I haven't yet been able to track down a copy of the new Game of Thrones board game, let alone carve out four to eight hours to sit down and play through a game. But from the sound of things, that might be for the best. Not because it's bad, but because it requires so much deviousness and backstabbery that it can cost you your real-life friends.
Over at the board game site Shut Up & Sit Down, Quintin Smith and Paul Dean (both of whose work you've probably seen at Rock, Paper Shotgun) took a spin through the game and recorded their thoughts on it. In short: it sounds totally great, and totally intimidating.
It would appear it takes place more or less during the events of the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings. Many various families are vying for the throne, and players have an opportunity to represent those bloodlines and forge alliances and connive in order to come out in possession of the Iron Throne.
But it's much more complicated and diabolical than that. Betrayal and gang-ups are engineered into the game's fabric, and it really does sound like a board game that could seriously damage friendships, should the players take it too seriously. And given that my friends and I take Monopoly too seriously, we would probably be in trouble.
After outlining the basic rules, Smith points out why they engineer forced trust, and therefore eventual betrayal:
The rules explicitly state that nobody can show anyone else an order token before they're all flipped and made public, meaning alliances and cease-fires are at all times based on trust. The horror. Simply put, it's this order token mechanic that makes Game of Thrones the fearsome, fantastic, entirely faithful game it is. Everything else is almost window dressing.
It's also what makes Game of Thrones a game that destroys relationships. On three occasions in our game - the repelling of a Stark invasion of Greyjoy's foothold in the mainland, a sudden Greyjoy invasion of Lannisport and the undignified destruction of some Tyrell forces down South - players were reduced the kind of polite yet utterly transparent fury that I know, had we been kids, would have seen players walking away from the table to have a cry.
The game looks gorgeous, with lots of hand-drawn cards, a huge board, and tons of great-looking pieces and parts. Despite the fact that the rules are more than a touch impenetrable (they clock in at 29 pages of small text), it sounds like something that I would very much like to play, risks be damned. As Dean puts it:
Perhaps you're now seeing why this would be both an excellent and terrible Christmas present. It's a gorgeous game. Smart, cruel and pretty in equal measure. A perfect present for that special boy or girl in your life who's both a gamer and a Song of Ice and Fire fan.
But board games received on Christmas day tend to be played on Christmas day, and a list of games I'd rather play with my drunk relatives would be as long as my leg and include spin the bottle. Even if everyone understood what the crap they were doing, someone getting betrayed and entering a year-long sulk is a very real prospect.
Go check out the full review, and if you track down a copy, let me know how it is. I'm seriously considering getting it for someone in my family. But then again, I love my family, and would never turn against them. Or would I?
You know, if this game can get me to turn against my own blood it would be channeling Game of Thrones effectively, indeed.
Review: A Game of Thrones [Shut Up & Sit Down]
A Game of Thrones: Board Game Edition [Boardgamegeek.com]