Sunday, January 12, 2014

Boarding Pass: Game of Thrones: The Board Game: Feast for Crows Scenario; or, That's a Lot of Colons

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game: A Feast for Crows
Fantasy Flight Publishing
Expansion design: Jason Walden
Core game design: Christian T. Petersen

Longtime readers of my blog will no doubt remember my longtime overwritten post reviewing the Game of Thrones board game from Fantasy Flight.  As a bit of a coda to that post, I’d like to bring you a much more bite-sized review of the the “Feast for Crows” scenario now available to play with the core game.

What I so enjoy about contemporary board gaming is that it’s not a static pastime--so much of each game evolves.  That’s true of each experience of playing a particular game, since the depth of strategies available make for a different universe of possibility each time you grab your favorite cardboard treasure chest and let the bottom slowly de-vacuum suck from the top and plop with the utmost ceremony onto your playing table.

In the olden days, every game of Monopoly was essentially the same--everyone would try to get Boardwalk, somebody would be stuck with the purple ones, no one would buy the utilities, et cetera.  Not so with these ‘pro’ board games.  Nothing is set in stone with them.

But in addition to all that, the games themselves evolve--as in the constellation of components and rules that make up potential gameplay--through expansions, new editions, and what Fantasy Flight has termed, for this game at least, ‘scenarios.’  With these, you have new options to spice up your enjoyment of the core game, add a little variety to the proceedings.  And for a game based on a property as changing and alive as Game of Thrones is, that’s definitely a welcome opportunity!

FF has released two such scenarios so far, corresponding roughly to the events and circumstances of the most recent books in the series, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.  The former, as least, introduces new game concepts that make for an even more authentic Thrones experience of intrigue, back-stabbing and military conquest.

How so?  Well, unlike the basic GoT game, which was a basic territory control game (“first player past a certain threshold wins”), FfC bases its victory condition on the fulfillment of various objectives--each player (or “House”) has a basic objective that they can try to honor every round, plus a hand of randomly-drawn cards offering up additional goals that can be cashed in once and only once.

What’s neat about these cards is that they recognize that the objectives will be easier for some houses than for others, and score you appropriately.  If House Stark is asked to control a territory that’s more or less already in its sphere of influence, it might only get one victory point for that; but if faraway House Baratheon happened to have drawn that card, it might score two or three points for fulfilling its objective.

And since you can never be sure what objective each player has in hand, you can never be quite sure how close to victory anyone is.

This scenario also asks you to swap out the original game’s first “Westeros” deck of round-altering circumstance cards for a new one that plays with the objective mechanic.  Thanks to these new Westeros cards, you might have to swap objectives with another player, have the option of rejecting a too-tenuous objective, and more. The other nice revised rule is that the “supply” mechanic occurs once each round--a process that was subject to random “Westeros” draw in the original version, leading to oversized armies for some and choked-off resources for others.  Now things are much more dynamic, with new armies entering the field every round even as others are forcibly disbanded--but with another supply opportunity coming up every round, no one period is too damning or overpowering.

Perhaps most fun for those of us who love the books and TV show is that the FfC scenario introduces a new faction that was left off the original map: House Arryn.  That means new House cards modeled after the most prominent characters to help you out in combat; their art alone is worth the price of admission, but the way their various special skills shake up the game is not to be sneezed at. Sadly, there is no little Lord Robert making his porridge fly, but one can always hope for the next revision…

To make the game even more thematically appropriate, I did a little experiment and used the House Stark deck from the Dance with Dragons scenario during one FfC game.  It would be too spoilery to get into why the basic deck no longer really works thematically, or whom you can find in the DwD version--but if you’re all caught up with the books you’ll want to try this out.  I didn’t notice the balance to be off at all, and doing it this way will make you feel so much more canon-comfy.

The Feast for Crows scenario is a fun alternative to the basic Game of Thrones game.  It’s designed for four players, so gameplay is faster-paced--perfect if you want a Thrones night but don’t have 8 hours to set aside.  The presence of concrete objectives actually makes for authentic-feeling diplomacy sessions, if that’s the way you play--everyone’s gunning for something, sometimes conflictedly so, and you never know for quite what, so deals get made and broken with much more consequence.  And it’s just fun adding House Arryn to the mix.  If you already own the core board game, this is a must-add.

Excitingly, Fantasy Flight offers this scenario as a print-on-demand commodity, so go get yours now!

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