ASOIAF: Deployment and Activations

Get ready for some hard lessons.

One of the best things about this game how in-depth alternate deployment and activations work.  All of this is outlined really well in the main rulebook, but I want to take a moment to stress the importance of how greatly this affects overall gameplay.  A lot of this harks all the way back to my WHFB days where "drops" and chaff really meant something when it comes to deployment.  Having more drops than the opponent allows you to see where their most crucial units get placed so you can better deploy against them.  Keep in mind that when it comes to "drops", this is strictly limited to combat units.  It doesn't matter how many NCUs you have when it comes to deployment, but this will matter when it comes to overall activations.  Activation order and the number of total activations matter because the more you have, the more you can "force" your opponents to activate their units so you can better counter them.

Alright, so let's dive into deployment first.  Going forward, I'm just going to call these drops because I'm an old-school WHFB player and you're just going to have to deal with it.  I'll start by using my Robb Stark list vs. the previously posted Ramsay list.

Faction: House Stark
Commander: Robb Stark – The Wolf Lord
Points: 40 (4 Neutral)

Combat Units:
• House Umber Greataxes (7)
  with Robb Stark – The Wolf Lord (0)
• Grey Wind (0)
• Stark Sworn Swords (5)
  with Bran and Hodor – Protector and Ward (3)
• Summer (0)
• House Umber Berserkers (7)
  with Sworn Sword Captain (1)
• Stark Outriders (7)
  with Brynden Tully – Vanguard Infiltrator (3)

Non-Combat Units:
• Sansa Stark – Little Bird (3)
• Lord Varys – The Spider (4)

Made with


Faction: House Lannister
Commander: Ramsay Snow – The Bastard of Bolton
Points: 40 (20 Neutral)

Combat Units:
• House Clegane Mountain Men (6)
  with Ramsay Snow – The Bastard of Bolton (0)
  and Theon Greyjoy – Reek (0)
• House Clegane Mountain Men (6)
  with Dreadfort Captain (1)
• Bolton Cutthroats (5)
  with Assault Veteran (1)
• The Flayed Men (10)
  with Gregor Clegane – Mounted Behemoth (3)

Non-Combat Units:
• Tywin Lannister – The Great Lion (4)
• Lord Varys – The Spider (4)

Made with

Before we talk about anything else, keep in mind that after the battlefield is set up, you roll a die with your opponent and you see who gets to pick their deployment zone (winner chooses or passes).  The player who does not choose their Deployment Zone will the First Player.  The player who chooses the deployment zone puts down their first combat unit.

As you can see in the example lists above, Robb's army has a total of 6 drops compared to Ramsay's 4 drops.   This is one of the best things about the Stark Dire Wolves and that's because it comes with good 0-point chaff that are combat units.

If you choose Deployment and therefore starts deploying first, it would look like:
  1. You put a wolf down
  2. They put down a combat unit
  3. You put another wolf down
  4. They have to put another combat unit
  5. You put down some Stark Swords
  6. They put down another combat unit
  7. You put down some Berserkers
  8. They have to put down their Flayed Men with Ser G
  9. Now you counter-deploy your Greataxes to meet his knights
  10. ...and you can put your Outriders somewhere that best suits your needs

Hell, if you count his drops ahead of time, you can even choose to Outflank with your Outriders because you know the drop advantage is yours.  Always count the number of drops your opponent has and take note of any units of significance.

Do you see the power of having more drops than the opponent?  This is actually one of Stark's most powerful tools and that's the free Dire Wolves with Robb and Brann.  Once Shaggydog gets up in here, it's going to be a hoot.  Even having one drop over the opponent can mean a big difference because it allows you to better set up your slower moving speed-4 Greataxes somewhere that's going to scare those Flayed Men.  If you end up tieing with your opponent when it comes to drops, consider letting them choose deployment so they drop first.

Activating in the most optimal order is key.

Next, let's talk a little bit about activations.  For the most part, I'll try and keep things as generic as possible.  Knowing the when and why you activate your units will mean the difference between victory and defeat.  This is where most of the complexity of the game comes from.  By understanding that your NCUs count towards total activations and directly interact with the game through the tactics board, this greatly enhances how you play the game.  While most units interact directly with tactics cards, there's also a ton of ways to cheat out free actions.  To explain all of this is going to be really complex because it's simply impossible to predict any and all events that are going to happen in a game.  No worries though, I'll try and give out some hints based on the games I've had so far.  Keep in mind that who is First Player also matters greatly.

Here are some helpful tips:
  • NCUs tend to activate first to either stifle the opponent's zones or take advantages for themselves.  For example, as First Player, taking the Tactics zone can be super useful, or robbing the Stark player of free maneuvers can also be strong, especially when there are plentiful objectives on the board.
  • Whenever you interact with the tactics board, you should first consider if you're planning to give a direct benefit to yourself or to disrupt the opponents' plans.  Every decision you make should be deliberate and has a significant impact on the game.
  • When units are already engaged,  claiming the Combat zone is very strong and should be claimed if you have First Player.  This is essentially a free combat action, which is just incredible.  Anything that gives free anything is highly-sought after.
  • Activating your Dire Wolves first before your main combat units allow you to better move units in response to what the opponent is going to do.  They have to activate their units and cannot choose to just pass.  They can, however, put an activation token on the unit and just not do anything.
  • Always look for low-risk activations first if you want to bait your opponent into doing something so you can counterplay it.  However, you need to prioritize high-value activations if you absolutely need something to go in your favor.  This is how tempo is set by the player:  If everything you're doing gives you an advantage some way or another, you will always be ahead.  An example of this could be deciding to put an NCU down first to disrupt the opponent or to activate a unit.  You want to choose the one that will put you ahead while leaving the opponent unable to respond.  The best type of activation is getting to do something that gives you advantage while the opponent gains nothing.
  • As the game progresses, this is where the true chess element of the game comes in:  Choosing the wrong activation order can literally mean victory or defeat.  Everything is a risk because both you and your opponent has a hidden hand of tactics cards, and with NCUs being different every game, there's always going to be calculated risk.  This is why Varys is one of the strongest NCUs in the game currently:  He has 4 tries to foil your opponents' plans with the tactics board or their NCUs.
  • Once combat is joined, the focus of the game shifts a bit from NCUs to actually fighting the battle.  Otherwise, you risk skipping pivotal combat and your opponent might just tactics your unit into the ground before you get a chance to swing.  If you see the opportunity to inflict damage, it's almost always worth it to take it unless you have the appropriate counter.  Look for unit activations that will give you the battlefield advantage.  NCUs are not the ones fighting over objectives.
  • Typically when you're a couple of turns in and the battle is joined, you should look for opportunities for free actions first, then combat, then NCUs in that order.  There are many factors that will change this order around, but that's completely up to you to analyze the opportunity cost.  Since there are a lot of things to keep track of once battle is joined so it's important for you to get comfortable with your units, your commander, your NCUs, and your tactics cards.  Else, you risk missing vital opportunities or triggers that can win the game for you.

Alright, that's pretty much all I have to say about activations.  There are just a billion examples and each one of them is unique.  However, I think mastering your activations is the most difficult, most complex, and most rewarding part of the game.  It's probably the biggest factor in identifying player skill and experience, so it's definitely worth practicing.  Good luck!
Source: lkhero

ASOIAF: Deployment and Activations