Theme and What is it?
The King of the Seven Kingdoms is looking for a new Hand. You have a chance of winning this coveted position, and all of the power that goes with it, but you can’t do it alone. Your only choice is to employ the services of Varys, the Spider, to help you.
Each turn, you’ll have to send Varys out to the most powerful families of Westeros to try and garner support for you. By building alliances, and with a touch of help from some companions along the way, you can hopefully gain influence take the position of the King’s Hand!
The game consists of cards laid out in a random 6 x 6 grid – 35 character cards representing members of some of the most influential families in the Game of Thrones world, and one card which depicts Varys. Each turn, you will name a direction, and a family. You then move Varys in the stated direction, as far as the furthest member of that family, and take that family member, along with any other family member that Varys has passed over on the way.
If you equal or surpass the total number of family members held by any other player, then you gain that family’s crest. If you claim the final member of a family, you then get to choose one of six companions, and use their special one-off ability. The end of the game occurs when there are no cards left in the grid, or no more legal moves (Varys can only move in one direction at a time). The player with the most crests is the winner.
I love Game of Thrones. I’ve been dying for a good, accessible Game of Thrones game for a while, as we play primarily as 2, and unfortunately we don’t really get on with LCGs/CCGs, nor do we regularly have significant periods of time to invest in heavier board games. This plays quickly, and while not being overloaded with theme, contains just enough to get the feel of the Game of Thrones world.
Quality of Components and Insert
The components here are minimal – square character cards, mini companion cards, and thick cardboard tokens for the family crests. The insert is standard FFG fare, but the cards are good quality. This has had a lot of play, and the cards have stood up well so far – everything is perfectly serviceable.
The artwork used for this game has a very distinct style. For me, it really works – helps make it more appealing to younger players, and is certainly a superior choice to just using stills from the television series, as has been done elsewhere. I like the fact that the cartoon style representations do reflect the characters they depict quite accurately – the softer features of Daenerys contrasting with the sharp, angular points of Hoster Tully, for example.
You don’t need to be a Game of Thrones fan to be able to play this game well – it’s totally straightforward and doesn’t rely on knowing the characters or the plotlines from the books. That said, it’s thematic enough in places to satisfy fans – not least the character of Varys being the one to move among the court, spinning his web and capturing the allegiance of various characters on the way. Some of the companion cards also have nice thematic touches, as their abilities link in nicely with the characters they portray – Jaqen H’ghar is a particular favourite of mine!
Difficulty and age range suggestion
In itself the game is not difficult to play. There can be challenge in trying to predict what your opponents will do next, and planning to counteract that. My only experience so far of this game has been with two players, and with this player count there seems to be more room for trying to manoeuvre your opponent to make the choices you want them to.
On face value Hand of the King is a really accessible game – I’d consider it appropriate for younger players as it doesn’t really deal with some of the more adult themes that fans of the books will be familiar with. For much younger players it might be an idea to check which companion cards are to be used, if you’re concerned, as some of them have the ability to kill other characters. It’s clearly a filler game – the ending can advance quicker than you expect, as the play time is limited by the amount of cards in the grid, and you may feel that you lose control as the game moves towards its end, due to the choices of moves you’re left with decreasing. All in all though, it has become our go-to filler – quick, enjoyable and enough theme to appeal to fans as well as non-fans.