A Game of Thrones TV series caused quite a stir when HBO first aired it and has gained quite a following since. With the first season now ended, many are eager to find out what season two has in store. Based on the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series of novels by George R. R. Martin, the TV series found fertile ground for an epic story and a universe so rich that it may well rival the Lord of The Rings franchise. So rich indeed, that it would provide a great background for a game as well. And why not? While movie tie-ins abound, books have taken the back seat of late, at least when it comes to lending their names to games. In the past, book-based games such as Betrayal at Krondor and Dune had substantial success and even served to direct humble gamers like myself towards reading some great novels indeed.
Interestingly enough, a relatively small studio ran off with the license to create a game based on ‘A Game of Thrones’ back in 2009. Cyanide Studio’s foresight landed them a deal with what may now be the hottest TV property suitable for game adaptation. Even better, they’re not going down the beaten path, either. Instead of yet another First Person Shooter, A Game of Thrones: Genesis will be a strategy title in real-time.
The Great Houses
The storyline of A Game of Thrones: Genesis describes the period before the events in the books when the seven Kingdoms were still divided and lacking a single king. In fact, the game spans some 700 years and starts when Nymeria, the queen of the Rhoynar arrives in the Kingdom of Dorne, an event commonly noted to be a pivotal moment in the 12 000 year history of Westeros.
Different than you would expect from having seven kingdoms, there will actually be 8, not 7 factions to play with, which means we’re missing one great house (the lore describes 9 great houses). Playable factions include House Stark, House Baratheon and House Lannister and each will have something that will make them unique. House Stark, for example, will be able to breed Dire Wolves that make excellent bodyguards for your more valuable units, the Tyrell’s ‘Maester’ heals troops on the go and the Targaryen raven are fantastic scouts, able to reveal enemy units hidden by the terrain.
Besides unique units, houses also have special bonuses in a variety of areas. House Tully’s mounted units are faster and more powerful than anyone else’s and Stark commanders have double the health and armor than their counterparts. There are non-military bonuses too: House Tyrell are great ‘marriage brokers’ which helps them forge new alliances quickly and House Baratheon’s diplomatic actions take 10% less time than those of the competition.
It’s all about politics
These special bonuses reveal considerable depth on the strategy side, but also hint at a strong presence of diplomacy in the game. Indeed, staying true to the spirit of the books, A Game of Thrones: Genesis puts a strong emphasis on non-military actions. Quoting Cyanide, “political prowess will be as important as your strategic and military skills” and they’re not just boasting either. From what we’ve seen so far, it will be difficult to impossible to win the game by sheer military force. Building alliances and engaging in all kinds of diplomatic actions are key to winning the game, as are backstabbing and other underhanded measures.
Thieves, assassins and diplomatic envoys each have a part to play in stealing money from enemy coffers, killing heirs, making peace and forging lasting friendships. Even if you take an enemy town by force, you may still need some of these actions to secure its long term allegiance. Consider bribing its lord, or if it helps, simply ending his life with a hidden but well placed dagger. Once swayed, nobles can contribute to your war effort in various ways, working to bring other nobles and military commanders under your banner by powers of persuasion, seduction or a weighty bag of gold. They’re not susceptible to any of your attempts? Perhaps starving their army after it has made camp will drive enough of their soldiers from their fold to make them feel a little more accommodating. Oh, and are you really sure that spy is working for you? I wouldn’t count on it.
In it for the glory
As you can see, the political side of the books has made its way into the game as well, really putting a refreshing spin on your run of the mill strategy game. And that’s a good thing too, especially considering that the game will lack any form of technology tree and base-building.
Taking your armies to the battlefield is, of course, a viable option to defeat your enemy or to simply expand your territory to acquire more power. While Cyanide has been keen to promote the non-combat side of the game, they have been rather tight-lipped about actual combat. We’re hoping to see more of the game at GamesCom but so far publisher Focus Home has dodged any questions about a possible showing at the world’s largest gaming expo so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we actually will.
George R. R. Martin is said to be closely involved in the creation of the game. It has also been mentioned that he is not much of a gamer himself, but seeing how the TV series turned out, his involvement can only mean good things for A Game of Thrones: Genesis.