I came into this game not as a board gamer but as a fan of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Like most people I have played my share of board games in my life, but not many more complex than Monopoly, Clue, or the occasional game of Risk. I'm sure that a more serious board gamer will review this product here in the future, so I will provide what perspective I can.
This game is incredible and has made me interested in playing more serious board games in the future. I will not attempt to explain the complex rules of this game. Fantasy Flight Games's website has very helpful resources for this, including the complete rules PDF and a tutorial video.
I recommend that any group intending to play this has each individually watched that tutorial video. On top of that, at least one person will need to read (at least two times probably) the rule book. Trying to explain this game to others is a tall order. However, once the game is understood and a few practice rounds done, the game takes on a life of its own.
The six houses available for play are extremely well balanced and each has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to geographical board position, supply, influence, and unit types. These houses really each lend themselves to different play styles, but nevertheless challenge the players to do something outside of this comfort zone.
For example, the Starks have a near unconquerable hold on the snowy North (as in the books). Based on the geography, if the Stark player chose he could easily defend his homeland against all comers. However, Stark will never win the game this way and it is only when he stretches his resources thin that his land is more vulnerable. Other houses such as Tyrell are thrown into the fray from the beginning and have no such defensive strategy available to them. Greyjoy has absolute dominance over the sea and if played well can serve as a naval raiding nuisance that others must band together to defeat. I suspect that players will quickly see which houses are ideal for the way they wish to play.
The game is for 3-6 players and I don't really recommend 3. Without the more Southern houses, Baratheon is able to take over the territory requisite for victory pretty quickly unless the other two players band against him. The manufacturer has made changes in this 2nd edition that have improved this kind of problem over the original, but it's still possible. 4 players is more balanced and quite fun, but 5 or 6 is ideal. The games will certainly take 2 hours at the minimum and realistically probably 3 or 4. The game length could reach up to 6 hours if the group is particularly engaged.
On that note, no other game I've played does as good a job of drawing the players in as this one. The game encourages alliances as well as betrayals. With my group we would talk and roleplay somewhat during the game. Meanwhile, we opened up text messages to each other to facilitate backdoor betrayals so that other players could not hear. This is all made ten times more fun if you are a fan of the series and can get that giddy excitement by virtue of fighting over a familiar city like Harrenhal.
A few other notes:
- Combat is entirely luckless and based on strategy and skill. There is an optional module included that allows you to introduce a small element of luck, which I think is a good idea after a few games.
- The board game components themselves are amazing. Everything feels very well designed and produced. I especially love the army units and their marbled plastic design.
All in all this is just a fantastic board game, especially for those who are a fan of the book and TV series. For those who aren't, it's still an excellent game in and of itself, and it might introduce you to one of the greatest fantasy series of all time.
Thought I'd throw an edit into this review after some time. First of all the game is still great. The main point of this update is to say that there is an issue with the original printing of this game involving warping of the board. My board is slightly affected by this. Others have it worse and some have no issue at all. However, Fantasy Flight Games will be correcting the issue on future printings, and will be sending out free replacements to those who need them. You can contact their support via their website, they are very helpful people.