Taken Hostage

A Look at the Captives of Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne

"I'm a hostage, and you're selling me."
"Don't think of it that way."
"But it IS that way."

     –Arya Stark and Thoros of Myr

Inspired by the characters and events from HBO's beloved Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne is a game of ambition, intrigue, and influence for three to five players. King Robert Baratheon is dead, the line of succession is in dispute, and the Iron Throne is yours for the taking. You just need to find a way to win it.

In this game, which is now available at retailers and on our webstore, winning the game means being "the first player to spread all five of their influence tokens" among the other Houses. But the victory condition and your path to victory are two entirely different things. Where your victory condition is easily defined, your path to victory is not.

Utilizing game systems from the legendary Cosmic Encounter® board game, The Iron Throne challenges you to play both your resources and your opponents. You can spread influence by winning battles. You can spread influence through diplomacy. You can even win influence—or put yourself in a better position to win influence—by catching your rivals off-guard with a well-timed bluff or lie. The trick is to stay flexible, win some battles, broker some deals, and always conceal your true designs.

Leveraging Your Hostages

Battles in Game of Thrones are massive and bloody. Nonetheless, they rarely result in the wholesale destruction of one side or another. One can typically find survivors among the loser's forces, and when these survivors have names worth noting, the victors may take them as hostages to serve as leverage in future deals. Even in times of peace, the Houses may show each other their good faith by offering each other "hostages"—through marriage or by sending children to be raised as wards.

Just as they are an integral part of Game of Thrones and its world, hostages are an integral part of The Iron Throne, represented by the house cards you take from other players:

  • Whenever you win a challenge, you may seize one hostage from the losing side, opting to take the top card from the losing player's house deck, a random card from that losing player's hand, or one of the hostages that player has already seized.
  • You may negotiate the exchange of hostages as part of the terms of a truce with another House.
  • Finally, if another House ever betrays you after you extend a truce, you may take hostage one of its house cards.

After House Baratheon wins a challenge with twelve power to Targaryen's eleven, the Baratheon player chooses to claim a hostage from the Targaryen player's hand. He randomly pulls Encouragement and, in doing so, claims a measure of leverage over Doreah and the rest of House Targaryen.

Of course, just as the hostages in Game of Thrones are used as bargaining chips, the hostages you take in The Iron Throne provide you with leverage over the Houses from which you took them. This leverage might then help you to broker more advantageous deals, or if your opponent won't agree to terms, you might make examples of your hostages, "tormenting" them in one of three fashions to punish the other House:

  • Leader: If you discard a hostage card that matches another player's leader, you immediately discard four power from the leader's sheet into the reserves, reducing the maximum amount of power with which that player might be able to contest challenges.
  • Character: If you discard a hostage card that matches another player's character token, you immediately discard four power from that character. If this reduces that character to zero power, the character is killed and can no longer be used to participate in challenges. Additionally, this invalidates the unique ability on any house card matching that character and thereby limits the House's strategies overall.

After House Baratheon wins its challenge against House Targaryen (as above), Viserys Targaryen suffers the loss of his last power. His token is flipped over, and he is now "dead."

  • Hostility or Truce: If the hostage discarded is a hostility or truce card, you can discard one power from any one of that House's characters.

Finally, a number of different cards and game effects may allow you to make use of your hostages in other ways. Others may allow you to free the cards your opponents have taken hostage.

Casualties of War

While nearly every House in Game of Thrones takes hostages or wards, we find tremendous differences among the methods each House and leader treat their hostages. The same also holds true in The Iron Throne.

Each House gains its identity in The Iron Throne from the unique character abilities printed on their leader sheets and house cards, and a number of these abilities directly address the hostages you might take.

House Lannister's Joffrey Baratheon is a cruel young man, and his house card, Mine to Torment,  allows him to strip power from an opponent's character whenever you follow him as your leader or send his character token into a challenge. Playable only before house cards are revealed, it reads, "For each hostage you have, choose 1 character from the corresponding house. Remove 1 power from that character."

It's worth noting that because Mine to Torment doesn't force you to discard your hostages, they remain available for you to torment in the future—or to use as fodder for your deals. Accordingly, if you're playing as House Lannister, it might be worth using Mine to Torment to strip power from a number of characters before you start offering your hostages as part of the deals you make; once you show your opponents that you mean business, they may be more inclined to respect the importance of reclaiming their hostages.

Meanwhile, Melisandre, who demonstrated the power of blood sacrifice, offers House Baratheon another hostage-based house card ability. Her house card, Terrors of the Night reads, "Discard 1 hostage and choose a player. That player removes 3 power from their characters. Additionally, if the hostage was a character card, remove 3 power from the corresponding character."

While her card only functions during the resolution of a challenge in which she participated, and therefore can't help her win the challenge, it's almost guaranteed to lead to the death of any character Melisandre targets. Since you can torment a hostage at the start of any player's turn, you could send Melisandre into a challenge, play Terrors of the Night during the resolution to strip three power from a character, and then torment the character at the beginning of the next turn, forcing it to lose another four power. It is possible, but rare, for characters to get more than seven power, so the loss of seven power is almost guaranteed to result in a character's death.

It's worth noting here, that the loss of a character is a significant blow to a House. Not only does it mean that you can no longer make use of that character's house card abilities, but it means that you have fewer options available to you for future challenges. You may be able to weather the loss of one character reasonably well, but once you get down to just two characters, you're risking half your House's strength every time you participate in a challenge.

Of course, not every ability that deals with hostages is punitive—not even within the same House.

As another member of House Baratheon, Davos Seaworth comes with a leader ability that allows you to release non-Baratheon hostages in order to retrieve house cards from your discard pile. Whether you want your sole strength-twenty hostility card or a character-specific house card like Onion Knight or Lessons,  you'll find Davos Seaworth's ability is not only good for recovering cards, but also for negotiating deals with other Houses who might like their hostages released.

And where Davos Seaworth releases hostages, Khal Drogo takes them. His leader ability allows you to take a hostage by removing one power from his leader sheet during the resolution phase of any challenge in which you participated on the challenger's side—even if you lost. It also means that if you win a challenge, you can claim more than a single hostage, and since you can always play your leader's corresponding house card whenever its timing is met, you could use your hostages to surprise your opponents and gain a pile of power by playing The Dothraki Way .

After the Targaryens, led by Khal Drogo, send Jorah Mormont to battle against the Baratheons and Renly Baratheon wins the support of Eddard Stark, the Targaryen player uses The Dothraki Way to bolster Jorah's challenge by four power before the players' house cards are revealed.

Spare Their Lives

"Spare his life. Keep him as a hostage."
     –Catelyn Stark

You need to win battles to win a war, and that means that people must die. However, battles are often not enough. This is a lesson that Robb Stark learned the hard way, and it's a lesson you'd do well to remember in your games of The Iron Throne.

Sometimes you don't need so much to win the early influence as you do to start building leverage for the end game. After all, the closer you get to victory, the more you'll find your opponents arrayed against you. If you draw near the Iron Throne without a plan for the final steps of your journey, you're almost guaranteed a knife in the back. If, however, you bide your time and don't make your final approach until you have a fully realized plan set in motion, you may very well become the next King or Queen of Westeros.

This means making good use of your leader ability and your house cards. It also means being a shrewd participant in all the bargains made between the different Houses, and you're almost certain to find that your use of hostages will play a major role… So come and practice your bluffs. Try your hand at battle. Betray your allies when the time is right. The Iron Throne is as close as you'll come to HBO's Game of Thrones without getting covered in mud and blood, and you'll want to be sure you're the one from your House making good use of your hostages rather than the member of your House being taken hostage.

The Iron Throne is now available. Pick up your copy today!

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