Game of Thrones: The Board Game – Digital Edition Review
When I was a teen, my cousin and I were obsessed with this fantasy book series called A Song of Ice and Fire. In the early 2000s, half a decade before they would start filming the mind-breakingly popular TV show, we collected every piece of merchandise we could. That is how we came to own a copy of Fantasy Flight’s Game of Thrones board game in 2003, which became regularly played in our board game rotation. Now, Asmodee Digital has brought the definitive Game of Thrones gaming experience to PCs and it hasn’t lost a step.
Who Sows? Not Us!
The Game of Thrones board game is emblematic of everything Fantasy Flight does well. They are a board game company that is uniquely talented at adapting the themes of the original work as gameplay mechanics (see also: their amazing Battlestar Galactica game). To be utterly reductive, Game of Thrones is a bit like Risk, in that you are moving armies across a map to conquer enough territory to win. But unlike Risk, there is very little random chance at all.
What makes the game so brilliant is that it is almost entirely about bluffing and interpersonal dynamics. Orders are placed face down across the map, and then everyone reveals their plans simultaneously. Battles are resolved by calculating the strength of each army. There are no dice rolls, ties are broken by selecting a general to lead your forces, represented by unique House Cards who each have unique abilities. So it becomes a game of trying to guess what your opponent is thinking, and feinting to draw them out into the open.
The is also, unfortunately, a reason why playing with computer opponents is a pale imitation of playing with other humans. It’s not that the AI is predictable, I’ve found it to be as messy as some in-person games. But you can’t help but notice patterns after you’ve played for a few hours. On the easiest modes for example, the AI seems to prioritize attacking other computer opponents rather than the human player, even when such a thing makes little sense. As you get harder, they become more aggressive. In either situation, you can use that knowledge to your advantage… which is similar to a game with humans, but less satisfying.
Ours? It’s the Fury!
What is enormously satisfying though, is the art. Tell me if this has ever happened to you (in the comments if you feel so inclined)- you get really into a thing, someone makes a movie, and suddenly, the actors are on the covers, the comics are drawn to look like the live-action version, and that style comes to dominate the entire franchise. But this board game predates the show by a bit so, all the art is totally from the imagination of someone who has never seen it. This is a wonderful thing. The Hound for example, has a truly hideous burned face. The Red Viper has sex appeal, but he looks like a sallow and devious man. Robb Stark is a ginger (as he is in the books). Jaime Lannister has solid gold armor. Instead of feeling like a contradiction from the show, it expands upon the idea that there are lots of worthy stories to be told in this engrossing world. And I bet there are lots of fans who miss that feeling after the series finale.
The one place where the show’s influence is most strongly felt is the music. Ramin Djawadi created a wonderful score for the show, with a distinct sound that will live on long after people forget who played the Three Eyed Raven. The music in the game is not licensed from HBO, but insists on Djawadi’s signature arpeggios. It’s not grating or anything, but you can’t help but feel like you are listening to diet, zero-calorie Djawadi. A really good soundtrack can keep me coming back to a PC board game again and again. After I remembered all the rules, I was content to play Game of Thrones with a podcast going.
When Is Winter? It’s Coming Soon
I suppose I still need to talk about the most important thing- the gameplay. Fortunately, Asmodee and Dire Wolf did some of their best ever work. Digital board games are great because they help you keep track of complicated rules. This game nails it. The UI is simple, clean, and attractive. Your screen is never cluttered with words, but getting to the info you need is only ever a click or two away. Complex movements are highlighted in easy to follow colors. In terms of making the game more playable, this adaptation succeeds better than any I have ever played.
So all is well in Westeros? Yeah, pretty much! But sure, there are a few items on my wishlist. The game is so much more fun against human opponents, I wish you could buy a discounted multi-pack to entice your friends to join you. And, after winning victories with all six houses on the higher difficulty modes, I started to crave the many excellent expansions, especially the Storm of Swords game that zooms way in on the conflict in the Riverlands. I fervently hope these are things we will see soon. And that’s a sign that the game is pretty excellent as it stands now!
Game of Thrones has turned into a very weird franchise, but I know there are still fans out there- I am one of them! And it is unfortunate that the best video game we’ve gotten up until now was a mid-tier Telltale adventure. Until something else comes along (like a really good Crusader Kings 3 mod), this is it. This is the best Game of Thrones gaming experience. You’ll know what I mean when you take Harrenhal, only to lose it the next turn. Or the first time you defend Winterfell as Theon Greyjoy. Game of Thrones: The Board Game is the best way to feel like a devious genius of Westeros.
***A PC code was provided by the publisher***
- Easy to read UI
- Makes a complex game simple to play
- Original art!
- Forgettable music
- Predictable AI