As you gear up for the Season 8 premier of Game of Thrones, ask yourself a critical question: What happens when you get six old nerds together in a cabin somewhere in the mountains of Colorado after a huge snowstorm?
Yep, you guessed it — a game of Game of Thrones themed Risk breaks out spontaneously.
And if you didn't guess that, well, what's wrong with you?
OK, maybe it wasn't totally spontaneous. I mean, I had to buy the game for starters, and then not so subtly demand we play it, because clearly my wife and child were going to suck at it and this was my one shot to really get a sense of whether it was really a legit game or just a novelty.
And it ain't cheap. If you're in the market, Risk: Game of Thrones edition, will run you in the neighborhood of $65 to $75.
So what do you get for all that mula? Let's find out.
What's in the box
The box itself is a pretty generic looking black box, not much different than what you get when you buy any other number of the USAopoly themed board games. But simply picking it up you can feel the weight of it — it's easy to tell this is no ordinary game of Risk.
For starters, there are two — count 'em, two — game boards: one for Essos, and one for Westeros. Generally speaking, Essos is for two-player games, while Westeros can handle three to five.
There are territory decks for each board, similar to the territory cards in classic Risk, but there are also three new decks for cards you've never seen in a Risk game before: character cards, objective cards and maester cards.
In addition to the usual five dice for Risk, three red and two black, there are also four 8-sided die.
This is your first clue that you're in for something truly epic.
There are also seven armies for seven of the main houses from Game of Thrones: Martell, Stark, Baratheon, Lannister and Tyrell for Westeros; Targaryen and Ghiscari for Essos.
There are pieces representing one unit and three units, that's it. I guess since this was ye olden days, really no need for markers of 5, 10 or more. Armies are kept pretty small overall, leading to a more evenly matched game all around.
Each army has its own cool three-army marker related to their house: A sunspear thingy, wolf, stag, lion, rose, dragon and harpy, respectively.
There's also a castle piece for each house — this will come into play later.
Finally, each house has it's own "character sheet." These are a mystery when you first open them, but boy do they come into play later on.
What is all this extra stuff for?
You can go ahead and start playing classic Risk on whichever board you have the number of players for. The same rules can apply, leave everything but the board, armies and six-sided die behind. For speeded play, a end game card can be put into the bottom half of the territory deck. When it's pulled, you add up units and territories and the winner is decided.
But if you really want to get the Game of Thrones experience, and give Risk some serious steroids, then you have to play Dominion rules.
Dominion rules rule
This is what sets the game apart from any other Risk theme. Dominion mode truly makes you feel like you're inside the story, with deception, backstabbing and shocking twists at every corner.
On our second play of the game, someone commented after their first turn: "This is already brutal."
Yes, lovely, beautifully brutal.
Dominion rules introduce one well-known Risk device in an objective/mission based path to victory. Objective cards provide different levels of reward, scoring from one to four points. The winner has to not only hit 10 points, but also hold their seat of power at the end of the turn to win.
Yep, I said "seat of power."
That's what those little castle pieces are for — when playing dominion you place that bad boy where your main seat of power goes. For example, Winterfell for house Stark. You also get a free 3 army piece that is placed in your seat of power.
From there you place army pieces just like you would for any other Risk game — but remember, your goal here is points, not world domination.
What's up with gold and maester cards?
At the beginning of your turn, you'll count up your territories and army bonuses, just like you always do with Risk. But for GoT Risk, you also get gold — in the hundreds for however many armies you get.
This gold can be used to activate your character cards, which will give you little bonuses related to your house's characters (i.e., plus one on all attack dice for an invasion), or buy maester cards or objective cards.
Maester cards are really the game changer in GoT Risk. During one turn, someone was attacking, and they brought their entire army. Too bad the person they were attacking had 500 gold and a maester card that allowed them to immediately defeat said entire army. No game boards were thrown, but it was definitely a GoT-worthy "wtf" moment for all. And it was glorious.
So stock up on those bad boys, but also ensure you've got the gold to use them.
Oh yeah, you can also get special units — knights, catapults or fortifications — that give you other bonuses wherever you place them and carry their own special rules.
What's up with ports and castles?
Ports are new to the traditional Risk player. They allow an additional point of attack that makes moving across the maps very interesting — and yes, you can travel across the Narrow Sea.
Turns out, the North has a lot of ports, so, you know, watch out for that.
Some territories also have a castle marker on them. When you're adding up your army and gold bonuses, you get extras for castles (and ports for gold), so these become really important in Dominion play. There are also objective cards which will reward you for how many/which and castles you hold.
Do I need to watch the show to have fun?
Nah. Actually, I've barely watched it. But, I have read all the books, so I'm pretty up to speed on everything.
But even if you aren't a GoT fan in some form, you can have fun with it, especially Dominion mode. Anyone can truly win, and you never know who is going to get screwed. What else can you ask for?
We officially call it Hoar-approved. We just made that up, but still.
You can buy it here, or just come over to my place, I'm pretty much always up for a game.