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Our Hands-On Impressions Of A Song Of Ice & Fire Miniatures Game From CMON Expo

This past weekend at CMON Expo, I had a chance to demo CMON’s upcoming A Song of Ice & Fire minis game. Before diving into the details, the caveat is that the game is still in development and elements of it may be changed before it releases, but the demo game was extremely polished and refined, so any future changes are likely to be quite minor.

To start off, the last canonical event to occur in the books before the game’s setting is the death of King Robert. This is important because it means that (spoilers!) certain events have not occurred and we can likely expect to see Ned Stark (complete with a head) leading Stark forces in the game.

THE MINIATURES

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There have been quite a few pictures that have shown off the miniatures for the game but having the chance to actually pick them up and inspect them was something else. All of the miniatures are incredible. They accurately depict the heroes of the series, as well as what I picture the armies to look like. The quality is fantastic and they hold a lot of detail. A Song of Ice & Fire author, George R.R. Martin himself has been involved with the sculpting process to ensure accuracy with his vision.

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The miniatures are going to be a high-quality plastic, that CMON boasts will be rigid enough so that spears and banners aren’t…droopy. What’s more is that these are pre-assembled models, which are different than single piece plastics, and this allows for more dynamic posing. The other noteworthy thing is that the factions are being cast in colored plastic (at least for the starter set), so that anyone who purchases the starter set can start playing in the time it takes to take the models out of the box, exactly like a board game.

Additionally, while designers Eric Lang and Michael Shinall admitted the universe (and thus the game) are low fantasy, they’ve gone to great efforts to ensure that it doesn’t look like it’s just generic humans fighting other generic humans. Banners are prominent, each individual unit is uniquely sculpted to be immediately discernible at first glance, and the flavor of each unit is depicted dynamically within the miniatures.

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The characters found in the game is really where the models shine. I played the Lannister side of the starter box, and I was blown away. Jamie Lannister looks exactly how you imagine he would. Even more impressive is the hulking stature of The Mountain. He stands easily 2 heads taller than the already impressively sized unit of “Mountain’s Men”, as well as being much broader in the shoulders. This attention to detail is sure to delight any fan of the books.

GAMEPLAY

The most interesting part of the gameplay for A Song of Ice & Fire is the fact that it does a great job of capturing the intrigue and power plays that occur off the field of battle, while simultaneously giving you the flavor of your army’s general. You have a deck of 15 cards and ensure that at the beginning of the turn, you always draw up to a maximum hand size of 3. This deck is made up of 10 cards specific to your faction and 5 cards specific to your leader. A Lannister army led by Jamie will have tactics cards that offer very different benefits than one led by The Mountain. It means that the same House faction can have very different styles of play, depending on their leader.

These tactics cards themselves have 2 different functions. The first is to discard a card in order to re-roll your initiative roll for the turn. This can be life-saving for turns where you ABSOLUTELY have to activate a unit first, before it is destroyed. The downside to doing this is that your opponent can then choose to discard a card and try to beat your new roll. There was a turn where I ended up discarding 2 of my 3 cards, while my opponent discarded all 3 in an attempt to go first, so there is definitely a possibility of playing your opponent to strip them of cards. The second use for the cards is to play them when an event on the battlefield triggers their activation. For example, one of my cards allowed me to play it after a unit of mine successfully passed a resolve test (not that I did during the demo. Damn dice.)

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There is also an “intrigue board” (not its actual name, this is still one of those under development components) where a player can forego an “on the battlefield” activation to claim one of the 4 elements of intrigue. For the demo game, there was no direct impact on the battlefield for claiming these elements, but what makes them really, really important is that each card has one of the 4 symbols printed on it. If you have claimed that element of intrigue, playing a card immediately grants the additional bonus.

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This game uses alternating activations so you either choose an intrigue element to claim, or resolve a single unit’s full activation before your opponent gets a chance to act. Each unit is in a movement tray as this is a ranked combat game. The rules for each unit are fully incorporated into a small, easy to read unit card. When a character is attached to a unit, you slide their character card above the unit card as each character comes with their own special rules for how they play.

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Jamie Lannister, being a master duelist, can inflict an automatic wound on any unit he is fighting OR attempt to kill opposing character attachments. The combat effectiveness of a unit is based on the number of ranks it has remaining and a single model in the row still counts as a full rank for this purpose. The stat card has 3 different attack values for having a full unit, -1, or -2 ranks. Additionally, a unit’s resolve incurs a stacking -1 penalty for every missing rank. Attack values are a fixed rate, as well as armor saves.

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Finally, movement in A Song of Ice & Fire is brilliant and easy. There was a quick reference card that listed all of the possible movement maneuvers a unit could make, as well as how to resolve them. This card was smaller than the unit card so your side of the board will still be small and organized. A unit can freely pivot 360 degrees so there is no worrying or quibbling about how much movement a change in facing takes up. Charging allows a free pivot, followed by the unit’s movement rate +D6 inches. If you contact, the charge is successful and then you line up the units either full on (preventing other units from joining) or half on, where the front corner of your unit is aligned with the middle of the opposing unit.

Regardless of how your unit is contacting your opponent’s, your attack dice values are unchanged. This is purely a strategic decision that could allow you room to throw another unit into the combat or even attempt to make your opponent’s potential flanking counter charges a bit harder to successfully pull off. A unit that successfully charges automatically inflicts 2 hits, representing the momentum of the charge. A flank attack also inflicts 2 automatic hits and this bonus stacks with the charge bonus. When a Stark cavalry unit charged the flank of Jamie’s unit, the 4 automatic hits put me in a world of hurt.

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If a unit takes casualties, they must pass a resolve test. My Lannister force, while well-equipped and compensated with Lannister gold, were definitely not loyal to the cause and as such, they had a comparatively low resolve score when compared to my Stark opponent, as the Starks are loyal and fighting for a cause they believe in. A failed resolve test removes the back most rank of the unit fully. When a cavalry unit charged the flank of Jamie’s unit, there was 1 model in the back rank. I failed the resolve test and the model was removed. The next activation, Jamie’s unit was charged in the front by another unit and after some poor armor saves, I lost 4 models which composed the entirety of the second rank. Because my unit was missing two ranks, my resolve score had a -2 modifier and I failed it (again). Because there was only the front rank left, that entire rank, including Jamie, was removed. The Kingslayer never got to swing his sword. Clearly, we were demoing the Battle of the Whispering Wood.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

 

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A Song of Ice & Fire is an excellent game. Not only is it able to capture the feeling of the source material, it is also fun, fast and easy to play. Whether you are completely unfamiliar with tabletop games or are a veteran with a gaming shelf that your parents/significant other/offspring roll their eyes at (they just don’t get it), this game is fun, accessible, and characterful. The models are incredible and will paint easily with a couple of very basic techniques.

All in all, CMON has hit it out of the park with this game. The entire drive home from CMON Expo had me gushing about how I was going to paint the models, what noteworthy characters I hoped will be playable, when my favorite house is going to be released, etc. Any fan of the books should be excited to take their passion for Westeros and its rich mythology to the tabletop and play an incredibly fun, deep, and rewarding game.

WARHAMMER 8TH EDITION PLAYERS: REJOICE!

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As someone who has played hundreds of hours of WHFB 8th edition, this is the game we’ve always wanted. Maneuvering units is vitally important to ensure you can swing a fight in your favor, but their movement isn’t nearly as clunky as it used to be. Maneuvering a unit to guard a flank and have its facing be appropriate to soak the charge is easy and tactically satisfying.

The resolve system is an absolute improvement over the “all or nothing” morale system that existed and horde units just aren’t a thing in this game. There is a lot of room to maneuver and terrain (the demo game we played was just an open field) is going to add a lot of depth. The added mobility of cavalry (they get to perform a free basic movement maneuver every time they activate), make them the terror of the tabletop, as they should be, but the resolve system, combined with alternating activations means that entire units don’t run away and panic your whole army. Sure, there is no Magic phase, but that just means you don’t have to watch your 600 point Greater Daemon vanish into the warp from a bad perils roll. I’ll take that trade any day.

What is your favourite faction in the land of Westeros? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Teri Litorco

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