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.


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