After playing Game of Thrones, I began to read the Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin, the series the game is based on. The books are well written and interesting, though I began to notice discrepancies between them and the game. And in my usual style, I started thinking about how to fix them. I will have to discuss spoilers about the series, so more behind the click.
The Game of Thrones follows the War of the Five Kings, which happens in the books when Robert Baratheon, the reigning king, dies. The Lannisters, a house whose lovely lady has been wed to the good king, move in to seize the crown for its ”rightful” heir. One of the enemies of Lannisters, Eddard Stark, is executed for finding out that the reigning prince is not, in fact, Robert’s son. The Starks march to avenge their murdered lord, and their successess inspire the northern lords to name Robb Stark, Eddard’s son, King of the North. Meanwhile, Stannis Baratheon, Robert’s brother, learns that the king left no heir, and sails to reclaim the throne via law. His brother, Renly, is wed to house Tyrell, and he also declares himself king and marches towards the throne. And in the west, the Greyjoys, an old house of raiders and pirates, begin their conquest of the lands. And Martells also have something to say about the kinghood, but I haven’t read that far yet.
So the major players are quite obvious. In the game, the armies march, attack, retreat and fall in battle, as the players attempt to seize enough castles and strongholds to win. A house may suffer a grievous fall in the form of a large army dying, but it can always strike back later. Only the final few turns are truly meaningful. And in each battle, the players send commanders which return to the hand later on.
But in the books, the fight is not as clean. The Starks win every early battle, only to lose support of their allies, lose their home fortress to the Greyjoys, and finally the King of the North, Robb Stark, dies in a treacherous assassination. I don’t know how their story ends, but I wager having their king die is a major blow to their conquest of the throne. The Lannisters manage to keep the throne for quite the long time, but one by one their major players die or become crippled. Renly Baratheon dies to black sorcery, and his host joins Stannis Baratheon, only to join the Lannisters when Stannis’ assault to the city fails spectacularily. The potential kings dwindle in numbers and the remnants of the fallen join their favourite camp.
So two things are missing from the game: Deaths of major characters, and joining forces. True, you can offer support to another player’s combat, but in the end, every player is looking out for the number one. And if you do suffer a crippling blow in the final rounds, then you just might as well concede. But since the game cannot handle conceders, you need to play to the bitter end, even though your time would be better spent reading the books, for example. This might just be my opinion, true. Perhaps people do enjoy to just play the game, even though they won’t have a chance to win. But me and my opinions exist, and I’m not bloody likely to be an unique specimen in this. Something must be done.
First of all, the interesting part: Joining forces. Many games, like Twilight Imperium, tend to reach a point when you realize that you have no chance of winning. In Magic multiplayer this is a common phenomena. At that point I usually either support someone whose face I like, or more likely, try to hamper the leader. What if instead of my preference, this would be a valid victory condition? In Twilight Imperium’s Lazax scenario, every player has a single, secret objective. But they also have 4 alliance cards which they can give to another player. When a player wins, the player with the winner’s highest alliance card also wins. So if your objective is impossible, you can join forces with the second player most likely to win. I once won with that exact strategy. That mechanic would be perfect with Game of Thrones.
Then, the deaths. Instead of magically tossing people around the continent, let every army be led by a commander. The player has about 7 Commanders on board. Every one of them has a different combat strength and perhaps a special ability. The commanders muster troops from the areas they go over, increasing their size, to the maximum allowed by the army supply. Several Commanders can lead one army, in which case the highest one applies in combats. When armies clash, the losing side takes some casualties and retreats. The troops scatter to the lands around and become neutral. They can be mustered by moving a commander over them, or if they scatter to woods or poor areas, they become bandits. The loser also loses the commander, who the winning side can either ransom or execute. Ransoming has no rules, so it’s more about honor. You could ransom for warriors, land or your own captured commander.
Each player has one King. When a player loses a King, he can, at any point, join another player. Any hostages between the players are transferred back. When only one player has his King alive, he wins Primary Victory. Plus, the player who first joined him wins a Secondary Victory, and the second player who joined him Tertiary Victory.
This would make the game a lot more tactical. You have a limited amount of commanders whose fall diminishes your chances of victory. Instead of fighting for abstract castles and strongholds, you are fighting for the Throne, and trying to defeat the other Kings. And when your King falls, you can leap to support the strongest player, or perhaps even your nemesis’ enemy to get sweet revenge. Everyone is trying to win the first place, but if that fails, you can still score a victory of sorts. The chaotic free for all slowly turns into a threeway, or maybe even just a fight between two gigantic houses. The dynamic would be very interesting to see. And true to the books.