Monday, 20 July 2015

A Game of Thrones LCG - Rules Basics

As we grow closer to the launch of the 2nd Edition of the A Game of Thrones LCG there seems to be many new players interested in beginning to play (including myself) and so the best place to start the journey to Westeros seems to be learning how the game works!

FFG have already published the Learn To Play Guide and a Rules Reference but what I'm going to try and do here is cut through a lot of the detail and really get to the spirit of what the game is about, trusting that you will still go on and read the rulebook to work out the specific details.  I'll try and keep it all in plain English but I probably do assume at least some knowledge of how TCG/LCGs work in general so if you're a complete newcomer to the genre FFG's Learn To Play Guide may be the right place to start.

Note: in the main I'm going to focus on explaining the rules for a 2-player 'Joust'.  The rules for 'Melee' games of 3-5 players are pretty much the same with the added layer of complexity of each player choosing a 'role' after they have chosen a Plot, which further defines what happens on their turn.  It's a neat mechanic that should be familiar to players of board games like Citadels or Puerto Rico.



HOW TO WIN THE GAME OF THRONES

In A Game of Thrones LCG each player adopts one of the eight great houses of Westeros (the LCG include the Night's Watch as a house) or forms an alliance of houses, and then seeks to win control of The Iron Throne.

You win control by amassing 15 Power - get 15 Power between your House and your characters in play and the Iron Throne is yours.

Power is primarily gained in three ways:

1. Establish Dominance
Toward the end of each turn the Dominance Phase determines who is currently 'winning' the Game of Thrones by counting up Standing character Strength and unspent Gold, and that player gains 1 Power.

2. Unopposed Challenges & Power Challenges
Challenges are the bread & butter of A Game of Thrones LCG - think Magic: The Gathering's combat step, or a Run in Netrunner.  I'll talk about Challenges in more detail later but for now suffice to say that each times you Challenge an opponent who cannot defend himself that challenge is considered 'Unopposed' and you gain 1 Power.

Power Challenges are one of the three types of Challenge available and specifically aims to steal your opponent's Power and add it to yours.  Stealing Power from your opponents can be a critical moment, not only do you get closer to victory but you're also further from losing!

3. Card Effects
Some of the cards specifically gain Power when they're used, perhaps most commonly the major characters such as Tywin Lannister or Daenerys Targaryen that come with the keyword 'Renown'.  There are many examples of cards that will generate Power in some way, such as The Wall or Joffrey Baratheon and they are often a critical element in a player's strategy - if you can build The Wall and defend it then you'll gain a big Power boost towards victory, the same if you can keep the grinning little bastard Joffrey alive for a few turns.
 

         

There's a key distinction in how Joffrey Baratheon works, and cards like him (such as characters with Renown).  Joffrey and Renown characters gain Power themselves rather than adding it to your house's total.  Those Power counters add towards your winning total while the characters are in play, but should Joffrey be killed all the Power counters he gained go with him.  It makes these characters very important, but also huge targets that you have to work hard to keep alive.


WHAT DOES A TURN LOOK LIKE?

Each turn begins with the Plot Phase, in which players select a Plot from their custom Plot Deck that they want to enact for that turn.  That Plot determines a lot of the key factors for the player's turn - whether they go first or second that turn, the amount of Gold they have to spend on playing cards, the strength of any challenges they make, and their maximum hand size at the end of the turn.  In addition to this most Plots also have a special effect that either happens when you reveal your plot, or is active during that turn.



After Plots have been chosen each player draws two cards and then they take turns playing cards from their hand in the Marshalling Phase, spending the gold they got from their Plot (and any other cards that also give extra gold) to add Characters, Locations and Attachments to their side of the board.  They might choose to spend all their Gold or to hold some of it back to play Events during the turn or for the Dominance Phase later.

The Challenges Phase is where most games of A Game of Thrones LCG will be won and lost, as players use their characters to attack their opponents.  There are three types of Challenge - Military, Intrigue, and Power - and a player can declare one of each type during a turn, beginning with the player whose Plot had the highest initiative.  Once a player has declared all their Challenges, or doesn't want to declare any more, then the next player becomes the active player and can declare their Challenges.

Each character in A Game of Thrones LCG is tagged as able to participate in one or more type of challenge and when a player announces a challenge he chooses which characters he wants to use for it and 'kneels (Magic: The Gathering players: 'kneel' = 'tap') that character to show it's been used.  This can matter where a character could participate in two challenges as usually once they've 'kneeled' to do one thing they can't then be used a second time to launch another challenge OR to defend against an opponent's challenge.
 
     

Once you've announced the challenge and the characters participating the defending player can choose any number of characters with the appropriate type of challenge to defend against it (remember that if a challenge goes unopposed the attacker gets a bonus Power, so even if you know you can't beat the challenge there's value in showing at least some resistance).

Once attacking and defending characters are chosen you total the Strength of those characters involved and declare if the challenge was successful or not.  If a Challenge was successful then what happens next depends on the type of challenge that was initiated, and the Claim value of the active Plot (most Plots have a Claim value of 1).
  • Military Challenge - the defending player has to choose characters they control equal to the current Claim value and kill them.  Military challenges aim to destroy your opponents armies and characters, giving you control of the board.
  • Intrigue Challenge - the defending player has to discard cards from their hand equal to the current Claim value.  Although they don't affect anything currently in play Intrigue challenges try to disrupt the tricks and plans your opponents have for future turns.
  • Power Challenge - the attacking player 'steals' Power from the defending player equal to the current Claim value.  Power challenges are a straight up battle for victory, they don't help you destroy your opponent's armies or disrupt their plans, but they do bring you closer to winning the game!
One important to thing to note is that it doesn't matter how much you won your Challenge by, just that you won it.  The Claim value of your plot affects how damaging that Challenge was to your opponent, not whether you won it by 10 Strength or 1 Strength.
Once you have worked out all the Challenges that players want to declare that turn then you move onto the Dominance Phase, where you total up the Strength of characters in play that are still Standing after the Challenges Phase along with unspent Gold - the player with the highest total is said to have Dominance and gains a Power.

At the end of the turn you 'Stand' any 'Kneeled' cards ready for the next turn, then return any unspent Gold to the Bank and discard cards from their hand down to the maximum hand size allowed by your current Plot.

That's the end of the turn and you immediately start a new turn with players choosing a new Plot.  Repeat until one player gets to 15 Power and you have a winner!



YOU KNOW NOTHING, JON SNOW


The above is a rough guide to the game - it's absolutely not intended to be a replacement for reading the Learn To Play Guide but it should have given you a very good flavour for how the game works.

In skimming through the game like that I skipped over a few very important points that really change how you go about trying to win the Game of Thrones.  Once you've let all the basics above sink in have a think about how they're changed by the following...

1.  Choose your plots wisely.
At the start of each game you choose seven Plots to form your 'Plot Deck' and the contents of your Plot Deck are maybe the most important cards you bring to a game of A Game of Thrones LCG.

As I said earlier I'm going to devote the whole of my next blog to looking at the various types of Plot but for now what you should take on board is that whenever you choose a Plot for that turn you can't choose it again until all your Plots have been played.  So on the first turn you've got your whole Plot Deck to choose from (seven cards), on turn two you've only got six Plots left to choose from, turn three you have five... and so on until on the seventh turn you play the only Plot you've got left. 

The final Plot you reveal remains faceup while the other six Plots are shuffled back to create a new Plot deck of six cards, and you start again.


5 Gold makes A Noble Cause a good plot for Marshalling new characters, especially Lords & Ladies
8 Initiative means you're likely to declare the first Challenges that turn, good for offense
Playing the right plot at the right time is hugely important.  When you're trying to marshall a new army you need a Plot that provides a lot of Gold, but when you're trying to launch an offensive a Plot that gives you the Initiative to declare Challenges first might be critical.  Just as important is seeing what plots your opponent is playing so that you can be better prepared for them from turn eight onwards as you'll know all seven Plots they are using.

For more about Plots, as I keep saying, I'll be covering them all in much more detail in my next blog.


2.  Consider your challenges well

Because many characters in A Game of Thrones LCG sit across more than one type of Challenge you have to decide carefully how to use them.  In Magic: The Gathering you frequently have to work out if you can afford to attack with your creatures or need to hold them back for defence but in A Game of Thrones LCG that's further complicated by whether you need them to attack/defend on Military or attack/defend on Intrigue instead (for instance).  Multiple lines of attack, with different outcomes on success, adds layers of options and decision making.

This brings a more tactical side to the Challenges Phase as you try to outmaneouvre your opponent as well as outmuscle them.  You can use your characters to try and force your opponent into 'kneeling' one of their defenders in an Intrigue challenge, clearing the way for a Power challenge, for instance.  You might also have to decide if it's best to throw all your might behind a single challenge with all your characters, or splitting their forces for multiple challenges.


3.  Valar Morghulis - all men must die
I haven't alluded to this yet, but an important part of A Game of Thrones LCG is that there are two piles for cards you've played or have had killed - a Discard Pile (where discarded cards and most destroyed Locations/Attachments go) and a Dead Pile (where characters killed from play go).  This is a departure from most other card games where there's usually only one pile - Magic's 'Graveyard' or Netrunner's 'Heap/Archives' and the distinction is important because in A Game of Thrones LCG there's no coming back from death.  When Eddard Stark gets killed he goes to the Dead Pile and you can't play another copy of his card to 'bring him back to life'.

Death is a central theme in the world of A Game of Thrones and that's true in the books, TV show and the LCG - that important people will die and stay dead is a key to recreating that world in card game form.  Many of the most powerful characters in the game are tagged as 'Unique' and once those characters are sent to your Dead Pile (usually by being killed in play, such as during a Military challenge) you can't play them again.  The Dead Pile goes further than these mechanics usually go in similar games.  In Netrunner if a unique card like Caprice Nisei gets trashed you can just play/rez another copy, in Magic: The Gathering if a Legendary creature is in play you can't play a second copy... but once they're dead you're free to play it.  In A Game of Thrones a dead character stays dead (south of the wall, at least!).

Keeping your Unique characters alive is important
Aeron is a rare example of a card that brings the Dead back to life

So why play with multiple copies of Eddard Stark if as soon as one gets killed the others are useless?  Well because of the 'Duplicate' rule that effectively allows you to use copies of Unique cards as 'extra lives'... so if you've got two Eddard Stark cards and one of them is killed then you can't play the second to ressurect poor doomed Ned, but you could have played the second card as a duplicate onto Eddard Stark while he was in play and then discard it the first time Ned would be killed, indicating that they somehow survived the attack.

What do we say to the God of death?  Not today.


CORE SET & DECKBUILDING

There's some good news and bad news regarding what just buying a single copy of the Core set brings you...

Good News
Standalone, the Core set is actually a little bit like A Game Of Thrones-themed edition of the hit game Smash Up! in that you get eight core faction minidecks that you can throw together to form various alliances and extend the lifespan of your game.  A one-off purchase potentially gives you quite a long experience if that's all you're looking for.

Bad News
In terms of deckbuilding and creating your own proper decks the Core Set gives you nowhere near what you need.  If you have a Core Set and enjoy the game then and you'll almost certainly need to have access to three (THREE!) copies of the Core Set if you're going to jump into the game seriously and start making your own decks.


         

Deckbuilding restrictions in A Game of Thrones LCG are 60 card decks with maximum 3 copies of a card, and in the Core Set you get 1 copy of each card.  So first off all you'll need to buy 2 Core Sets into order to legally make a deck of 60 cards, and secondly you'll need a third Core Set to ensure you've got access to enough copies of key cards for your deck, like 3x Eddard Stark, or 3x The Wall.

At this point I'll make a helpful reminder... this doesn't mean everyone buys three Core Sets, necessarily, I think A Game of Thrones LCG is going to be a perfect example of game where three people with one Core Set each can combine their card pools to help each other out.  Unlike Magic: The Gathering or Netrunner, where some cards are common across many decks, with eight factions to choose from there's likely to be a lot loss crossover of players wanting the same cards.  Touch wood that's the case!




Hopefully that's given those of you uncertain about what the game actually was a good flavour of what to expect, though please remember to go and read the Learn To Play Guide to fill in the gaps that I skimmed over - especially those new to TCG/LCGs in general as I probably did assume a certain amount of base knowledge of how games like this work.

As I said above my next blog is going to focus on the various Plots because I think that's one of the key mechanics in A Game of Thrones that really makes the game different to similar TCG/LCGs.

14 comments:

  1. Congrats the new blog, David! I'm looking to get into AGOT with the new edition and I'm looking forward to picking up some tips from another newbie. Keep up the good work!

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  2. Well done. I enjoyed your Netrunner blog and I have no doubt that you'll maintain the high standard for this one. Even though Netrunner will continue to be my main game for the foreseeable future, I got a Core Set at GenCon and will be coming back here to keep track of the game.

    Just a few corrections:
    1. You said at the beginning that the player with the highest initiative goes first, that's not the case: the highest initiative gets to choose to go first or not. You state this correctly in your Plots post, but wanted to say it here for anyone looking up the rules.
    2. Although most of the cards in the Core Set are singletons, there are several where you get doubles (mostly economy cards). If you ally 2 houses you should be able to build a legal deck with one Core Set.

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