A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King review

23 December 2016
Hand-of-the-king-cards-69210.jpg A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King
This lightweight card game has certainly earned favour with us

It seems an almost impossible task to distil the complex world and characters of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – a universe that has occupied thousands of book pages, dozens of hours of television in its on-screen spin-off A Game of Thrones and decades of careful construction – down to a card game that takes a matter of minutes to set up, play and pack away. Yet, in A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King, Bruno Cathala has achieved just that.

Of course, it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine the designer of 7 Wonders Duel turning out another fantastic short-time set-collecting card game but, regardless, Hand of the King surprises in just how much charm and entertainment it packs into a licensed title you can pick up for just over a tenner.

A grid of 36 characters from the Game of Thrones universe is laid out randomly on the table. In contrast with the source material’s often gritty and bleak subject matter, the cards pop with vibrant colours and sigils representing the various houses and factions of Westeros – from the Starks and Lannisters to the Targaryen and Greyjoy families.

Each card features a wonderful cartoon caricature drawn by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, which balances the recognisable on-screen portrayal of the individuals with their description in Martin’s original novels. For example, Ramsay Snow looks distinctly different to his TV persona, while Daenerys is clearly inspired by Emilia Clarke’s fair-headed appearance. Your feelings about the art will come down to personal taste, but the expressive and lighthearted approach was a hit with us – although we did keep giggling at how much Varys looks like a thumb.

It is Varys who serves as the key figure in Hand of the King, as players take it in turns to manoeuvre him around the grid, representing the various secret dealings and discussions taking place throughout the conflict-stricken land.

Varys can move in any of the cardinal directions, with a player choosing a particular house and a bearing each turn. Varys then moves to the furthest character of that house along the line, picking up all cards of the same allegiance on the way.

The player with the most cards of a particular faction nabs that house’s respective banner token, and the most banner tokens when Varys is left with no possible moves wins. It’s very easy to grasp, with strategy layered in by the varying numbers of characters in each house – represented by the number in each card’s corner – and companion cards.

Companions are obtained when the last card of any house is picked up. Only six of the 14 available companions are available each game, and they allow players to gain extra cards, kill specific characters (permanently removing them from the game) and perform other abilities to aid their attempts to gain favour. Limiting the companions to a random six allows each game to feel different, and forces players to think several turns ahead or risk handing a powerful ability to one of their rivals. When playing in teams, four three-eyed crow tokens are included for a game variant that requires spending one of the birds to consult with your partner, helping to shake up the difficulty and variety.

On paper, it probably all sounds very straightforward – and the truth is that it’s just that. In practice, Hand of the King is an accessible yet deceptively strategic card game that makes fleeting but nevertheless fitting use of its theme, resulting in an easy sell for newcomers to tabletop gaming or its fantasy setting alike. It’s best with more than the minimum two players, to open up the need for more diverse tactics, but with just a pair it’s still a highly gratifying way to fill 15 minutes – even if you’re just waiting for the next episode of its TV counterpart.



With fantastic artwork, simple mechanics and a hidden level of depth and randomisation for added replayability, this card game spin-off of the hit TV series is a fantastic time filler whether you’re a tabletop virgin or you have no idea what a ‘Khaleesi’ is.

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Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Price: £11.99

Genre: Set collection

Players: 2-4

Time: 15-30 minutes

Age: 14+

Website: fantasyflightgames.com



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