It all started with A Game of Thrones. My friend Kent had collected the base game and the first eighteen (yes, eighteen) expansions because he liked the art. He never played the game, just collected the cards. Last summer, he traded the collection to me, so we reassembled it into the base set and expansions. We then sat down with the rulebook and tried to get into it. It was a bit daunting, especially after I looked for the FAQ and found it to be a larger document that the (large) rule book. The book explains from the start, the 4 player setup, with all the extra trappings, but doesn’t point out how much easier the 2 player experience is, which the tutorial video does much better. We came back to it from this angle, and eventually the 4 player setup made a lot more sense. It also helped that between the first play and the second, I read the first three books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I’m not going to go too heavily into each system, but share some early thought, having played a few games of each, and planning to expand each game. I will start with the oldest ones first, and finish up with the newest members of the format.
A Game of Thrones (1 Base Set, 6 Deluxe Expansions, 46 Chapter Packs) — This is a very cutthroat game, with a lot of focus put upon messing with what other people are doing. It plays most thematically with 4 players, but more smoothly at 2. My collection started with the base game and the first 3 cycles of cards, but we played several times with just the base decks that came with the Core Set. I like this game a lot, but find it to be a tough sell to a new player.
Call of Cthulhu (1 Base Set, 5 Deluxe Expansions, 42 Asylum Packs) — My friend Shane brought this game into the shop the first time I met him, and left it for us to try. We played a handful of times, again with just the base game. This one has a more straightforward 2 player experience. You’re trying to claim “story” cards by committing characters to them, and then facing off against your opponent. There are a lot of cards in circulation now, though, and I’m not sure how much I should collect, to put together a decent handful of decks to play casually with friends.
Warhammer: Invasion (1 Base Set, 4 Deluxe Expansions, 36 Battle Packs) — This one is probably the most “in your face”. It allows for more than 2 players, but plays best as a head to head game. Each player has 3 regions in their home that they are defending, as the other player builds up their forces, and attacks them. Lose two of your regions, and you’re eliminated from the game. This one probably plays quickest, and I’ve seen the balance of power change on a dime.
The Lord of the Rings (1 Base Set, 2 Deluxe Expansions, 2 Saga Expansions, 18 Adventure Packs, 2 Print on Demand Expansions) — The only cooperative game in the lot. 2-4 players play against a “Quest Deck”. In theory, each quest has its own feel and play experience. In practice, the game is a lot of resource management and number crunching. I don’t dislike this game, but I think it’s the most difficult one to massage the theme out of.
Android: Netrunner (1 Base Set, 3 Data Packs) — One of the two newest members of the format, Android: Netrunner has been at the top of the BoardGameGeek “Hotness” for the last several months. It features truly asymmetrical gameplay, with each side taking vastly different types of actions, as the noble corporation tries to defend its assets against criminals. Or perhaps, as the digital freedom fighter tries to stick it to Big Brother. It really depends on your outlook. This is another game that I feel isn’t for everyone, but is probably the most unique of the six.
Star Wars (1 Base Set, 2 Data Packs) — Despite early claims that this would be a cooperative game, Star Wars released as a “light” versus “dark” game, with 3 different factions on each side. This one probably has more similarities to Warhammer: Invasion than any of the others, but I feel it holds its own theme very well. I’ve probably played this one the most, and have enjoyed it immensely. It also features a unique deckbuilding method that I like a lot, though others have claimed it too restrictive.
One thing all of these games have in common is STELLAR artwork. Granted, the Call of Cthulhu art gets reused throughout Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, and Elder Sign, but the artwork is good enough that I certainly don’t mind. The Star Wars art all has a great illustrated style, and really bring out the “feel” of the original trilogy. Lord of the Rings uses all unique artwork, and pulls nothing from the movies, not even inspiration. Considering how bad the art is on just about every other Lord of the Rings game these days, that’s a wonderful thing.
I’ve found myself to be a fan of all of these games. I’m actively looking for people to play them with, though I’d likely have to play at home, at least for a while.
I will be touching on each of these games as I get to them in my regular “Collection” articles, but I wanted to say a few things about these now, and hopefully start a dialogue, that will give me more opportunities to PLAY these games.