T.J.
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Though I’m running out of steam with this unbelievably long strategy guide, and its second part did not get as much attention and love as its first part, I am going to make an effort to finish it up and round up my thoughts on the strategic situation that Game of Thrones 2nd Edition presents to you before I move on to focus on other games, for I have spent way too much time playing it and gathered too much otherwise useless information. This third part wraps things up by talking about managing battles in GoT, which is probably the hardest and most important strategic component of the game.

The Battle System
GoT’s battle system includes a combination of the troops on the ground and battle cards. You count the troops on the ground, add the number of your leader card and the total sum is your strength for this battle. Now, this is a familiar system – it is virtually the same as that of Dune, which came out years earlier, which is also somewhat similar to that of Cosmic Encounter (a game by the same designers). More recently, two brilliant games that I love have employed similar mechanisms: Kemet and City of Remnants (Kemet’s much more similar, not surprisingly it was inspired by Dune, but as the discussion below will reveal, CoR falls in the same category in my book). The upcoming game Impulse employs a battle mechanism that bears some similarity to the one I discuss, and I’m sure there are a lot more games that use a variant of this idea. The cards are different in each game – in Kemet every player has the same cards but you can ‘buy’ some cards to change your hands a bit; in Dune and GoT the cards correspond to characters from the book and their strength and abilities vary by faction; in Cosmic Encounter you draw random cards and have to make wise use of them because you won’t be able to draw new cards until you run out of all your encounter cards. The idea is basically similar, and it’s one of my favorite mechanisms ever in boardgaming so I want to say something general about the way you handle it.

Boardgamegeek doesn’t have one category for this battle system. On BGG, Kemet is listed under the ‘Campaign/Battle Card Driven’ mechanic (which seems like a mistake), Dune, Cosmic Encounter and City of Remnants under ‘Hand Management’ and finally, Game of Thrones under ‘Simultaneous Action Selection.’ Curiously, none of these games are listed under the 'Rock-Paper-Scissors' (RPS) mechanic, though the logic of the mechanism has great affinity to it. A glimpse at that page on BGG shows that the RPS’s defining feature is its ‘non-transitive’ or, in people’s language, circular hierarchy, which can be done without simultaneous action selection as is clear by the games in this category, like Balance of Power and the Ares Project.

So what do we have in GoT? What’s the defining feature of the battle mechanics? Let us start by ruling out some of the categories mentioned above. First, it seems to me that the association with battle card driven is confusion. People who talk about Battle Card Driven games think about games like Twilight Struggle and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. Though Twilight Struggle has a headline event card played simultaneously, which has some relevant elements to it, the bulk of the game that people refer to when they talk about this mechanic is the need to employ cards strategically either for their historical event or for their value in operation points. I find it uninteresting to argue whether or not this is a ‘subcategory’ of hand management or not, it seems to me that it is has its own distinct flavor and that hand-management is a pretty wide category to begin with. In any case, Kemet is not a member of that species – the cards in Kemet have no historical events or operation values, and you can’t use them for multiple purposes. Instead they are only used in battle, exactly like in GoT, and the way to manage your hand is to make sure you have the right cards at hand for the right battle.

What about hand management? Isn’t that really the mechanism that we are talking about? Certainly Cosmic Encounter has an element of hand management as you don’t get to draw a new hand until you’ve exhausted your hand. But that’s not how the battles are resolved, isn’t it? The battles are resolved by separate choice of battle cards that are the revealed simultaneously, adding to the power of the troops that are participating in that specific battle. Sounds familiar? In any case, hand management to me sounds like an unhelpful category. It includes so many different kinds of hand management, that it really says very little about the game. Descent is listed in BGG under hand management – and though there is definitely an element of that in the Overlord’s role, the game has really very little with the kind of games we are talking about here. Certainly the battles are resolved differently.

Now, we turn to simultaneous action selection. That’s most definitely a really important component of the battle system in GoT, which it inherited from its predecessor and inspiration, Diplomacy. But here it is important to notice that Diplomacy doesn’t have any hand management aspect to it; in fact, there are no hands at all as there aren’t any cards. Orders are written on pieces of paper (old school!) and are submitted to be revealed and resolved simultaneously. In fact, it’s striking that in GoT the orders are not resolved simultaneously, as in Diplomacy – they are chosen and revealed simultaneously, but are then resolved in turn order. The main reason is probably that simultaneously resolution creates too many complications and possible paradoxes that drove diplomacy players to write technical guides of this sort. Christian Peterson probably didn’t want people writing computer programs just so they would be able to play the game. Nonetheless, it’s important that simultaneity is not such a defining feature of GoT as it is in Diplomacy.

Next we have Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS). None of these games are categorized under this heading, and as I said, the games that are categorized under it do not have to have the same features (thus, in Balance of Power, the units have different shapes on the board and there is no secret selection of cards). However, I think Klaude Thomas was right to categorize his game DarkStar, under the heading of RPS. DarkStar also employs the same battle mechanic (and is explicitly inspired by Dune) – you have a hand of cards that you have to manage carefully, and in battle you and your opponent will secretly select one to be revealed simultaneously; the cards have numeric values on them that add to the number of troops you have participating in the battle.

However, DarkStar is labeled RPS not because of the values on the cards and how they relate, but because the cards themselves are divided into three categories that operate in circular hierarchy: lightning cancels darkness, which cancels entropy, which cancels lightning. Nonetheless, I think the battle mechanics – the numerical values on cards chosen simultaneously added to troop numbers – have a RPS feature to it as well. In GoT, ties are broken by the Fiefdom track. That means that two powers facing each other with equal strength and with a full house set at hand, basically face a RPS type of choice. I have simplified this before and discussed it as the low card/high card game, where you can choose whether to play a low or a high card. A high card can guarantee victory, but your opponent knows it. A low card would defeat his low card, but if he were to expect you would play a low card – he’ll play his high card. Notice that in this case that hierarchy is not entirely circular: if the first player plays a high card, there is nothing that would defeat him. But always playing the high card and guarantying a victory is not a great strategy, as I discussed before. Game theory, with its assumption that both players are robotic calculators, would recommend a mixed strategy according to which you would randomize, playing the high card 2 out of every 3 times (assuming the utilities I assigned in the table are correct – if you’re not into game theory, don’t worry about that). It’s important to note that in GoT, specifically, non-circularity is typical but not necessary. Some of the cards’ special ability change the strength of the initial forces or battle cards (Balon, Catelyn, Mace, Ser Kevan, etc.) and create a situation of circular hierarchy, a genuine Rock-Paper-Scissors. Thus, in the perennial attack of Greyjoy on the Bay of Ice when it has the special defense order, Catelyn loses to anybody but defeats Balon – while Balon defeats everybody but loses to Catelyn.

In any case, this element of non-circularity, where (usually) one player can guarantee a win have caused some people to dub the battle system in GoT as ‘deterministic,’ even sadly by the designer himself, merely because it doesn’t use dice for resolution of battles. This is common parlor, so I shouldn’t really complain – but I think it’s a very weird notion that chucks anything that has no dice into the category of ‘deterministic.’ Even the calculating robots of game theory would not play ‘deterministically’ in a situation that they can guarantee a win, let alone if there is circular hierarchy. Just because we’re not rolling dice on the table, it doesn’t mean that there is no chance involved. In this case, the die is simply rolled in people’s heads.

To sum up this discussion, the battle system of GoT is a combination of hand management, simultaneous action selection and RPS dynamics. You might call it ‘Simultaneous-Card-Selection’ or something. The important point is that the resolution of the battle combines thinking of these three elements. First, you have to manage your hand. I will discuss this at greater length shortly but the gist is obvious – the order in which you play your cards and what you have in hand is really important, and often you’ll attack simply to get a new hand. Second, you will have to pick your battle card without knowing what your opponent picks. I discussed this in the previous part, but the essence there is that you need to be prepared to what they actually choose to do, not what you think they should do. Third, though you don’t know what card your opponent chooses, you know what his options are. This RPS element is the one I mention often throughout, and that’s where game theoretic analysis can be really helpful if you’re into that kind of a thing (with the caveat that you have to be prepared to opponents that aren’t). I will touch on this issue when I talk about hand management, but the idea here is simple – you want to use your low cards whenever possible and make your opponent use his high cards when he doesn’t need to. With that introduction in place, let’s get into the details.

Hand Management
As I said before, hand management is probably the most important strategic factor of the game. Though often people describe the game as primarily an area control one, because all paths to victory go through the control of the board, the real heart of the game is in hand management. Quintin Smith, that guy from Shut Up and Sit Down, is fond of saying that GoT forces you into making alliances because you can’t fight a war on two fronts (he actually likes saying both when he’s praising the game and when he’s dissing it). But the main reason you can’t fight a war on two fronts is not, as in Diplomacy, that you don’t have enough troops for it (because you can) but rather it’s because you don’t have enough house cards at hand to run over one of your neighbors and then still survive the attack of another who has a fresh hand. You can’t overstate the importance of hand management.

At the center of the hand management puzzle is the fact that you have only a limited set of cards and you only get them back once you’ve spent all of them. This means you have to be very careful about when you use which of them. This does NOT mean ‘playing carefully’ so that you keep your cards at hand for the longest time often. In fact, it’s a major reason to use your cards often so that you’ll be able to refresh them and hold on to as many of them as possible. It also encouraging attack, since using your cards while you’re attacking allows you to use them on your terms. When you don’t have a card in your hand, you’re not only vulnerable because you can’t play it – you’re also not enjoying the deterrent effect that comes with it. That’s particularly true about vicious card like Doran Martell, but it’s true in general about all cards – when you have fewer options, you have less space for maneuvering and you’re more predictable.

Another problem of the very common cautious and defensive play style that many people like is that tends to underestimate the importance of refreshing your hand. I’ve seen some people play a whole game without refreshing their hand once or playing the last card in their hand at the last turn of the game. As a general matter, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Here’s my thought about refreshing your hand: you want to play the last card in your hand on your terms. That means, you want to be able to use it beneficially and not just to through it away so you could you’re your hand back. When you have just one card in your hand, you’re basically a sitting target. The one case of the game where battle actually is deterministic occurs when you have one card in your hand (which is why in Kemet they eliminated that problem by making you discard a card every time you play one). The attitude to adopt in face of such determinism is not ‘oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it and it’ll happen anyway,’ but rather ‘how do I make this last card play to my benefit’.

This is a challenge. Partly it’s a challenge because other players will take advantage of your last card and attack you on their terms. But more importantly, it’s a challenge because there’s a real trade-off between keeping a strong card at hand for a victory in that deterministic battle, and not having that card in your hand for six battles. There’s no good solution to this problem, which is really the genius of the design of this game. Keep your Doran, Gregor or Balon at hand and you’ll be in a good position to impose a victory and get your hand back. However, you’ll have to kiss them goodbye for a little while.

The flip side of the dilemma is that one of your major goals is to manipulate your opponents so that they won’t be able to use their cards optimally. That’s a reason I think Tyrion is underappreciated and should most often be played against the penultimate card instead of against the last card – it lets you control what card your opponent (say Greyjoy) won’t have in hand for six battles now (say Balon). If he is holding on to his dear card to use for his penultimate battle (a pretty solid strategy), I’ll be attacking him somewhere he doesn’t want to use this high card, forcing him to choose between his plan to use the card somewhere else and keeping it at hand for the next cycle. I will also sometimes wait until my opponent has his last card, or only two cards, and then refrain from attacking them. They often expect you to take advantage of their situation but I find that many times that’s actually a good time to go for the other front, or just sit and CP while your opponent is uninclined to attack other than to lose and recycle his hand.

There’s more than can be said but I think the point is clear – be prepared to shuffle your hand on your own terms and make sure your opponent never uses his cards optimally. As I will discuss soon, the real strength of the Houses is the special abilities of their leaders. Mace Tyrell kills a footman? Make sure you force Tyrell to use him when you have no Footmen involved. Victorian Greyjoy doubles the strength of ships on the attack? Force Greyjoy to use a 3 card on the defense. Using Victorian as a 3 takes the edge off of Greyjoy’s comparative advantage, and even if he uses it and wins a battle, he has lost a major asset and that puts him at a disadvantage. Having discussed the overall governing thought of your hand management, it’s type to delve into some specific details about what’s important to play when.

Swords and Forts
The one generic feature that appears on cards are battle icons, also known as swords and forts. These symbols are the boring ‘regular’ ones that all factions have on some of their cards. I’ll talk a little bit about the collections of house cards in a moment and the way to use the special abilities of specific cards, but for now I want to dedicate a little bit of time to discuss the generic battle icons.

Perhaps it’s because everybody has them and they are not as exciting, but battle icons do not receive the respect they deserve. But they are really one of the most important aspect of the game, and using your battle icons correctly is crucial to success in Westeros. Unlike other war games or ‘Dudes-on-a-Map’ style game, in GoT there’s a dearth of troops. First, supply limitation severely limit the amount of troops you can recruit and deploy. Supply is a constant pain in the neck and unless you’re very lucky with Westeros cards or have planned meticulously for any event, you will encounter times when a muster comes up and you cannot deploy any troops. Second, mustering is hard to come by with and often the tides of Westeros will create a draught in mustering for several turns. Or, alternatively, musters will pile up consecutively without supply adjustments and you won’t be able to use them. Lastly, the number of troops you can have is limited by the pieces in the box – only 5 nights, only 6 ships and only 2 siege engines. That means that often you won’t be able to upgrade your footmen because you have no more knights. If you’re Stark and you want to hold to seas in the East and the West, you’re in trouble. Every time you make a successful sea invasion anywhere you leave your back side exposed simply because there aren’t enough ships in the game to hold both. To sum, there’s a real shortage of troops in Westeros.

There are two implications to this fact. First, the special consolidate power order that allows you to muster is incredible powerful, perhaps even overpowered. I believe it was added to the second edition as a response to the shortage of troops in the first edition, but it makes the difference between no stars and on star into heaven and hell. Whenever at all possible, you need to muster troops and get ahead in the (somewhat pathetic) arms race. One major problem Lannister has is that he often cannot afford to muster in Lannisport because he needs the troops there to mobilize. In contrast, though Greyjoy typically doesn’t have much space he can typically muster in Pyke with peace without worrying about raids.

But the second, and more important (because less commonly understood) implication of the shortage in troops on Westeros is that one major goal of participating in battle is to kill your opponent’s troops. In the earlier stages of the game, your goal is not yet to control as many castles as possible (though obviously that’s never bad) but rather to decimate your opponent and put him at a disadvantage. That means you want to be able use your swords wisely and force him to misuse his forts. One of the reasons I like attacking Lannister as Greyjoy on the first turn is because it typically forces him to place The Hound. Note that this is Lannister’s only fort card – after he’s played, he has no way of blocking swords for six battles. Now Greyjoy doesn’t have many swords – sadly he has only 1 sword cards (Euron and Dagmar) and then Asha’s terrible ability can let him, sometimes, rarely, if ever – win without support to wield two swords. But having few swords is not a reason not to think about killing troops, it’s a reason to think more carefully about how to use your swords.

Stark’s house cards are pretty boring, over all – the strongest special ability (Bolton) is pretty straightforward in terms of its usage and only Robb Stark offers interesting strategic possibilities. But Stark has two offensive cards with swords and two defensive cards with forts (I consider the Blackfish there). It makes it very hard to kill Stark’s troops while making sure that almost always Stark will kill some of yours. That’s the reason Stark is really a difficult match up for Greyjoy, whose cards are obviously more geared towards dealing with Lannister. Greyjoy will really have a hard time killing any of Stark’s troops with Dagmar or Euron, and is likely to suffer at least one defeat to Eddard’s two swords, one of which is invincible from Greyjoy’s perspective.

Baratheon’s deck is probably weaker in terms of Swords/Forts, which is why I find it one of the hardest houses to play (also, Baratheon has very little space to maneuver and is situated in an awkward place on the board). That’s partly because their offensive swords, Brienne, is also their only fort which gives them very little flexibility. She is sadly most often used for her fort and rarely gets to slaughter anybody. Melisandre is hard to win with (and is surprisingly weak considering her character in the books, as some people say) and you’re left with good Ser Davos who you can’t always play since you haven’t played your Stannis yet. Martell probably has the best swords collection but his neighbor, Tyrell, is typically well prepared for that and can block them pretty often, and counter with a pretty vicious sword collection of his own that Martell is much less well prepared for, having only strong cards with forts (except for Nymeria’s defensive fort). And Lannister has the card with most Swords on it, Ser Gregor, which can guarantee a kill (or two against anyone but Stark) but is only one cards and unless you work really hard to manipulate your opponents, they will be prepared for Gregor.

In short, a major part of playing cards at the right time is playing swords when you believe you’ll win the battle and your opponents is unlikely to play any forts. Sounds simple, but it complicated the high/low card game we talked about earlier considerably, and makes a bunch of non-circular hierarchies into circular ones. While you can guarantee a win with your high card, that will put you a disadvantage since you’ve just wasted your swords on your opponent’s forts. Playing that Euron against Lannister’s Hound is not a good victory. It means his troops will retreat and will come back to bite, with Gregor at hand.

The Noble Houses of Westeros
GoT is a strongly thematic game, and much of the love people have for this game come from their dedication to the superb book series that has inspired the game. I too have gotten interested in this game originally because of how much I enjoyed the world of Ice and Fire. Partly, the theme is implemented in the overall atmosphere of the game – the politicking, scheming, tension about betrayals and so forth. But the bulk of the theme is the work done in the characters, giving life to the different houses as well as the love and hate to the characters in the book.

I think the choice to use characters as leaders in battle is a brilliant one for such a deeply thematic game. Like Dune, another game whose appeal is partly due to the way it brings to life a well-loved novel, GoT relies greatly on the different powers that the different houses have. Therefore, using the special powers of your house and its comparative advantage is crucial for victory in this game. Perhaps it’s not as important as it is in Dune, where the powers are so strong that each faction’s paths to victory are almost completely dictated by its special powers, but you cannot win if you don’t exploit the special powers of your house, which are primarily to be found in your house cards.

Some have already written quite a bit on the different house cards and their strategic uses, whether ranking all house cards for the efficiency or discussing the sets of specific houses. I won’t go over each and every card, but instead talk a little bit about each house set and the way it works, peppered by some of the house card match-ups.


Stark. Stark’s house card set is, as I said before, the most straightforward one to use. It has Eddard, which is a 4 with two swords. You would want to use it when you win and use it often so that you can kill as many troops as you can. Luckily you can play Eddard often since he comes with Roose Bolton, possibly the strongest card in the game, which allows you to take back all your cards after you lose a battle. The typical dance with House Stark is playing Eddard for the kill, losing strategically with Bolton and repeating ad-nauseam. If you face a sword or two in the middle, you just play Ser Rodrick or the Blackfish and find an opportunity to lose with Bolton when your opponent doesn’t have any swords. Since you’ll be facing Greyjoy or Baratheon, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Baratheon is a particularly convenient opponent for Stark in that regard since he almost has no shields. However, he has that pesky Patchface that he will typically use to discard Bolton, which means Stark would just sit there and not attack Baratheon for a while until Bara spends it vindictively on Martell and the road for an Eastern conquest is open (unless, by then, you’re already knee deep in the quagmire of defending Winterfell against an angry and aggressive Greyjoy).

The best way to play against Stark is therefore to let him win when he plays Bolton. Though this sounds strange, I’ve seen in throw off a Stark many times. He’s spent his Eddard and Robb earlier and thought he could guarantee his hand by attacking Crackclaw Point. Well, you just let him have the damn castle and win with his Bolton that has no swords. Next thing you know his only card above 1 is Greatjon and he’s in deep trouble. The other thing to note is that since Stark will want to use Bolton to get his hand back, he effectively only has one 2 card in his hand, which means he has less options when it comes to attack. He has to win with Greatjon, Eddard or Robb and keep his Bolton for that strategic loss. I sometimes find that if you can discard Eddard rather than Bolton with Patchface, you can push Stark into a corner where he will be forced to play Bolton, where you let him win and leave him weak for 3 or 4 battles. If you’re playing against an experienced Baratheon, that’s what you should worry about.

The other interesting card that Stark has is Robb. It is extremely hard to use effectively and often is just thrown around for its 3 battle strength. But if you can set up an attack such that you will push his troops back where you can run them over with a second attack – you can rack up major casualties in one turn. Since you only have 2 or 3 marches in one turn, this will require very careful planning, and even if you pull it off it might be a costly endeavor, as it will restrict your ability to respond to whatever your opponent is doing. Still, when you have Robb Stark at hand you should be thinking about routed troops and where you can send them.

Match-ups: Catelyn, a pretty weak card, is there to counter Balon; can be pretty useful in the Bay of Ice with a special defense order. Patchface was probably added to counter Bolton. The Blackfish is only card that can block Gregor but despite the thematic animosity, Stark and Lannister rarely ever meet and if they do, it’s pretty late in the game and causalities don’t matter as much.


Greyjoy. Greyjoy’s house cards are really strong, as is often noted, which makes Greyjoy more inclined to fight and fight often. This is obviously an appropriate thematic choice which ties in well with Victarian’s ability which encourages Greyjoy to attack as well as rely on ships.

Greyjoy has Balon, which in my opinion is the strongest card in the game. It allows Greyjoy to win any battle where he can bring to the table as many troops as his opponent (as long as he is a head on the Fiefdom track, which he is in the beginning of the game). Balon is not just a tremendously strong card but also a superb deterrent. If Greyjoy takes over the Bay of Ice, say with Victarian, he can probably be safe in assuming that Stark will not attack it as long as he still has Balon in his hand. It’s therefore a good idea for Greyjoy to think carefully about when and how to play Balon, and hope to keep him at hand for the longest period possible. As soon as you played Balon, you really want to do whatever it takes to refresh your hand. Aeron can help with that, if you have the money to support it, since his ability lets you refresh your hand sooner than usual. But, careful! If you plan to keep Balon until the penultimate battle, you might find yourself facing Tyrion, which you really don’t want.

The biggest challenge when playing Greyjoy is making use of the few swords the game provides you. You have Euron, which has only one sword. Against Stark it is rarely effective since he has not one but two cards that block Euron’s lonely sword. Lannister has only one of these cards, but if he is smart he can often prevent Euron’s kill with the Hound. Other than that, Greyjoy only has good old Dagmar, which is also his only fort; and Asha, who only gets swords when she is attacking without support, which is virtually impossible in Greyjoy’s board position except when you’re attacking the Golden Sound (and even then, it’s often hard to win with a 1 card). So Greyjoy needs to be thinking about forcing retreats when there is nowhere to retreat and using his forts/swords carefully so that he can squeeze a kill every now and then avoid the Eddard/Gregor slaughters.

Match-ups: Balon needs to be careful about facing Ser Kevan, Catelyn, Mace Tyrell and any card that changes the battle strength regardless of cards.


Lannister. Lannister’s set of house cards is probably the most difficult one to use effectively. Much has been said about the match-up between Lannister and Greyjoy, but I guess the most general comment is that with Lannister you need to be much more thoughtful about what cards you throw away in battles you lose. If you throw away Tyrion or Kevan, you’re losing the edge you have over Greyjoy. If you throw away The Hound, you lose your only fort. For Lannister it is much more important to guess correctly what his opponent is playing and make sure he responds correctly. Lannister is probably the only house that can afford to play defensively, drawing hands as much as he can to face Greyjoy when he has more certainty about what Greyjoy is holding.

Needless to say, Aeron is a really big challenge since it lets Greyjoy reacts to Lannister’s chosen card. As Greyjoy, I would often attack early with Aeron and if I don’t face The Hound (say because I met Cersei), I will change and have Asha/Dagmar do some damage for me. It’s very hard to use Lannister’s cards without wasting The Hound or Kevan or Tyrion.
Cersei is probably a card that’s worth mentioning. In competition with Asha and Catelyn for the notorious title of ‘worst card in the game,’ it is actually a card you might want to work hard to exploit. I have rarely used it but since the ability is so powerful, it’s a real game changer. Removing your opponent’s march while taking over a castle he now cannot retake is seriously superb. Cersei becomes more of an option later in the game, when you have lots of troops on the board and hopefully some of your Siege Engines have already destroyed the garrison in Pyke. You’re now struggling to keep the empire you’ve built and you may be able to squeeze a victory over an unimportant territory just to remove that march from the siege engines. Cersei raises the stakes and often creates one of these circular RPS situations where you could guarantee a win with any card but Cersei, but if you used her she would really crash your enemy. I was in that situation once, and have faltered to my opponent’s bluff, almost costing me the victory. Playing Cersei is risky and when you can guarantee a win, you rarely want to risk losing it (especially if you have siege engines). But you should always remember that your opponent knows it and will typically not be expecting to see Cersei leading the fleet.

All of Lannister’s cards have special abilities that are only triggered under special conditions. To enjoy the benefits of Gregor and Tywin you need to win, to use Ser Kevan effectively you have to employ more Footmen and have the supply to support them, to use Tyrion’s ability you need to use it when your opponents have few choices at hand. More than with any house, playing Lannister requires managing your hand as well as your discard very carefully.

Match-ups: Ser Kevan can be used to effectively counter Balon but not while Geryjoy still has Aeron in hand. Gregor can only be stopped by the Blackfish, which Stark sometimes relies on when he takes Seagard. Tyrion, though useful in many other occasions, is a good response to Loras when he tries to sneak in through Searoad Marches.


Tyrell. The Roses of the Reach are actually quite powerful in this game, I was always quite surprised as to how poorly they do on the forums. Tyrell’s board position is quite unfortunate as they almost always have 4 land neighbors and a Greyjoy at sea next to them, which means it is very hard for Tyrell to predict what relevant orders will be on the board. But I have talked enough about geography elsewhere. At least on paper, Tyrell has one of the strongest sets of cards: Loras Tyrell, another one of these cards contending for the strongest in the game, Queen of Thorns (QoT) which offers a plethora of strategic possibilities, a really strong 4 card and an array of swords and forts in between.

Because of that, Tyrell’s hand is probably the most flexible one. You really don’t have to plan as much because QoT and Loras can be used in so many different combinations. As Tyrell, the effort is really one to deploy these two cards as best you can: Loras for the win on the attack, QoT for clearing the way. A classic way to combo these cards is to use QoT in The Boneway to dismiss the support in Sea of Dorne and then march with Loras to ESS to wipe the entire Martell fleet in one turn. But QoT is also useful to discard a march that would otherwise be an effective counter attack, to rob a special consolidate power in Yronwood or Sunspear (when you attack ESS) or even to remove that pesky defense order in Starfall. QoT is also very useful if you happen to face Baratheon or Lannister. You can remove Baratheon’s support in Blackwater Bay to open the road for Martell’s attack on Shipbreaker Bay. The next turn Baratheon would be making an attempt to retake the seas and you’ll be celebrating the fall of the red god in King’s Landing. An attack on Searoad Marches lets you discard the support in Stoney Sept and attack Blackwater, if Lannister is lucky enough to have it. Of course, the attack on Searoad Marches can be doubly useful as it’s a great place to win with Loras and continue to celebrate in Lannisport. Which is why Lannister should never occupy Searoad Marches: better to let Tyrell come and deal with him when he does. There various other ways to use QoT, the opportunities are simply endless.

Loras too has many uses, other than through Martell’s seas. I’ve already mentioned Searoad Marches; there’s also the obvious attack on Starfall which leads to Yronwood. That’s the famous Tyrell four castles march in one turn, which any Tyrell would try to pull out on turn 10. I will not cover more of them, except to say you want to be thinking about the QoT-Loras combo at all times. Using one without the other is obviously helpful, but both of them have reach beyond the territories you can attack from the position you are and therefore provide a unique synergy. Holding on to both of them until the right moment can be a good deterrent, as Tyrell often struggles to cycle his hand when he needs to and as long as he has Loras in hand, all of his neighbors need fear him.

Match-ups: Arienne Martell is there to counter Loras and Tyrion can also do it well. Avoiding those match-ups is not an easy fit, but you will often want to fake an attack on Starfall to draw out Arienne.


Martell. The snakes of Dorne did not receive enough love in this game, in my humble opinion. Though they have really good cards, they are not built well to handle their neighbors and actually have pretty little room to expand. Martell rarely wins because like Italy in Diplomacy, he often has nowhere to go. That’s not to say I have not seen Martell win and take over Dragonstone or Highgarden, it’s just not a small task.

Martell has some pretty great cards, like the Red Viper and Doran, but they almost always put him in an awkward position, forced to make hard choices. The Red Viper is best used like Eddard, to destroy enemies with crushing victories; yet he is one of Martell’s two forts. That added fort on the Red Viper technically makes him better than Eddard, but in fact – it makes him worse because you’ll be giving up your fort to use him. Areo is also a very awkward card – a 3 with one fort, which is a fort you really need to use as a fort since you’re only other natural one is the Red Viper, which will almost never use as a fort. Then you have Nymeria Sand, that can give you one fort on defence – not a bad trait, but only useful part of the time. The truth is that Martell has a really hard time preventing causalities, especially when faced with Tyrell. Playing Martell means making lots of difficult decisions, trading off the benefits and costs of playing your cards.

Doran is one of the strongest 0 cards in the game and is very feared, rightly so. But I’ve seen it used wrongly more often than not, which makes it harder for Martell to win. First, Doran should be used as a deterrent, not as a punishment: you should threat using it when someone looks like they will attack you, not after they have attacked you. True, if you only threat and not use him ever, people will stop believing you. But typically if you are attacked early on, it’s better to let your credibility be hurt (as if you had any anyway) and save Doran for future deterrence. People get so mad when they are attacked that they use Doran. Or they think: I will attack him next turn anyway, so I might as well take away all his starred orders. I don’t think it’s a good idea. Second, Doran is best played after the Clash of Kings and not before it. Actually, to be more precise, Doran is best played when the next CoK is least likely. In the beginning of the game, CoK has roughly 30% of coming out every turn (ignoring Winter is Coming and the slim chances that the holder of the Raven will ever call for CoK). Later in the game, as CoK cards come out these chances will be raised or lowered. With Doran in hand, you want to be thinking about these chances since it’s quite a waste of Doran to kick someone to the bottom of a track just to have them bid for it anew immediately afterwards.

Lastly, and not least importantly, Doran can be used aggressively during the fight to change the dynamics of the battle. I have not seen it done often as people typically think it’s best to use Doran to drop your opponent on the King’s Court track or on whatever track which will advance them most. But dropping your opponent on the Iron Throne track can sometimes force him to skip a turn or alternatively, force him to use his last march before yours (if he has already marched this round). It can also drop your opponent on the Fiefdom track and change the tie-breaking conditions of a draw later in this round. The reason this is a powerful move is that players typically make plans according to their position on those tracks, and don’t expect them to change halfway through the turn. Instead of keeping Doran at hand as punishment, you can use him aggressively to drop your opponent’s to the bottom of the IT and take away their extra march advantage.

Match-ups: I’ve already mentioned Arienne’s ability is a response to Loras. Doran and the Red Viper should be careful of an angry Patchface, as they are typically his targets in the South.


Baratheon. Sad and lonely at last, Stannis Baratheon has the most miserable crew in Westeros. I don’t know if that was intentional or supposed to be thematic, but it’s quite telling that other than Patchface, his crew is a bunch of clowns (PUN!). Though there’s something to it, it’s quite disappointing (from a thematic point of view) that Melisandre is not more badass and that Stannis doesn’t have a few more pigeons down his trousers, or at least some rabbits on his bald head.
There are actually only very few things you can do with the Baratheon set. First, you’re at great disadvantage being surrounded by swords – Eddard, Gregor and the Red Viper are always at hand and Baratheon only has 1(!@#!@#) fort, which is also his most offensive sword icon. Davos is the only decent card in Baratheon’s hand, which actually is not very difficult to employ strategically – you just make sure you play it after you’ve played Stannis, and you have an extra 3 card at hand which also has a sword. Renly’s ability is hard to capitalize on, since it requires winning with a footman. If you think about it seriously, that should make Baratheon much more aggressive early on, especially with land battles. If Baratheon has been reading my geography guide he knows that he really must take Blackwater, which typically means he’ll be engaged in some land battles and sooner rather than later.

But it is at sea that Baratheon is most vulnerable. True, he has the protection of the supporting ships in Blackwater Bay, but that is something you can’t always rely on. Sooner or later the Web of Lies card will come out or Tyrell will remove your support with an attack on King’s Landing. Sallador Saan’s has a great ability, except it’s only a 1 card and it doesn’t work if your support has been removed. I find that Sallador is typically more helpful for assaulting Storm’s End, which you will have to do if Martell has a ship in that port.

Stannis’s ability is probably the only one leading to truly difficult decisions, since it makes you want to go last on the Iron Throne track and gain that 5 card (though it has no swords, and it’s a perfect match for a retreat Bolton). But as Baratheon starts on the Iron Throne, he can keep it more cheaply than anyone else by just winning the tie for the highest bidder on that track. That’s a real dilemma – holding the throne is a real benefit, but so is having a 5 strength Stannis.

Lastly, Patchface is a very strong card but unlike Doran, it does not allow for any battle time benefits. While it’s a pretty good deterrent, if you don’t use him early, he’ll have less benefit later. After Martell played both his Viper and Doran, he won’t care as much about facing Patchface – quite the contrary, Patchy can help recycle his hand more quickly. Though Patchface is often used against Bolton/Doran, I find that it’s often better to discard Eddard/Red Viper, and beat Bolton by having him win when he wants to lose. Doran will often struggle with how to punish you, and if he kicks you off of the throne – he’s solved the dilemma for you.

Match-ups: Patchface and all his match ups have been mentioned; I suspect he was inserted to handle Bolton, though I like to use him differently. Stannis is a really convenient 4/5 card for Stark who can afford to lose with Bolton as well as for Martell who can afford to lose with Arienne, not fearing any swords.

Last Thoughts
So far, I’ve ended these guides with no punch line. They were so long anyway, that I thought no one will bother to read them through anyway, and if they did – I probably should be more frugal with your time then to indulge in some generic comments that only I will find helpful. But this is the last part of the guide, and I am truly done with it – after writing some 20,000 words here. I can’t just stop in the middle of a sentence and leave it there.

I mean, I can. But I won’t. Not this time, at least. Or maybe I will.
60 
 Thumb up
1.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Matteo Angioletti
Italy
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmb
Re: The Strategy Guide - Part 3 – BATTLE! (Or: the all-important hand management)
Great article again, good job.



Quote:
In any case, this element of non-circularity, where (usually) one player can guarantee a win have caused some people to dub the battle system in GoT as ‘deterministic,’ even sadly by the designer himself, merely because it doesn’t use dice for resolution of battles. This is common parlor, so I shouldn’t really complain – but I think it’s a very weird notion that chucks anything that has no dice into the category of ‘deterministic.’

I am guilty of abusing the "deterministic" term, but I think it is still the most appropriate one to describe AGoT combat in only one word.
I mainly use it in istances where the outcome is totally under control of player decisions and not of forced chance, even if there isn't only one single possible outcome.

Quote:
A classic way to combo these cards is to use QoT in The Boneway to dismiss the support in Sea of Dorne and then march with Loras to ESS to wipe the entire Martell fleet in one turn.

I think the Boneway should be vacated by Martell in the later turns to avoid this particular strategy, as it is no longer that useful for raiding or CP.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
T.J.
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Tuzzo90 wrote:

I am guilty of abusing the "deterministic" term, but I think it is still the most appropriate one to describe AGoT combat in only one word.
I mainly use it in istances where the outcome is totally under control of player decisions and not of forced chance, even if there isn't only one single possible outcome.

You would be using this term the way most people use it to talk about games, so I wouldn't normally be worried about it. My point was that it's a misleading term since even if you're playing ideally, you'll be playing mixed strategies, that is playing a different strategy according to chance.

For me, having dice doesn't make battles less deterministic. A completely deterministic battle system would mean that the larger side always win. In Risk, for example, you roll dice but the odds are so much in favor of the larger side that I would say the battle system is more deterministic.

But your usage of the term is the most common one, so if you want people to understand what you're talking about - don't listen to me.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mattias R
Sweden
Stockholm
Unspecified
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmb
Fantastic guide again. FFG should print these up and put them in the box.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kirill Mikhailov
msg tools
Great guide, thank you very much. I certainly didn't pay enough attention to the forts and swords.

A minor consideration on my part: you don't mention Patchface as another anti-Loras card, yet I've seen him used to discard Loras more than once. As I see it, it just happens that all Tyrell neighbors have effective means to counter Loras (Tyrion/Arianne/Patchface), and that requires your timing for using Loras to be even more precise.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
T.J.
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
ReggaeMortis wrote:
Great guide, thank you very much. I certainly didn't pay enough attention to the forts and swords.

Thanks!


ReggaeMortis wrote:

A minor consideration on my part: you don't mention Patchface as another anti-Loras card, yet I've seen him used to discard Loras more than once. As I see it, it just happens that all Tyrell neighbors have effective means to counter Loras (Tyrion/Arianne/Patchface), and that requires your timing for using Loras to be even more precise.

That's true, and I'm sure people discard Loras with patchface. I don't consider Patchface an anti-loras because if you play Loras to Patchface, you still get the full benefits of Loras. You still would have to discard something, typically Mace (if you still have him) - which means your second march will not have a strong card to follow up with, but you won't get to prevent Loras from marching into your territory.

Come to think of it, because it weakens your hand so much, it's a bit of an anti Loras. Thanks for the thought.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Flynn
msg tools
Great articles. Very much enjoyed the read.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
T.J.
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
sheex002 wrote:
Great articles. Very much enjoyed the read.

Thank you!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jay B
United States
Maryland
flag msg tools
No complaints here, This is a good article for sure, every AGOT player should read this one.

Credit where it is due ;-)
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Sajtos Péter
msg tools
Great job again!

One thing, regarding Tyrell's hand management.
Tyrell has a hidden potential of streaking 5 attacks a turn, which can be a serious game changer in the late game as at least 2 of these moves are "free moves". The thing requires strict hand management though (optimal is three cards left, Loras is a must) and at least 1* on King's Court.

The point is to use Loras, recycle hand and use Loras again. Best when you play 1 Queen 1 Mace 2 Loras and 1 recycling trash in one round.

Example: 1) Loras attacks Princes path from Dornish Marches. 2)Queen attacks boneway from Reach, removing support from the Sea of Dorne. 3) Tactical attack with one fm or ship, trash card to recycle. | And all other players are out of attacks at this moment! | 4) Loras attacks Yronwood from Princes pass. 5) Mace attacks Sunspear.

But a long march from Reach to Harrenhall (through Kings Landing and Cracklaw can be nice too in the last turn) can be nice as well.

Not easy to do, especially if Ariane or Patchface is still in hand, but I have done it before.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
T.J.
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
darqueseid wrote:
No complaints here, This is a good article for sure, every AGOT player should read this one.

Credit where it is due ;-)

Thank you!

killdoser wrote:
Great job again!

One thing, regarding Tyrell's hand management.
Tyrell has a hidden potential of streaking 5 attacks a turn, which can be a serious game changer in the late game as at least 2 of these moves are "free moves". The thing requires strict hand management though (optimal is three cards left, Loras is a must) and at least 1* on King's Court.

The point is to use Loras, recycle hand and use Loras again. Best when you play 1 Queen 1 Mace 2 Loras and 1 recycling trash in one round.

Example: 1) Loras attacks Princes path from Dornish Marches. 2)Queen attacks boneway from Reach, removing support from the Sea of Dorne. 3) Tactical attack with one fm or ship, trash card to recycle. | And all other players are out of attacks at this moment! | 4) Loras attacks Yronwood from Princes pass. 5) Mace attacks Sunspear.

But a long march from Reach to Harrenhall (through Kings Landing and Cracklaw can be nice too in the last turn) can be nice as well.

Not easy to do, especially if Ariane or Patchface is still in hand, but I have done it before.

Thanks! and a great idea with Loras!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Joe Incognito
msg tools
I find that whoever is facing Tyrell in the last turn has to very carefully manage how Loras will affect the game. A succesfull double Loras (or even a single Loras) will cause Tyrell to gain castles as he will typically take more castles than he loses to (counter) attacks.

If at this stage of the game you are still in the running, you most likely have three attack orders. Two of these normally go to your strong armies while the last (in part due to supply reasons) is mostly used as a combination of:

a) A way to move extra units to where they are needed (defense or one of your attacks).
b) A delaying order - probably the most important feature!
c) A weak counter attack, or the threat of a counterattack, against a siege engine heavy enemy assault.
d) A rare attack of opportunity.
e) Cycling your hand.
f) Forcing another player to play a card.

When facing a Tyrell who has optimized his hand for the last turn, you can use this extra token simply to mess up his hand and prevent a double Loras - or if Loras is his last remaining card (maybe because someone else already messed up the double Loras, simply nullify it.

Whether this is the right play depends greatly on the board position. If Loras will not be used against you, it can be wise to stop him if otherwise Tyrell would gain too many castles. If Tyrell would still end up with fewer castles than you (after counterattacks and such from other players), letting Loras run rampage starts harming his neighbours, which is good for you as a direct effect. Then again, this can indirectly benefit the neighbours of Tyrell's neighbours as having to deal with Loras relieves pressure on his other front...

The last turn can be very epic and one has to carefully assess the balance and likely winners. Then you can start looking for ways to manipulate the board and hands that indirectly hurt the players above you. Instead of simply removing your third move order, think of ways to ruin their hand management if they are low on cards. Alternatively, you can help a weaker player cycle his cards just in time so he can use his strongest cards to prevent an attack or take a castle from a stronger player. And going to a higher level, if you can manipulate another player (through board position or raw diplomacy) to make these attacks that manipulate the hands, it will cost you nothing...
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jay B
United States
Maryland
flag msg tools
One begins to think that the best thing for baratheon and martel to do is ally against tyrell if only to prevent the multiple Loras turn win. Bara+martel is a good match already, and this is an added incentive. Coupled with the fact that martel and baratheon have some of the few ways to blunt the Loras offensive... It seems like it should be the traditional alliance.

That being said, I have done well with a tyrell+baratheon as baratheon, but only when I was able to keep him one castle below mine... (Bottle-necking him in his corner).
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dmitriy Kramarenko
Ukraine
flag msg tools
Thanks for the guide, great job. Very useful.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
T.J.
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Ergalana wrote:
Thanks for the guide, great job. Very useful.

Thank you!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Selim Hällzon
msg tools
Fantastic articles, thank you sir!

I thoroughly enjoy reading this kind of insightful and entertaining analysis of a game. It truly makes the game more fun to play afterwards!


1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
T.J.
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
penderselim wrote:
Fantastic articles, thank you sir!

I thoroughly enjoy reading this kind of insightful and entertaining analysis of a game. It truly makes the game more fun to play afterwards!



Thank you!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Sebastian van Dalen
Netherlands
flag msg tools
Very nice to read your thoughts about the game.

About the cards, you mentioned Tyrion being (only) good when used against an opponent with few cards in hand. While this is certainly partly true, it is also a really good weapon aginst Loras, allas it also (like all combat with Lannister) requires you to time good and read your opponent perfectly.

Thanks for the good read!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls