By Zach Bunn– November 14, 2011
Last week I wrote about my first A Game of Thrones deck and the ideal setup. After a few games, I modified the deck a bit and played several more. Again, I am blown away at how quickly a game can be won. To win, a player must possess 15 power. I have played several games where we struggle through the first few turns to get a handful of power. Then one of the players is sitting at six or seven power and within a turn or two can win the game! As we begin to get a little bit deeper into this game I am impressed by how different this game is from others. Granted, a multi-player game is inherently different than a two player game.
The fascinating thing about a multi-player game is how different it is from a one v. one game. With multi-player, there are several aspects of winning the game that have nothing to do with the game itself… diplomacy, if you will. For those of you who have had a chance to play on the three player Monsterpocalypse map, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I will never, ever, forget my first game on that map. It is a completely different game. However, the difference with A Game of Thrones doesn’t end here. There is a certain delicacy to winning this game that is difficult to wrap my mind around.
In A Game of Thrones, the phase where the fighting happens is called the ‘Challenges Phase’. Here, each player can make one of each of the three types of challenges (military, intrigue, and power) against any player. When a character participates in a challenge, it kneels. When a character is knelt, this means it cannot attack or defend for the remainder of the round. Any time that a challenge is unblocked the attacker gets to claim one power for free. The strange part is the lack of almost all incentive for me to block if I don’t think I can win.
Let’s suppose that I have all three of my dragons out, totaling 12 strength. Tim has several characters out and attacks me with all his characters, totaling 14 strength. Because I’m going to lose either way, unless he is close to winning the game there is no reason to block. Unlike most games, him winning the challenge isn’t going to severely adversely affect my position. He will gain the free power and I’ll have to pay his claim value, but if I was going to lose anyway meeting the claim value is going to happen regardless. Further, if I did block I would be kneeling a dragon in exchange for him not getting the excess power. If he just used all of his characters, I can come right back using the same dragon I would have blocked with and initiate a power challenge. If he can’t block, I will also get a free power and I’ll get to claim a power from his house.
Of course, I’m assuming that I will get to go after Tim has attacked. If I have already taken my challenges phase, blocking is a worthwhile move to deny Tim the free power. Again though, this is where the game is really interesting. Initiative, which determines who picks the first player for the turn, is huge. Being able to go before or after certain players becomes important, especially depending on the flow of the game. If you can leverage your positioning appropriately, you can walk away from turns unscathed.
Now, let’s say that I had a fourth character out. A cheap gold cost, low strength character. Just because I lose a challenge doesn’t mean I lose the character, so now I can afford to block Tim’s attack and deny him the free power. The cost of kneeling that character is relatively nothing. The intricacy of this game begins here. Sometimes, giving Tim that free power is actually favorable. As with most multi-player games, something happens when one player gets more powerful or gains the advantage. The other players tend to band together to stop the player in the power seat. It is a tale of classic game theory, where teaming up is the only way for either player to win. So if I want him to look powerful I might intentionally lose… or maybe I want him to have power that I can steal. Either way, there are several incentives for letting your opponent’s win now and again.
After my last blog, I included additional cards that have influence. With all three of my dragons having ambush, being able to play the dragons with influence can be a big deal. Just being able to play them without gold is powerful, but being able to play them as an ‘Any Phase’ action thanks to ambush is actually another powerful move. This makes it possible for me to have two or even three dragons in play as early as the first turn. In my first game with more influence cards, everything worked beautifully. I opened the game by playing four cards face down during setup. On my first turn I played a dragon (with two duplicates), and then used ambush to play another along with it’s duplicates. My next turn I was able to drop Daenarys (the one that let’s my dragons attack without kneeling)!
I learned quickly that several dragons on the board that don’t kneel to attack (or even ones that do) is quite terrifying. Terrifying to the point that even if I’m not winning the game I become a target. With this setup even playing 2 v. 1 I was able to gain power quickly and put some hurt on my opponents. Around eleven or twelve power however, the tide turned. Steven and Tim weren’t able to destroy the dragons thanks to my duplicates attached, but I wasn’t powerful enough to deal with two direct enemies.
Tim and Steven were able to win initiative over the next few turns and make sure that their plot cards honed in on my weaknesses. The next game we played my decked worked equally as well, except for this time I was able to force the issue enough to take the game. Just last night we played two more games, except this time we threw Robert into the mix. Fresh off of getting eaten alive by some Dragons, there was some fear leaking into the minds of my opponent’s from our games past.
This is where game theory really kicks in. When you are playing against three opponents, if they don’t want you to be a threat… they can pretty much make it so. The art of Melee (multi-player) lies in being able to be powerful without appearing powerful. It is important to be able to appear strong when you are weak… and weak when you are strong. Dragons are inherently not good at the whole appearance thing. Even just having one or two out can make you look much more powerful than you area. Then when you actually are powerful, it is extremely difficult for several dragons on the board to appear weak.
As I watched the games play out last night, once my opponent’s felt decently comfortable they eased the pressure on me. For my deck to really work in the four player format, I think I have to actually not get the ideal situation early (all three dragons out). It is far better for me to drop low cost characters and build infrastructure while my opponents slug it out.
The goal is to build until I have five or six power. One I’m there, I can really start putting pressure on with my dragons and accelerate for the win. Time to rethink what this deck looks like in the multi-player format.