First Thoughts & Overview: A Song of Ice and Fire Tabletop Miniatures Game

In the past I’ve been apprehensive to pledge money to a game on Kickstarter as I typically play games which have already had some success in retail and show promise for expansion.  Yet, when I first stumbled across the Kickstarter page I was immediately hooked by the concept of a Game of Thrones tabletop game with aspects of a now dead tabletop game in Warhammer Fantasy Battles. A game which I had spent 13 years playing before it got the executioners axe by Games Workshop (another post worthy topic).

Furthermore, the game was created by Cool Mini or Not (CMON) and I was a big fan of their Zombicide game line, which also started as a Kickstarter project.

The max late pledge was $150 and I had to pay an additional $15 for shipping, which I had submitted back in August 2017. Nearly 10 months after I gave my pledge I finally got the game and all the extras due to the success of the Kickstarter (1.7 million pledged).

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After laying everything out on the floor, I was amazed by how much I had received for the $165 I gave and a bit overwhelmed by the amount of tokens and cards. I started to have concerns that the game would be overly complicated with the combined mechanics, but felt relieved when I flipped through the rulebook and saw that it was only 23 pages with many of the pages occupied with large artwork and instructional graphics.

I read through the rules several times and test battled myself twice and then once more with my friend Charlie. Overall, the game is much more condensed than Warhammer Fantasy Battles, but is a little more complicated than X-Wing Miniatures.  Similarly to X-Wing , each unit utilizes a card to represent their stat line and cost.

Additionally, the use of condition tokens in the game is very similar to that of X-Wing as well. However, the organization and presence of the miniatures on the tabletop mirrors that of a Warhammer Fantasy , with units set up in a rank in file tray. The units also have similar actions to those found in Warhammer with the ability to move, march, charge and attack (combat & ranged). There’s also a morale component which is identical to the new Warhammer 40K 8th edition method (roll 2D6, compare number to leadership, each point over is 1 wound).

With the exception of “The Mountain That Rides”, characters are treated as unit upgrades which boost the unit they’re attached to, units around the unit they’re attached to, the opponents units or other element of the game.

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Much like other tabletop games, everything is measured in inches and is condensed to a maximum range of 12′.

Looking at the three unit cards above, you’ll notice the move stat of each unit which is listed in the top left corner, represented by a foot. Below the foot, the unit’s attack options are listed. Some units have a ranged option as well as a combat option like “The Bastard’s Girls” above. The required standard dice (D6) roll to hit an opposing unit is listed next to the image of the weapon, along with 3 number lines highlighted in green, yellow and red. These designate the amount of dice the unit attacks with based upon how many ranks in the unit are remaining. I think this dynamic is really cool and unique to the game.

The shield in the bottom left is the unit’s armor / defense save, any failed saves result in a model being pulled from the unit or a wound being allocated to the model for each unsaved hit.

As previously mentioned, morale in the game is tested much like Warhammer 40K 8th edition, with units rolling 2 dice and comparing the combined number with the stat listed on the unit card. The flag symbol at the bottom of each unit’s card is the leadership value. So for the same Bastard’s Girls unit, a combined 7 or better would be needed to pass morale.

Any unit special rules are listed on the right side of the unit card. Almost all of the special rules are clearly listed on the card and don’t require additional reference from the rulebook or other resources. The main exception to this would probably be the Non-Combat Units (NCU) tactics board which we’ll dive into later. The unit type (Infantry, Calvary) is illustrated at the bottom by a white silhouette, just below the leadership and defense save stats.

All units are restricted to the same model sizes based upon unit type. Infantry rank and file units all have 12 models and use the same tray. Calvary rank and file units all have 4 models and use the same tray as well.

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The characters are honestly somewhat disappointing to me as they don’t seem to have the direct impact on the game, more specifically combat, that I would have hoped. As previously mentioned, almost all of them are treated as unit upgrades, with special rules that impact units and the battlefield, but cant actually attack or be attacked and simply just replace a model in the front rank of the unit you upgrade. This was probably done in an attempt to not over complicate the game or create a “hero hammer” that many Warhammer players are all too familiar with.

The point cost of the character upgrade is listed on the front of the card (same for the unit cards), along with the unit type. Character upgrades have to match the unit type of the unit they’re being placed into and unit’s cannot have more than 1 character upgrade. There is also a tasteful flavor text on each card (as well as unit cards) on the front and sometimes additional  special rules are present at the base of the artwork (Example: Eddard Stark has a rule listed that states by taking him you can unlock a special version of a base unit which then becomes his “Bodyguard”).

Each character’s impact on the game is clearly listed on the card. Matching the theme of “what you read is what you get”, which is efficient and decreases the amount of time needed to learn or reference the rules.

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Perhaps the most unique dynamic to the game which I have yet to fully grasp or begin to understand its impact on list builds, is the use of units called Non-Combat Units (NCU). These are named character units which have cards much like unit upgrades, but are set up off the field of play and to the side to represent the “behind the scenes politics”. The NCU cards are identical to upgrade cards with a point cost, flavor text and special rules listed, but use their own unique white silhouette identifier.

The NCUs impact the game by occupying 1 of 5 zones on a “tactics board” each round and no NCU can occupy more than 1 zone or occupy a zone already occupied. Once the zone is claimed then the corresponding trigger goes off, along with whatever special rules may trigger for the NCU or other upgrades on the battlefield.  At the bottom of the tactics board is a round counter where the progression of the game can be tracked.

This part of the game is still very odd to me and seemed too easy to complete. My first game I felt like there was something I was missing with the NCU claiming a zone and not having to roll or compete for it, but I suppose it’s already taxing enough to dedicate 3-6 points for a model that can’t directly eliminate models from play, when an entire rank and file unit costs 5-8 points.

I’m also curious to see what a list would look like with multiple NCUs and see if there is a crazy advantage to completely controlling the tactics board in comparison to just completely ignoring it all together and just taking combat units.

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The game uses another card mechanic called “tactics cards”. Each player gets a deck of 14 identical tactics cards, plus an additional 6 tactics cards which are unique to the commander of each list. At the start of the game each player shuffles the deck and draws three cards which are hidden until played. Each card has a specific ability that is activated based upon the trigger listed on the card. Reminds me a lot of instant cards in Magic the Gathering. Both players draw additional cards at the end of each round to assure they always have a hand of 3 cards (unless the entire deck had been used) and can discard any number of cards in an attempt to get a specific card.

Much like the NCUs and tactics board, this is another aspect of the game that I need to learn more about and research each commander’s tactics card.  For the first couple of games that I played, it made everything a bit overwhelming, because it’s just another small tactical piece you have to try and remember. I like it a lot, but for new players it can be a lot of moving pieces to start.

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Each player fields a single commander model. All commanders are free and work like unit character upgrades, with the commander model replacing a rank and file model and having a special rule which more often than not impacts the unit it joins. Additionally,  commanders cannot attack or be attacked, which again is somewhat of a disappointment for me, as I would imagine certain characters would be experts at combat and have more impact on battles than just their special rules and added tactics cards.

Characters are designated by a “C” with a red backdrop where normally a point cost would be present on other upgrade or unit cards. Otherwise, the card is set up identically like unit character upgrade cards.

The 3 additional tactics cards (2 of each) are listed at the bottom of the illustration. Each having a name which matches that specific character’s narrative in the story.

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Coming from games like Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40K, and Flames of War, I’ve always been used to a game round or turn function which allows each player an opportunity to activate all their forces before allowing the other player(s) to activate theirs.

With this game, each round is broken into 2 phases, with the activation phase being where the majority of the action happens. Unlike the games I’ve listed above, each player alternates activating 1 unit at a time until all units on the board have activated.

I was weary of this at first, but after playing a few games it has a very strategic game of chess feel to it.  I’d imagine that you really have to know your list well and have a specific order in which you want to activate units based upon the list build, especially in a competitive environment.

The clean up phase is pretty sub-par and nothing really stuck out compared to other games.

 

Terrain

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Like a lot of other miniature games, terrain is a key element. If you’re like my playing group, you’re probably believer of ‘the more terrain the better” (shout out to my friend Particlebit).  The base set comes with some flat paper terrain which is nice if you don’t have anything else to use, but for more experienced tabletop players it hurts the eyes and does the game a disservice.

CMON has released a terrain set, along with battle mats for the game that does a much better job than the flat terrain pieces, but I’d still recommend finding some nicer pieces from other companies.

The terrain rules are very player friendly and easy to learn. Each piece of terrain has 2-3 keywords which come with a set of special rules, all of which are covered in the rulebook and leaves little room for misinterpretation (unlike Warhammer rules of the past).

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List building in this game is relatively easy with very few restrictions. At this point, the issues I have are not knowing how all the different units and upgrades can potentially work together, but I’m sure this will be negated with further play testing.

There’s currently only 3 factions to choose from, Stark, Lannister and Neutral. Stark and Lannister armies can be composed of up to 50% Neutral forces, this is to represent certain lesser houses or characters in the story often changing sides of allegiance (House Bolton, Little Finger, The Spider). Hopefully the factions to choose from continues to expand. You could easily imagine 8-12 factions when its all said and done (assuming the game continues to succeed), given the different houses and conflicts in the books and show.

I am curious to what the standard point size will be for competitive play. “Large games” are listed as being 50 points which would be about 4-6 rank and file, 1-3 NCU, a commander and 2-4 unit upgrades. Its quite possible to take more or less of NCUs , combat units or unit upgrades, but I am assuming its better to have somewhat of a balance that plays off of all the mechanics in the game.

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There are 5 different game modes, with 1 of the 5 being for siege battles. Thus far I have only played 3 of the game types and honestly don’t have enough experience at this point to say which one I like best or hate. Some of the game types are a combination of capturing objectives on the tabletop and destroying units, while others have hidden objective cards that come into play or is all about who can kill the most.

Much like the standard point total, I am curious to what will become the standard game type for competitive play or maybe there will be 2-3 types used. Kind of like Warhammer, where there are 6 game types that can be played and are used as the standard of play.

All of the game types use a 4×4 play space, but recommend larger boards for games over 50pts. Each game type as specific deployment instructions and special rules, much like Warhammer. In all cases, the side with the most victory points, which is calculated with gold and silver pieces, is the winner.

 

What’s Next?

 

I really like this game and love having the ability to play with armies from the Game of Thrones series. As previously mentioned, I have always been apprehensive buying into something that didn’t already of some sort of retail establishment, because I always look forward to expanding my forces and playing at competitive events.

Good news is the game did so well with the Kickstarter and has received so much interest from hobbyists at gaming conferences around the country, that the game is hitting retail at the end of this month (Aug 31st).

I have posted the current release schedule here.

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The next two factions are going to be the Night’s Watch and Free Folk. I like how CMON is releasing factions based upon story-line rivalries.

 

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Giants
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Rangers
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FF Raiders
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Compared to the Orc & Goblins or Chaos giant made by Games Workshop, I think the giants look amazing and are better looking.

I’m really hoping this game continues to catch steam and grow. Game of Thrones has never been hotter and now is as good of a time as any to ride the wave of popularity. I look forward to continuing to introduce this game to my friends and local gaming groups and would love to dive into some organized competitive play.  Before I can even think about tournaments, not only will the game need to grow, but i’ll have a whole lot of test battling to do. And more importantly I have a lot of painting to do.

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This isn’t mine, but looks similar to some paint schemes I’ve done with Warhammer armies in the past and like the way it looks.

Have you seen this game yet? Have you played it? Would you like to play it? Let me know what you think.

8 thoughts on “First Thoughts & Overview: A Song of Ice and Fire Tabletop Miniatures Game

  1. Reblogged this on Particlebit and commented:
    This week I wanted to try something I have not previously done – reblog an existing post. The post in question is a review of the new Game of Thrones miniature game by a good friend of mine who has recently entered the blogging world. I thought this would be the perfect time to promote his new blog and add some “guest post” feel for this week. Please visit The Spewable and leave a comment and a follow!

    Like

  2. That is a really comprehensive review, thanks for taking the time to write it. A load of us followed this Kickstarter but I just couldn’t justify buying any more minis at the time (even though I fancied using them for an Empire army). The new rangers and giants also look fantastic sculpts.
    Size wise, how do the GOT humans scale against the gw warhammer ones?

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it! As far as the size comparison, I would say the human models are a tad bit taller, but would still fit on a standard Warhammer infantry base just fine. Unfortunately, I no longer have any fantasy models to make a direct comparison to, otherwise I would.

      I too am impressed with the giant and ranger sculpts.

      What fantasy armies did you / do you play?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I still have and play with a few as we still have a reasonable player base at the club (though they are now starting to lean towards Kings of War). I currently use: Dwarves, Beastmen and wood elves in the main, with a side project of Bretonnians on the go. My High elves are leant to a friend and my Orcs and Vampire Counts are in storage (at my folks). I also have a load of bits and pieces from other armies. Thankfully my folks had plenty of space and so I’ve never had to get rid of any of my stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

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