Board Game Night: A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King

A Game of Thrones (GoT) took the world by storm when it aired on HBO. Something about the unforgiving world of political intrigue, murder, thievery, backstabbing, and fantasy tropes filled our hearts with glee and despair. We watched characters we loved killed off without any preemptive notice, characters we hated rise to the top of their respective goals, and a myriad of medieval fantasy tropes come to life in painstaking ways. One of the more memorable in-world roles of GoT was the Hand of the King. The Hand was considered to be the real power behind the iron throne of Westeros as he or she would manipulate, plan, strategize, and run the kingdom from behind the scenes while the King would be the face of the kingdom.

One of the largest board games based in this world is the full size Game of Thrones: The Board Game; a game that integrates aspects of Risk and Catan while dripping with flavor from George R. R. Martin’s world. Unfortunately, I don’t own that game. I’ve always wanted to own it, but it’s rather expensive and one of the more difficult games to master given its wide scope and difficult rules. Instead, I’ve acquired a smaller, much easier to understand and play version that takes place in the realm of Westeros. A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King has answered the call to help fill that empty void where the weekly episodes of the show once resided.

All of the major players from each Great House has come to King’s Landing for a tournament and feast. It’s time to play the political intrigue part of GoT and use Varys to convince those people to join your cause of becoming Hand of the King.

A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King is for 2-4 players, ages 14 and older, and takes approximately 15-30 minutes to play.

The set up for the game follows a simple process that takes little time to complete. The first step is to set up King’s Landing, the main location for the game’s theme. Take the 36 character cards, shuffle them, and deal them randomly on the table in a 6×6 grid. Make sure each player has a play space in front of them. Take all of the banner tokens representing each House of Westeros and place them next to the grid where all players can reach them. Then take the deck of Companion cards, shuffle them, and turn six of them faceup next to the board. The rest of the Companion deck is set aside for the remainder of the game. Determine the first player and the game begins!

During a game of Hand of the King, players take turns moving the Varys card among the grid of character cards that make up King’s Landing. As players move Varys, they collect character cards to gain banner tokens belonging to the Great Houses of Westeros. At the end of the game, the player with the most banner tokens is the winner!

A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King Rulebook

The object of the game is to have the most banners of support at the end of the game. The game is played out in turns by taking Varys and moving him across the grid to gain the support of different people from each House, ultimately ending up with the most support, thus winning the title of Hand of the King. Here is how to do this:

On your turn, find Varys on the grid (he’ll be one of the 36 cards that were laid out in King’s Landing). You will then declare a direction and one of the Houses. Varys will then move to the very last card of that direction on the row that contains the House you declared. Move Varys to that location and collect all of the cards of the declared House that Varys passed over to get to the location of the last card. Take your collected cards and add them in front of you.

Let’s look at the picture below for an example of what moving Varys looks like.

Looking at Varys’ location, we can move him in three cardinal directions: up, left, and down. Let’s assume you wanted to move him up. You must declare that you’ll move Varys up and then declare a house. If you say, “Up, Tyrell,” then you’ll move Varys to Olenna Tyrell and add her to your play area. Varys will then reside where Olenna was, and the next player can move from there. If you say, “Left, Stark,” you’ll move Varys to where Eddard Stark is and collect both Bran and Eddard. You do this because Varys passes over Bran and lands where Eddard was. If you say, “Down, Targaryen,” you’ll put Varys where Rhaegar is and add Rhaegar to your play area. Varys can NEVER move diagonally.

If any ANY time, you have the most people from one House, you can grab the House banner and put it in front of you. If another player surpasses your number, you must give the banner to them. The bottom right corner of each card, as seen in the picture above, contains the number of people from that House in the game.

Those six faceup Companion cards that were placed at the beginning of the game come into play based on a certain criteria. In order to obtain and use one of the faceup Companion cards, you simply take the last remaining character from a House out of King’s Landing. Using our play example above, let’s assume (even though the picture says otherwise), that when you went, “Left, Stark,” and gathered Bran and Eddard, those were the last two Starks on the board. Since you acquired the last Stark on the board, you can take one of the faceup Companion cards and immediately resolve the effect on the card. You do not replace the card with another from the Companion deck.

Each card has different effects that either help you and/or hinder your opponent. One note to remember: if the Companion card gives you the ability to take a character from the grid, and it’s the last character from that House, you can immediately take another Companion card.

Some of those Companion cards allow you to kill or take characters from the game. If a player kills a character, you immediately remove that character from the game and set it aside. If you kill the final character from a House, you do not gain a Companion card.

When Varys can no longer move (meaning that no cards exist in any of the four cardinal directions to which Varys can move), the game is over! Take a look at the banner tokens in each player’s play area. The player with the most banner tokens is the winner!

A few variants for three or four players exist that make the game a lot more exciting and GoT-esque.

One variant includes using Three Eyed Raven tokens. Split into teams of two (for four players) or use during a 3-player game. When the ravens are in play, you cannot talk while playing. Everything is silent. However, a player may discard a Raven token at the beginning of his or her turn, and either take their teammate (or choose an opponent in a 3-player game) and leave the room to discuss strategy, ideas, and ways to possibly hinder the other player(s). This is especially fun because in a 4-player game with teams of two, every player acts independently rather than together. At the end of the game, the players add their respective House members and the team with the most banners wins. This variant allows for the political intrigue and backstabbing that GoT showed in its books and episodes.

A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King isn’t a masterpiece of card games, but it does bring in the flavor and feeling of being in the realm of Westeros. The artwork on the cards is cartoonish yet reminiscent of the character descriptions from the books rather than the television show. The game is ridiculously easy to play, however, the strategy runs deep enough that even several playthroughs will show that you know nothing. It’s not the most satisfying game that has ever existed, but if you want to relive some of the underhanded maneuvering of the show while having a good time at the table and a need to kill 30 minutes, this game is perfect for you. Don’t go in expecting the game to be amazing and you’ll be less disappointed than the final season of GoT.

Valar Morghulis!

Board Game Geek: A Game of the Thrones: Hand of the King

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