Social Deduction Comes To Westeros
When you finally sat down on the Iron Throne, you thought a life of political maneuvering was behind you. But your closest ally seems to be acting against your best interests, and the people you thought you couldn’t trust seem resigned to help you restore order in the realm. Everything you thought you knew becomes murky before your eyes, and even the Hand of the King whispers secrets in your halls. Who can you trust? And how will you keep the forces of chaos and atrophy at bay? Welcome to Westeros, and welcome to the tangled web of Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker.
Based on the hit series of fantasy novels and their HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker is a social deduction party game for 5 to 8 players. In it, one player takes on the role of the King or Queen of the realm, as the rest of the group are various famous nobles and important characters from the series. Those nobles are each secretly dealt a loyalty card that only they can see, marking them as either a loyalist to the King or a Conspirator. The overall goal of the game is a basic struggle between Order and Chaos. If the King or Queen and their loyalists can keep order throughout the realm, they win. But if the conspirators can ramp up chaos, they win.
The game’s split between two types of rounds, mission rounds, and decree rounds. In mission rounds, the King sets down a challenge, and players secretly place cards with symbols that will either help the mission succeed (bringing order) or bring it crashing down (bringing chaos). In the decree rounds, the King places cards that either show his favor to certain nobles, or cast suspicions on them. Rounds continue to alternate between these two modes, as the heart of the game unfolds (the finger-pointing, lying, and secrets). Chaos and order are tracked on the board itself, and in the end, the King or Queen makes final guesses as to everyone’s allegiances (if he’s right, that adds to the Order, if he’s wrong, Chaos gets a boost).
The only way this game could feel like a more appropriate fit for the GoT universe would be if you could suddenly and without explanation kill off one of your favorite co-players. And though you can’t chop people apart or burn them alive (more on why that’s a good thing, below), the undercurrent of suspicion, doubt, and distrust that runs through this game absolutely screams Westeros. From Arya Stark to Yara Greyjoy, each of the 12 playable characters in the game have small special abilities that add a bit of gamification to a relatively straightforward system and feel very in-tune with their depictions in the series.
For instance, Ned Stark’s special ability “Call The Banners” forces another player to either help you or willingly add chaos to the board, Ned’s putting pressure on people to be true to their word. But for Daenerys, the woman who tells everyone within earshot that she’s the true ruler, her special ability “Rightful Queen” takes and plays cards that only the actual King or Queen player is allowed to play. These small, thoughtful touches run through the game from start to finish, and leave the player with a feeling that they really did try to navigate the realm to the best of their ability.
No One Leaves My Realm
Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker takes all the best aspects of social deduction games, lying to your friends, sowing suspicion and discord, and disrupting plans for your own personal goals, and throws away the worst aspect of many social deduction games, player elimination. In games like Werewolf and Mafia, round after round, players are “killed” by the baddies and removed from play. It’s then their lot in life to sit patiently and smile knowingly while the rest of the group continues to play. And while it leads to plenty of dramatic moments, it can be a real bummer to be the player out in the first round.
Even in the famed Battlestar Galactica board game, players suspected of being traitors can be put in the brig with their options severely limited. But in Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker, all players are in on the action until the very end. No matter how many characters get beheaded and eaten by dogs in the source material, in this game the King or Queen can never execute or remove from play a player they believe to be working in opposition. This is a natural evolution of the social deduction genre and hopefully will pave the way forward releases.
If you’re a fan of GoT, and a fan of the social deduction genre in general (and have a big enough playgroup), Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker is a must-add to your collection. The game greatly benefits from simple mechanical additions (like minor resource management and card play) that take it beyond a simple parlor game. Full of betrayal, backstabbing, and the constant pleading of your case to the King or Queen, Oathbreaker perfectly encapsulates the cutthroat nature of the world of Westeros. So gather your friends and conspirators and dive in. Just remember, watch your back.
Get this game if:
You like social deduction games but wish they had a bit more meat on their bones
You’ve got a big playgroup who likes to lie to each other
You drink and you know things
Avoid this game if:
You seldom have more than four players in your game group
You’re not a fan of Game of Thrones
Your poker face is terrible
The copy of Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker used in this review was provided by Dire Wolf Digital.