Think about a few TV series that you have watched or are watching, then put each one into these categories? The one that may have the highest ratings or spends the most money on production or the one that trends on social media before, during and after it airs, maybe the one that has the most ‘WTF’ moments or ‘can’t wait until next week’ reactions. For me, only one series truly ticks all of these boxes, that being the one and only Game of Thrones which is the theme for CMON’s brand-new two-player war game: A Song of Ice and Fire.
From the outset, I love the theme, love the fact that this war game is put out by a ‘board game’ company and designer Eric Lang, both of whom I am very familiar, and I’ve been mega hyped about playing it since its announcement way back when: Let’s find out if it holds up to expectations.
This starter set pits House Stark against House Lannister and features a good chunk of your favourite characters, such as Rob, Catelyn, Jaime and the infamous Cersei, as well as supporting characters The Mountain and the Dire Wolf Grey Wind. This is a rank and file war game, meaning your miniatures will be organised into movement trays fighting as one cohesive unit rather than individually (there’re some exceptions).
As with most tabletop miniatures games, building your army is nearly as enjoyable as actually playing the game, with A Song of Ice and Fire being no different. CMON recommend an army of 30, 40 and 50 points depending on the size of the battle you want to play, time you have to play it, and more importantly, how many expansion packs you may have purchased. In this starter set, you will get just over 30 points’ worth of each faction, meaning you can alter your armies slightly from game to game, but let’s face it, if you like the game, then you will buy more factions and units to play with.
For example: A unit of Stark Sworn Swords will cost you 5 points, adding a Captain will take that to 6 points, whilst adding Rob Stark to these will increase that unit to 9 points. With these Leaders come their attachment cards which detail special abilities, such as extra movement actions or improved dice modifiers, as well as others giving a lot of versatility and tactical changeability to each unit.
Each player will also construct a 20-card tactics deck; similarly to the tactic board, these cards are played throughout each round (of which there’re 6) and will affect unit abilities, whether that is yours or an opponent’s.
The game comes with non-combat units: Catelyn and Sansa, Stark and Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, which make up one of the most pleasing aspects of play. Players will usually choose only one from each
house; used just like the combat units, they will be placed on the tactics board, which will give benefits to your army or negatively affect your opponent. Think of it like a political track from other games where your off-field scheming can impact on the battle itself.
Once your army is built, it is time to deploy: You can either choose a game mode from the rule book or create your own, as with all war games. The ones in the rule book are ideal to reinforce the core rules, so I would advise that you start there.
From this point, A Song of Ice and Fire plays out mechanically like most other rank and file war games, so I won’t labour gameplay any more than I need to. Players will activate units in turn order, moving, charging attacking, etc. until all actions are exhausted. Players use a rigid measuring stick to measure distance and move a set number of inches depending on the unit, which has its own number of health, hit points, morale, etc. Players use standard D6s to determine the outcomes of combat and tests, taking into account modifiers from character abilities, the tactics board, tactic cards and terrain.
The game is objective based, and these objectives will be placed out on the battlefield with players needing to control these objectives to get extra special abilities and earn victory points. First player to get a set amount of VP or to eliminate their opponent wins the game.
The one thing that you’re guaranteed to get with all CMON games is excellent components, and A Song of Ice and Fire is no different. The minis are absolutely outstanding with plenty of detail and made from a harder plastic, so bending is not an issue. Each unit, such as the Stark Sworn Swords or the Mountain’s Men, have multiple poses which added to the characters and flagbearers, and they make the movement trays look exceptional on the table. The movement trays themselves have little holes on either side, allowing players to pick the trays up to move them without sending the minis tumbling across the table; great idea that is very much appreciated.
The second thing that hit me about this game is just how good the artwork is. In fact, it’s absolutely gorgeous. As the game is based on the books, CMON have commissioned all new artwork, meaning no ‘lazy screen grabs’ from the TV series, instant win for me!
I love the integration of the tactics board and how it not only affects the battle but also massively adds to the theme. Having Cersei in the front line of the Lannister Guardsmen would have been silly, but other companies may have done just that to get her in the game. Having her pull the strings from the sidelines is a phenomenal idea and possibly my favourite aspect of the game.
So far, I’ve not really mentioned the terrain which, if you play the provided game modes, can play a large part in the battle itself. Terrain ranges from castle walls to hedges, forests to bogs, as well as some lovely corpse piles, and are provided in the form of 2D cards’ board pieces. As expected, certain terrain will restrict movement or have dice modifiers for morale tests, etc., so they will affect a player’s strategy throughout the game.
The rule book is well written, using loads of diagrams to explain rules, although the game itself is not that rule heavy. It also has a really handy summary on the back page detailing actions, conditions and terrain rules; if you have read any of my previous reviews, then you will know that this is something that I really like.
The movement seems a bit ‘old hat’, which is in stark contrast to its competitors’, such as Fantasy Flight’s RuneWars, which has a really cool ‘twin dial’ and movement ruler system, or the jointed movement ruler of Star Wars: Legion. In most circumstances, you can pivot your units either before or after movement, but it’s still just ‘3 inches forward’ and so on.
I was also a little disappointed that the game came with standard D6s instead of custom dice; again, this feels slightly old and unfinished, and although I fully appreciate that the whole system was built around using them, it still feels a bit….meh.
Something that I was pleased with was the retreat action, which differs from most rank and file war games that usually punish you massively for retreating to the extent that it’s just not worth doing. This turns games into a simple ‘manoeuvre, charge, then slug it out until all units are dead’ encounter, which in my opinion is a bit boring. In A Song of Ice and Fire, you can retreat usually to a safe distance to prevent an immediate counterattack and reposition ready for the next round of play. This might not be major for most people, but it certainly jumped out as a positive for me.
If we take away the theme and concentrate purely on the game itself, you’re left with a very simple to play, fairly light tabletop war game, and it’s precisely for that reason that I am not sure it will appeal to ‘hardened’ war gamers who aren’t in it just because it’s Game of Thrones. This opinion might be due to only playing with starter set units and could change if I was introduced to a variety of units and a large full-scale game, but I can only rate what is in front of me, and for that reason, I didn’t find a massive amount of replay value. I did enjoy playing the game, but having seen through the theme, the game just didn’t grip me like some of its competitors have done.
On a positive note, CMON have flung their whole weight behind this title and are producing a ton of content, such as more factions, as well as minor houses that will integrate with the larger houses, so for those of you that opt for this game, you won’t be left wanting anytime soon.
Designers: Eric Lang, Michael Shinall
Publisher: Cool Mini or Not
Release: Sept 2018