, but the Golden Sound is not adjacent to Seaguard. This means it is much harder for Lannister to defend Riverrun that it is for Greyjoy to defend Seaguard. If Greyjoy can achieve this naval set up they can comfortably take and hold Riverrun, giving them access to a 4th castle (and a 3rd stronghold). Because of this difference in positioning and all things being equal, Greyjoy will probably have the upperhand in the contest for Riverrun.

From here Greyjoy need to consider whether to march north or south. Due to the aforementioned naval issues that Stark face a push into Winterfell is not a big stretch for Greyjoy, since Stark simply cannot defend their Western coast against Victarion. It is also very difficult for Stark to safely defend their northern holdings once their navy has gone, as Greyjoy will have much easier movement options. Once Winterfell has gone Greyjoy should aim to take either Moat Cailin or Whiteharbor, which would likely give them the win. This is made even easier if Baratheon hold the Shivering Sea, as it prevents Stark supporting.

Alternatively, Greyjoy can head south and clash with Lannister. Again, as above, Riverrun is likely to go towards Greyjoy, which can be a killing blow for Lannister. Once it has gone then Greyjoy can either push east for Harrenhal and Crackclaw point, or aim to take Lannisport. Lannisport is generally the better choice, since the Greyjoy navy can get involved, and once Greyjoy have taken Seaguard, Riverrun and Lannisport it is pretty much game over (especially if there is a mustering).

Obviously both these strategies are very aggressive, but it is the nature of the Greyjoy position. It should be said that if you are moving to take Winterfell or Lannisport make sure it is mid to late game, since you are effectively taking a player out of the game, which they won't be too happy about if it's only turn 3.

Aside from positioning, the other main issue Greyjoy face is the influence tracks. Outside of Pyke they are unlikely to ever be able to consolidate power safely anywhere on the board, which is dangerous, since they need to grab special orders to compete with Lannister. Otherwise a well-paced and conservative Greyjoy game can be a strong candidate to win, as their house cards mean reliable victories when you need them.

Suggested openings:

Greywater Watch: March -1 into Flint's Finger
Pyke: March 0, knight into Seaguard, footman into Riverrun (or both into Seaguard if Riverrun has been taken by Lannister)
Pyke port: Consolidate power
Ironman's Bay: Support

or

Greywater Watch: Consolidate power
Pyke: March -1, knight into Seaguard, footman into Flint's Finger
Pyke port: Consolidate power
Ironman's Bay: March 0 into Sunset Sea


So that's Stark and Greyjoy. In the next part we move to the middle of the board and look at Lannister and Baratheon.


Monday, 15 August 2016

How To Win At The Game Of Thrones Board Game: Part 2- Combat, Managing Troops and Power Tokens

In the last part I talked about the key strategies relating to territory control and effective use of house cards. In this part I will talk in depth about effective combat strategy, how you should muster units, and how to manage and use power tokens with maximum efficiency.

3: Combat

"Know when to fight
And when not to fight"

Sun Tzu on Waging War


It goes without saying that the most important part of combat is deciding which orders to place, and without a doubt the most useful, and therefore the most important order, is the support order. Support is so valuable for several reasons; firstly, any supporting army can participate in both offence and defence in the same turn, which means you can re-use the same units repeatedly. Furthermore, if a supporting army lose they do not become routed, meaning you can continue to use them that turn.

Another great strength of supporting armies is that they are completely protected from swords and skulls, meaning you cannot lose them in combat no matter how badly you lose. This means that you can still attack with a very strong army but only have a single footman on the line if you lose. This use of support orders should form the backbone of any attacks.

Whether it is a hangover from Risk or just something that is hard-wired into board game players is unclear, but there seems to be a psychological desire to move a big army into an enemy territory, when the smart thing to do is move a single unit in and support with a large army. One of the most effective uses of support orders is to have two large armies next to each other that support each other. This means that you are giving strong support to all areas around both those territories, whilst also ensuring that the supporting territories have a strong defence due to them supporting one another.

For example, let's say that, as Lannister, you have taken Riverrun, and maintained an army on Stoney Sept. 



By putting a mutual support in both territories you are effectively protecting both of these and making them very difficult to take. Moreover, this gives you a strong claim on Harrenhal and the Blackwater, and once these are taken they can be effectively defended with a single unit. This strategy of keeping your main armies off the frontlines not only protects your army but helps with supply limits, as you do not have to focus on having big armies on all your borders.

The other key use of support orders is on ships. Unless you are moving your ships in position for better troop movement or consolidating power in a port ships should be supporting or raiding every turn. Of course there will be times when another player makes an offensive naval move that might require a defence token, but due to the necessary telegraphing of this by mustering and moving ships this is fairly easy to predict.

Effective supporting and raiding with boats can often decide the long-term winner of a game, and much like with ground troops, the supporting boats should ideally have a barrier of a smaller army that they are supporting. A classic example of this is for House Martell and the Sea of Dorne. 



By mustering ships into the Sea of Dorne Martell can create an unraidable naval support for all the connecting land areas, as well as the East Summer Sea, which should then have a raid on it to disrupt Tyrell and Baratheon. This makes it very difficult for Baratheon to hold Storm's End, as Martell can support with their navy, but Baratheon cannot whilst Martell continually raid.

The last thing to say on order placement relates to what I call “mass apprehension”, and is the phenomena where everyone assumes that all other players are going to go on the aggressive. This often happens directly after a mustering, where it looks like all players are going to go on the attack, which thus causes everyone to play defensive orders on their borders and effectively have a dead turn. Whilst a turn where everyone plays defensively is probably not the wisest turn to attack, it can be used to get you ahead. A great example of doing this is consolidating power on areas with crowns on that you would normally play a more aggressive order on, as if you can predict a turn of turtling you can get ahead on power tokens whilst everyone else waits things out to see the lay of the land. These turns are also a good time to throw in some raids to counter any consolidations from other players, which, if you are lucky, might get you the odd pillage.

Overall, defence orders should only really be played when you have no other options (or order tokens) or are certain a key territory is going to be attacked. Defence orders have a very marginal combat use, and otherwise paralyse your armies. Wherever possible, march and support, and when in doubt, consolidate and raid. Of course, before placing your orders you need to consider what units you have and where.

4: Managing Troops

"In War,
Numbers
Are not the issue.
It is a question of
Not attacking
Too aggressively"

Sun Tzu on The March

There is always a palpable excitement when the first mustering card comes up (not least from Greyjoy and Tyrell, who are normally desperate for the opportunity to get new units). Knights are often seen as the gold standard of GoT units, as they add 2 to both attack and defence. Whilst knights are certainly valuable, they should always be chosen when needed, and not due to wanting a big army. There is often a rush to get knights on the board, when in fact they are best used mid game to hold key territories and as a supporting army. Indeed, misuse of knights can be very costly; sending two knights with a march order only to have them lose to two swords can cripple a player permanently. Therefore, I would focus on mustering units with the following general priority, and use units for the following purposes:

  • Ships- You should muster a strong navy in the sea adjacent to your home territory as soon as possible. Ideally you should have an adjacent sea area that can be used to raid whilst your main navy supports your initial land areas. Mustering ships also gives you movement options (vital for Stark, Greyjoy and Baratheon). This should be your main priority when first mustering units.
  • Footmen- Getting lots of footmen out can be unappealing, as it eats into your supply limits. However, early on this is a key part of holding lots of territories; it is always better to have 5 areas held with footmen than with power tokens. Chaining march orders is a great way to disperse footmen, and can spread them over a wide area. Again, this is important to do early on to set up power token farming and grabbing supply barrels (Tyrell and Stark are the clearest examples of this).
  • Siege engines- Possibly the most neglected unit in the game, despite being the strongest when used well, siege engines are important to all players. When you are ahead they can give you the final push needed to win, and when you are behind they are a cheap way of taking castles (4 mustering points for an attack strength of 8 can help a lagging player make a comeback). After using ships and footmen to secure your home territories you should focus on using a siege engine to start any attacks against other players. Even the threat of a siege engine on their doorstep can cause players to panic and misuse their orders. There are two very effective uses for siege engines. The first is as a supporting army; as stated above, supporting armies do not retreat, and therefore are not being put at risk. Since a retreating siege engine is a destroyed siege engine using them to support can mean you get all their strength without risking them. Again, having one placed on a highly contended boundary (Riverrun/Seaguard/Moat Cailin, Crackclaw Point, Starfall, Storm's End etc) and then using ships to march a footman from an unexpected territory allows for a strong and low-risk offence. The other great use for siege engines is as a continual assault. There are huge chains of castles on the map (from Oldtown to Winterfell no less) that mean you can just keep marching them each turn. With this tactic the view is not to hold each area, but rather to force your opponent back so far that they panic and throw everything at stopping your progress. By the time they have done this they are normally in a weaker position. To do this you should make sure you are acting before your opponent, and also that you have a clear route of uninterrupted castles. This can be even more potent with the right house cards, as you can destroy a lot of units in the process (Ser Loras Tyrell or anyone with swords are good for this). Both of these tactics can be hugely effective uses of siege engines, and get you much more value for money than knights.
  • Knights- Putting knights last on the order of priority may seem a bit mad, but as I have said above; when using a knight you have half the mobility of 2 footmen and half the attacking power of a siege engine. The other big reason not to rush out knights is the number of cards that effect knights and footmen. There are a couple of house cards (Renly Baratheon and Kevan Lannister) that benefit from having footmen rather than knights, as well as cards in the Wildling deck that reward those who have not fielded lots of knights. That said, knights can form a key part of the aforementioned use of support orders, and are definitely the units you want supporting to all your attacking and defending areas. Also, you never know when you will get a mustering, and when you have hit your supply limit it is much better to upgrade your footmen to knights than simply waste the points.

The last thing to say on units and army management relates to areas. As I have mentioned above, getting lots of footmen out is good, as it allows you to hold lots of areas effectively. This is obviously good for resources, as you are likely to get at least one card each turn that rewards castles, barrels, or crowns, but also it increases the number of orders you can place. It goes without saying that 2 footmen on one area are weaker than 2 footmen on 2 separate areas, as giving two orders is always stronger than giving one. Also, since single units do not contribute to supply limits there is no reason not to aim to have a footman on every area you control. This makes for a stronger overall defence, as well as making more options for raiding and consolidating, as power tokens are what you need to be focusing on long term.

5: Power Tokens

"War has no
Constant Dynamic;
Water has no
Constant form."

Sun Tzu on Empty and Full

So let's say you have nailed all of the above, and you are playing all the right orders, mustering the right units and optimally managing your house cards. If you do this well then you will have a strong chance of winning in any given game; however, the final main area to consider is the acquisition and use of power tokens.

Power tokens can be used to bid on the influence tracks, contribute towards repelling the wildlings, and as a marker for holding unoccupied territories. This latter use can seem the most straightforward, and for the most part there is not a lot to say about it. The only strategic use of power tokens to hold areas is making the decision as to whether to set them down when you know the area is very likely to be attacked. In doing this you force your opponent to complete the march against an empty territory just to take it from you, but it also means that you are throwing away a power token. This strategy should only be done in cases where you want to force your opponent to choose between two strategically valuable marches.

Don't worry though,; choosing to march the wrong way never hurt anyone in Westeros...

In terms of generating power tokens it is important to set up a “power token farm” as soon as possible. This is much easier for some houses than others. Stark and Tyrell have plenty of territories that are likely to go uncontested that contain crowns, and you should aim to set up a single footmen on these each turn to generate a healthy flow of power tokens. Greyjoy, Martell and Baratheon, after an initial set up, can normally rely on consolidating on their home territory and connecting port for power tokens, which should be safe provided they have used their navy wisely. For Lannister, Lannisport is out due to the lack of a crown, meaning they should aim to consolidate on Stoney Sept and Harrenhal when they think they can do so safely. Again, Lannisport, er, port is another generally safe contender.

Wherever possible try not to consolidate on your borders unless you are certain you won't be raided. If you hold the messenger raven swapping out an ineffectual march or unnecessary defence order for a consolidate power can often be a cost effective use of the ability. That said, often a consolidate power order is the last thing people expect. King's Landing is often highly contested, so a consolidate power order for a healthy 3 power tokens can often go unchallenged, as it is not an order other players plan for.

When it comes to bidding against the Wildling's there is obviously an advantage to using the messenger raven to know the card (it always feels great to see everyone else waste power tokens only to draw a “Silence At The Wall”). Assuming that you don't know the Wildling card you should make a calculated decision as to whether or not to push for the victory bonus. Again, this is very situational, but it is useful to remember what the bonus effects from the Wildling deck do. Most relate to mustering, improving supplies or regaining house cards; as such, if you have just got your deck back, are sitting on 5 or 6 supply barrels and had to waste points on the last mustering, it probably isn't worth going for. Generally you should either be bidding a very high amount or no tokens at all, as you either want the bonus effect or want to have a power token advantage. The only time to bid a small amount is in the instance where there is a power token drought amongst all players and you don't think the Night's Watch will win. In these cases bidding 1 or 2 power tokens can protect you from being stung as the lowest bidding player, which can often be crippling.

Just spent all your tokens taking the Messenger Raven? Oh.

In terms of bidding on the influence tracks there is a lot of second guessing the other players. There are a lot of different circumstances that can dictate what you should prioritise. Generally you should be spending all but 1 or 2 of your power tokens on the influence tracks, unless a Wildling attack is very likely that turn. Generally, in a balanced game it is reasonable to assume that all players will have roughly equal amounts of power tokens. As such, we can break the bidding down into two likely scenarios; lots of power tokens in play, or few power tokens in play.

If there are lots of power tokens in play, you should throw most of yours at the King's Court influence track. Not having any stars makes the game exceptionally difficult, particularly if ther have not been many mustering opportunities. This is particularly vital for early game Greyjoy and Tyrell, who start without any special orders. The only time when you should not be prioritising the King's Court is if your next turn relies on getting the jump on an opponent, in which case you should go for the Iron Throne. The Fiefdoms track, whilst useful, has a very marginal effect. Having the Valyrian steel blade is very handy, but after that point the difference between 2nd and 6th on the Fiefdoms track is minimal.

Conversely, if there are few power tokens in play, perhaps due to a Wildling attack, you should consider throwing them all after the Iron Throne. If you are successful you are in a strong position to pick up high positions on the other two tracks for cheap or even free, as you decide the ties and, if no one bids anything, you get to the top of the track for free. Generally in these situations people focus on the King's Court, meaning you can often grab the Iron Throne, the Valyrian steel blade and 1-3 stars on the King's Court for only a few power tokens. This is more advantageous than having the Messenger Raven but being bottom of the other two tracks.

The last thing to say about the influence tracks is the phenomena of players wanting to defend what they started with. Often Baratheon will bid a disproportionately high number of power tokens to hold on to the Iron Throne, as Greyjoy will with the Valyrian Steel Blade (and everyone will be after the Messenger Raven).


The absolute golden rule for bidding power tokens is to never leave yourself with none. The only time you should get rid of your last power token is to use it to hold an area in the same turn when you know you will be successfully consolidating power at the end of that turn. Many players have been unable to make a winning move due to not being able to hold a castle they are marching out of due to not having any power tokens.


That is the bulk of discussion on general strategy. In part 3 we will begin looking at specific house strategies and weaknesses, starting in the north with Stark and Greyjoy.


Monday, 8 August 2016

How To Win At The Game Of Thrones Board Game: Part 1- Territory Control and House Cards

With the current Game of Thrones obsession still holding strong after several years in the limelight, and the season 6 finale having been and gone, a lot of people will be looking for a way to expand their Game of Thrones experience. Sure, you could turn to the books, and many have, but my first port of call will always be the first medium in which I encountered Westeros; the board game.

On the scale of “casual” to “hardcore”, the Game of Thrones board game by Fantasy Flight Games definitely tends towards the latter value, being a 3-6 player game that normally takes 3-4 hours to play. Whilst that can certainly be an intimidating prospect it is definitely worth the investment, as it is a deep and highly strategic game that holds up to a lot of replays, not least because each of the 6 houses opens up a different game.

"What do you mean 'no House Tully'?"- No one.


I'm not going to go through the basic rules or mechanics, as I think Fantasy Flight themselves do an excellent job of explaining them in both book and video form; rather, I'm going to focus on the key elements of strategy that allow a player to bring peace and/or tyranny to Westeros. I am writing in regards to a 6 player game, but the majority of this is also applicable to a 3-5 player game as well. I have split my thoughts of the game into 6 articles, consisting of 9 areas of discussion:

1. Territory Control
2. House Cards
3. Combat
4. Managing Troops
5. Power Tokens
6. Specific House Strategies
7. Taking the Win
8. Meta-Game and Alliances
9. Alternative Setups and "House" Rule Suggestions

Before reading through this I would suggest that you play the game at least a couple of times. I would also advise that you have a look through the following:

  • Board set up (large image here)
  • House cards (large image here)
  • Westeros cards (list here)
  • Wildling cards (large image here)

Furthermore, in true strategist style, I have started each section with a quote from Sun Tzu's Art of War, so we can all feel profoundly intelligent whilst fighting tiny plastic battles.


1: Territory Control

"On entangling terrain,
If the enemy is unprepared,
Go out and defeat him."

- Sun Tzu on Forms of Terrain

Since GoT is a territory control game, naturally this is the first port of call. Generally on turn 1 most players would be looking for an initial land grab to prepare for a Supply or Mustering card. This is certainly the case for Greyjoy and Tyrell, as they cannot muster on turn 1, but is generally true of most other houses, as there is nothing more frustrating than mustering on a home territory on turn 1 at the cost of taking a stronghold, only to have a mustering card come up immediately afterwards.

After the turn 1 land grab, most players will then continue to push for any unoccupied territories. Whilst this might seem like a logical extension of turn 1 it can actually be harmful. For players in the middle of the board, such as Lannister and Baratheon, grabbing extra unheld areas will likely spread you too thin, whereas players with uncontested areas, such as Stark and Tyrell, should pick these up to farm power tokens for upcoming influence track bids.

The golden rule with territory is to not take anything that cannot then be held. There are two reasons for this; firstly, it is a waste of time and resources trying to take areas that are untenable, as there will be an inevitable backlash which will most likely cost units. Secondly, there is normally a point around turn 6 where one player is moving away from the pack, which causes everyone else to rally against that player and take territories from them. You do not want to be that player, as it is almost impossible to successfully defend against 2-3 players' aggression in one turn and come out of it on top.

A good rule of thumb is to aim to take, and hold, a new area every 2 turns. This may seem conservative, but if you consider that after turn 1 most houses will hold 4-5 territories, including seas, taking 5 more areas for a total of 10 over 10 turns is likely to be a winning move. So turns should generally alternate between taking a new territory on one turn, and then defending it on the next.

2: House Cards

"Which general
Has the ability?

Which side has
Heaven and Earth?"

Sun Tzu on Making Plans

Of course, there are times when you should enter combat into a territory you do not think you can hold or even successfully take, and one of the reasons to do that is to manage your house cards. Since most combat in GoT is very marginal, effective use of house cards is often what decides the eventual winner. After a few games with a group of players everyone will be familiar with each houses' house cards, and as such you must assume that players will try and second guess what you are playing. When choosing a house card for a combat, you should decide what the point of the combat is, as below:

  • Win the combat to conquer/defend a territory- play a high power card
  • Damaging your opponent- play a card with swords or a disruption effect
  • Baiting out your opponent's strong house cards- play a defensive card

It is everyone's instinct to try to defend every territory tooth and nail, but a key part of GoT strategy is drawing out your opponent's strong house cards whilst playing weaker cards yourself. This means that when it comes to the battle you have to win that you have an automatic card advantage, and sometimes this can mean losing a territory to then take it back with a stronger position.

To put this into context, imagine you (Green) have a knight and a footman next to another player's home area, which contains their two strength garrison and a single footman (Red), meaning you have equal forces. Let's say they have opted to consolidate power, and you have played a march + 0, meaning you have equal strength forces, and let's also assume you both have all your house cards.



A good strategy would be to complete the march with your entire force. What this does is declares a very strong intent on taking their home territory, which is naturally very damaging for any player. In this situation the defending player has no choice but to play a strong card, perhaps even their 4, to ensure they don't lose. This means you, as the attacker, should opt to play one of your weakest cards, let's say a 1. This means that you will lose the combat and have all your cards except a 1, whereas your opponent has lost their 4. This means that next time you have a key combat that you both need to win the strongest they can play is their 3, whilst you still have your 4.

Of course, to combat this move as the defender you should push to use swords to punish an attacker for making such a move. Even if you lost your 3 strength as the defender by playing Ser Gregor the attacker would probably regret the move, as losing a footman and a knight to draw out your 3 strength wouldn't be worth it.

Overall you should aim to hold on to your strongest/scariest house card for as long as possible, as one of best defences is giving an opponent reluctance to act. No one wants to go into a combat that they think they will definitely lose, and could result in losing 2-3 units as well. The cards to hold on to are as such:

  • Lannister- Ser Gregor Clegane
  • Tyrell- Mace Tyrell/Ser Loras Tyrell
  • Martell- The Red Viper
  • Baratheon- Stannis Baratheon/Salador Sahn (see Baratheon strategy)
  • Greyjoy- Victarion Greyjoy/Balon Greyjoy

The exception to the rule is Stark, which relies on timely deployment of Roose Bolton to bring back Eddard and any other cards to your hand. To maximise this effect you should always play Eddard, and most likely Robb and Greatjon before playing Roose, as even a calculated loss is still a loss.

Roose "Big fan of the Starks" Bolton

The last thing to say on house cards is what is known as cycling through your deck. This consists of starting a battle you intend to lose for the express reason of getting your deck back. This can be harder than it sounds, as what you intend to be your 7th/13th combat might not be, as there is always an unexpected march that scuppers your plans. Whilst you should always hold on to your strongest card for as long as possible, the final card you play should always be your weakest, so you are keeping your next hand as strong as possible. The bottom cards for each house are below:

  • Lannister- Cersei Lannister
  • Tryell- Margaery Tyrell/Ser Axell Florent
  • Martell- Nymeria Sand
  • Baratheon- Melisandre
  • Greyjoy- Asha Greyjoy
  • Stark- Catelyn Stark

So, for example, here is a card order that might be played for house Tyrell:

  1. Randyll Tarly- Attacking, attempt to kill a unit
  2. Ser Axell Florent- Attacking, attempt to bait out a stronger card whilst protecting your own unit
  3. Garlan Tyrell- Defending, punishing a player for attacking with a weaker force
  4. Queen of Thorns- Defending, using her effect to mitigate a support order to even out your forces
  5. Ser Loras Tyrell- Attacking, making a push into enemy territory
  6. Mace Tyrell- Attacking, following up on Ser Loras
  7. Margaery Tyrell- Defending against the counter attack after Ser Loras

This order means you are causing damage with swords early whilst always keeping your stronger cards as a threat. The other great thing about this ordering is that, if needs be, you can play Mace as soon as you get him back, meaning you get to play him twice in 3 battles if necessary.


Of course, whilst effective house card management is the focus of combat, how you attack and defend is just as important, and can be used to engineer the most effective situations for each of your house cards. In the next article we will go through Combat, Managing Troops, and Power Tokens.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Ball Rolling Tutorial in Unity 3D

By the end of this post we'll have made a simple but complete game that can be played in a standalone player! 

If you want to try and figure out what the hell is happening with the 3D Editor by purely playing around on your own without any prior experience or guidance then good luck, it's not at all obvious how to make anything do anything. I think it took me five minutes of serious investigation to create a featureless cube and have it appear in the game camera...

... almost

I did the most obvious thing I could think of and searched for a basic tutorial and the good folks at Unity did not disappoint. There is a complete beginner's tutorial which requires no prerequisites other than that you have installed Unity (check!) and you can find it here.

The Roll a Ball tutorial consists of a series of walkthrough videos on how to make a simple token collecting game . There's an intro video explaining what you can expect to learn. The videos appear to be recorded on a Mac, and using the Pro version of the Editor, but it's mostly easy enough to figure out what's going on.

1-1. Setting up the game  -- This 7 minute video walks you through creating a static sphere on a plane and adding colour to the plane. The tutorial starts getting you used to the editor's interface quite nicely and starts implicitly giving you a sense of how to structure your projects in a sensible way.

1-2. Moving the Player -- In this 15 minute session, we add a physics script to the ball so that it can controlled by keyboard input. The code that is used to make this all work is given to us, and explained line by line. I wouldn't worry at this point if you're not a code whiz. I'm certainly not. Peruse the code as much as you can stomach it for now and add the physics component to the ball.

NB: There are related tutorials in each of these pages, if you want to learn more!

2-1. Moving the Camera -- In this quick 5 minute session, we add another script, but this time to the game's main camera. The main camera's position decides what the player sees during every frame and we would like it to track the position of the player's sphere character. The tutorial provides the script and an explanation for how it is constructed. Again, you can spend as much time learning about the code snippet here as you like, but all you have to do is assign the script to the camera and hit play.

How things should look after we've added walls in part 2-2

2-2. Setting Up the Play Area -- In another brief 5 minute session, we place solid walls around the edges of the play field to stop the ball rolling off. The tutorial teaches us that we can store similar wall objects in within a neat hierarchical structure if we wish, to keep the project organised. Otherwise, we're just creating more cubes!

3-1. Creating Collectible Objects -- We create collectible objects in this part which take the form of stationary rotating cubes. The script for this idle rotation is given to us and explained in detail. The really useful new concept in this video though are prefab assets, which allows multiple instances of the same object to have their properties edited at once. Since we want to have our game littered with collectibles, it makes sense that we'd want to change aspects of all of them at once sometimes, rather than doing it exhaustively for each instance of the collectible. This tutorial teaches you how this works in Unity.

3-2. Collecting the Pick Up Objects -- Those collectible cubes from 3-1 need collecting on collision, much like how Mario's Coin objects disappear on contact in those games. This tutorial delves into how Unity handles collision events and provides many avenues for further study of Unity collisions, including how to make economies of memory resources. We're updating the script governing the player character again so that we can collect cubes but we also need to learn how to use 'tag' all instances of the Pick Up so that we don't end up 'collecting' the floor and walls by mistake.

And voila! We have collectible cubes!
3-3. Displaying the Score and Text -- In this tutorial we want to privately record the number of cubes that we've collected and publicly display a score on the screen for the player. Although the on page script is called DisplayManager, you can copypasta the script here into the PlayerController you've been working with and things will work as they should. I recommend following along with the video to get some intuition as to how the code works. You'd be amazed what you pick up by doing this.  

When we display information to the player such as score, we consider this to be a part of the  'User Interface' (more commonly shortened to 'UI'), and it is Unity's UI system that we will be encountering for the first time in this segment. We add text count the number of cubes collected and also to inform us when all of the cubes have been collected. We now have a simple but complete game which runs in the Unity editor, but we'd like to 'build and deploy' the game so that we can run it in a standalone player and share this mastapeece with our friends. This brings us to...

3-4.  Building the Game -- Finally, this very short end to the tutorial shows us how to build and deploy our game so the can run it like any other application on our computer. You're only a few clicks away from completing your first playable (in my case PC) game using Unity! Wahoooo!

That completes the Roll-a-Ball tutorial for Unity, tune in next time!