Columnist Adem Kolar examines the way in which all of George R. R. Martin's characters live on borrowed time.
Those who are familiar with HBO's hit TV series Game of Thrones or George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels will know that there is one consistent theme throughout the series. One rock solid constant that stays the same regardless of how rapidly the world within the series may change. And that's Valar Morghulis. All men must die. Young or old, king or peasant, male or female – everyone will eventually die. It just so happens that, in George R. R. Martin's world, it seems to happen quite often to beloved main characters!
Fantasy Flight Games' A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (AGOT LCG) certainly hasn't shied away from this important rule of thumb when it comes to Martin's world. Central to this game is the concept of 'dead characters' in a 'dead pile' that is separate from the discard pile. In a great many card games, including games from FFG's own repertoire, when a character (or creature/monster/ally/etc.) is defeated and leaves play, it is placed in a discard pile. In AGOT LCG, if that character is unique (as denoted by a small symbol next to the character's name), then it is placed in the dead pile instead, meaning that the character is permanently dead – at least in theory – and all further copies of that character in your deck are, in effect, 'dead' cards that cannot be played.
This simple fact ushers in an intriguing dynamic during AGOT LCG matches. Characters like Robert Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen bring with them an array of benefits – multiple challenge icons, high strength, good traits, and a powerful card ability. But playing them comes with an underlying risk: if they die, they're gone for good, and further copies of those characters in your deck are wasted.
It's why players go to such great lengths to protect their important characters through cards such as Bodyguard or Iron Mines. But in AGOT LCG, the ways to kill characters are far more numerous than the ways to save them. I'd like to go through just a few of them, phase by phase.
In the Plot Phase, where players reveal carefully selected plots from a pre-prepared plot deck, we have the game's most important and most iconic card: Valar Morghulis. When this plot is revealed, all characters in play are killed. Valar Morghulis is the great equaliser, and it doesn't discriminate – every single character in play on both sides of the table will hit the dead pile unless saved through a specific save effect. Other kills that may take place in the plot phase could be as a result of Wildfire Assault (kind of a Valar Morghulis lite) and Heads on Spikes, which randomly discards a card from your opponent's hand. If it's a character, it's immediately placed in the dead pile!
For the Draw Phase, where each player simply draws two cards, we haven't seen a relevant kill effect - yet!
In the Marshalling Phase, where the majority of characters enter play, some factions have access to kill effects. House Stark's Harrenhal kills a character as a reaction to it entering play, while House Lannister's Ser Ilyn Payne can kneel (exhaust/tap) to kill a character of a particular strength level. Joffrey Baratheon, on the other hand, can immediately order a hit on someone after entering play himself. Interestingly, Jaqen H'ghar doesn't immediately kill a character upon entering play, but merely places a "Valar Morghulis" token on three characters. If Jaqen H'ghar ever wins a challenge, the player controlling him can choose and kill a character with a "Valar Morghulis" token on it.
The Challenges Phase is where the majority of the killing happens in AGOT LCG. Apart from the standard way of forcing an opponent to kill one of his or her characters after you win a military challenge against them, there are also ways to directly or indirectly kill characters outside of claim for a military challenge. Sometimes they're focused on intrigue challenges, like with Tyene Sand and Tears of Lys, where both cards kill a character through the use of a poison token (which has a delayed kill effect) after winning an intrigue challenge. As a Challenges Phase action, Robb Stark's direwolf, Grey Wind, has the ability to simply chomp on a low strength character for breakfast.
Ser Gregor Clegane has the ability to randomly hit a character through a 'pillage' (deck milling) effect that could result in both the pillaged character and a character in play both hitting the dead pile! This has led Ser Gregor to be nicknamed "Casino Gregor" in some circles. Far removed from such randomness, Mirri Maz Duur and the Seastone Chair replace the effects of claim during a challenge to choose and kill a character instead, while Quentyn Martell is able to kill a character in retaliation to his own death.
Then you have the (in)famous 'burn' effects. Usually concentrated within House Targaryen, burn cards reduce a character's (or many characters') strength. Sometimes the burn is terminal, meaning if the character's strength hits zero, they are immediately killed with no recourse to save them except if the save gives them a strength boost to take them above the terminal zero. Some of the more notorious burn cards include Dracarys! and Crown of Gold.
Some characters get buffs from kills taking place, such as Chella, Daughter of Cheyk, and Catelyn Stark, while other characters – such as Shireen Baratheon and Ser Waymar Royce – can foster a positive outcome as a result of their death. The wildling known as Craster, meanwhile, can simply ignore the effects of the Valar Morghulis plot to bring back every character that died earlier in the phase.
In the Dominance Phase, Melisandre can look into her fires and foster the death of an opposing character before it has even taken to the field against House Baratheon.
As it stands, there isn't a way to kill a character in the Standing or Taxation phases, as they're essentially 'clean up' phases, but I'm sure it won't be too long those phases are covered as well!
When you play the game of thrones, you can dispose of your rivals through the brute force of Timett, Son of Timett, the subversive ploys of Melisandre, or a simple but effective pot of molten gold. Find the A Game of Thrones: The Card Game core set in your local Good Games store today!