Defending the Wall that separates the undead from the land of the living has never seemed easy, but if you go by what happens in the Game of Thrones television series, managing the Night’s Watch might seem straightforward. Jon Snow doesn’t do much actual managing on the show, instead often focusing on the bigger issues at hand.
But being in charge is more complicated than that. Think about it: The Wall is huge, far away, and close to an endless number of threats. The sheer act of maintaining things requires a million tiny decisions we never get to see in the show, though the books themselves spend a bit more time talking about Jon’s day-to-day duties. There’s a part early on in A Dance with Dragons, for example, where Jon talks at length about how he’ll manage rations for his men. No surprise that this bit of administrative pabulum didn’t make the show; it wouldn’t exactly be riveting to watch.
But it does make for a deliciously stressful video game, as I’ve found out over the last week while playing Apple Arcade’s Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows. I now know that trying to lead the Night’s Watch is a shit job full of awful decisions. The game takes place way before the show does, when the Watch is young. In fact, one of the earliest things you do in the game is bind the Wall with magic, establishing the Night’s Watch’s eternal servitude to the realm.
From there, you get to play out multiple generations of Lord Commanders who must make all sorts of decisions about the stoic group. Much of the game is spent sending men out on expeditions, whether that’s to gather resources or to investigate a nearby landslide. Tale of Crows unfolds in real time, meaning that once you send a group out to do a task, you have to come back later to see how things turn out.
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All expeditions will run into hiccups. Perhaps a man got hurt during an unexpected battle. Maybe some wildlings came out of nowhere and stole all their stuff. Sometimes, you’ll get chance encounters where, say, an old crone offers an exchange of prophecies for some of your men’s rations. Every time, you have to tell the Night’s Watch what to do via a raven — and then wait to see if your choice was a smart one. Every expedition you send out has a leader who might give you unique options to tackle a problem, but even when you’ve got someone suited for the task at hand, it’s never a guarantee.
You will inevitably lose men. You may even lose yourself! During one expedition, the Watch dug up a blue woman frozen in a lake. I asked them to bring her back, and set her up in my chambers. I thought I would be given the option to maybe talk to a maester about it or something, but no. I watched as my Lord Commander slowly lost his mind instead.
Soon, I had to pick a new Lord Commander to lead the pack. The game takes place over the course of multiple generations, with each Lord Commander leading different eras with different challenges.
One of the biggest strengths of Tale of Crows is that, by virtue of existing so far beyond the scope of the show or books, it escapes the long shadow cast by them both. There’s a lot of room for the game to depict all sorts of situations, because while they may never be referenced in canon, there’s an easy explanation for it. Hey, the Wall’s been around for a very long time. Who knows how much history has been lost along the way?
However, knowing what we do about where things end up also makes for some juicy decisions. I have been asked multiple times what to do with the seemingly useless knowledge about dragonglass. Nobody understands why I want to keep that information well-documented, but still. Let’s keep passing it down, boys!
Tale of Crows is a must-play for any Game of Thrones fans — it’s good, yes, but more importantly, the game easily fits into any schedule. I like to check it during any downtime I have during the day, because it only takes a few minutes to see what new headache has befallen the Night’s Watch. You wouldn’t believe all the different things that can happen in a single day. I am now convinced Jon Snow had it easy.
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