Do you ask yourself why it‘s harder to play against lists with more units than you? Why does your opponent have the opportunity to get their most valuable unit where they want them to be? And why do you sometimes feel pressured to make certain decisions before you’re ready to commit?
It all comes down to Activation Advantage and how players can use it.
So, what is Activation Advantage? Simply put, it means that you have more units (combat units and/or NCUs) than your opponent. Each unit gives you 1 Activation each Round (with few exceptions, like Gilly). When you have more units than your opponent, you are granted more Activations and thus more Turns in the Activation Phase of a Round. You simply have more options than your opponent.
But what can you do with your extra Activations and how will it help you win? Let's look at an example here. A Stark army is playing against a Lannister army. The Starks have 5 combat units (thanks to a Direwolf) and 3 NCUs, thus giving them 8 Activations. The Lannister player brings the might of the Rock and invests in 4 of the most elite combat units and 3 NCUs, so they have 7 Activations in total. During the game, the Lannister player wants to charge his Knights of Casterly Rock into the Stark Sworn Swords. With their Lance ability, this would be a devastating Charge, which the Stark player wants to avoid.
With the Lannister player being the First player, it looks grim for the Sworn Swords. But instead of pushing the Sworn Swords forward, the Stark player activates his other units. Since the game has alternating Activations, the Lannister player activates their first unit, then the Stark player activates their first unit. Then, both activate their second unit. Then, their third unit and so on. At last, the Lannister player must activate their Knights of Casterly Rock with their seventh Activation. This gives the Sworn Swords room to breathe because they can activate as the Starks eighth Activation and they will be the last unit to activate this Round. The Knights of Casterly Rock had to activate earlier, so the Stark player can avoid the Charge.
This technique is called Stalling. It means that the player with more Activations can avoid engagement as long as they want to because they can wait until the dangerous enemy units have activated. As a result of this advantage, the player with more Activations always has the chance to react to their opponent's movements and tactics. If both players have the same number of Activations, the player who is not First Player this Round has the same advantage of stalling, because they activate the last unit during the Round. The effect from Stalling will increase even more for each additional Activation they have over their opponent. This makes their decisions even more flexible.
But do we only use Stalling to avoid combat? No. It has other uses.
It is often used to get the best positioning for your “heavy hitters” that can make devastating Charges on their own. Let’s look at our example again. The Stark player has a unit of Umber Berserkers that they want to charge into an enemy unit while also avoiding enemy retaliation through Charges or Attacks. Because the Stark player has the Activation Advantage by having the last Activation this Round, they can stall their Umber Berserkers until the enemy units that can react to their Action, like performing a counter Charge, have activated. This means the Umber Berserkers are guaranteed to charge an enemy unit with the Stark’s last Activation during the turn, and the Lannister player will not have any chance to react to the Charge.
So, Stalling can be used to keep your units safe by reacting to your opponent’s Activations, or to make an offensive play, like a Charge, without your opponent having the chance to react to it with one of their Activations.
The best aspect to Stalling is that it can enable you to make massive plays. A Last-Turn-First-Turn combo is the most powerful technique a player can use to gain the most of their Activation Advantage. In our example, the Umber Berserkers charge an enemy unit with their last Turn in the Round. This is the last Activation and the Lannister player has no Activations left to react to the Charge. Now, the Round ends and the First player swaps from the Lannister player to the Stark player. Thus, the Stark player can attack with the Umber Berserkers as the first Turn of the Round, either with their Activation or through the Combat zone on the Tactics Board (Swords). The Lannister player has no Activations before the first Turn in the Round, which grants the Stark player two consecutive Attacks (a Charge and a Melee Attack), and the Lannister player can’t react to either one. This Last-Turn-First-Turn combo is a powerful play that can cripple or destroy enemy units or get the enemy in trouble some other way (like forcing them to burn limited healing resources).
Make sure that you have the next Round in mind when planning your Activations. If you are the second player and have the last Activation during a Round; you should definitely consider a Last-Turn-First-Turn play. Also, as a First player, you need to have a look at the enemy activations to prepare for a Last-Turn-First-Turn play from your opponent. You can either avoid Charges and other aggression by utilizing defensive positioning, or you can pressure your opponent to spend their resources during the next Round elsewhere. One example of this could be threatening to defeat an enemy unit if they don’t heal or retreat with them. Overall, the most common uses of Last-Turn-First-Turn plays are from the second to the third Round onwards. During the second Round, players are most often in a position to charge their opponent’s units which also makes the use of this combo more threatening. Additionally, the value of the Combat Tactics zone increases from the third Round onwards because it gives you a free Action and that makes the Last-Turn-First-Turn combo even more attractive.
The Activation Advantage is not set in stone. This advantage can shift during the game. Players can lose Activations, temporarily or permanently, during a Round and that can have a huge swing of pressure and can, for example, deny a Last-Turn-First-Turn combo.
The most common way to manipulate Activation Advantage is to destroy an enemy unit. If you destroy an enemy unit, your opponent has one less Activation during the next Round, which can mean that you have the Action Advantage in the next Round instead of your opponent. When you destroy an enemy unit that has not activated this Round, you deny your opponent an Activation in the current Round. This can turn the Activation Advantage to your favor during the ongoing Round and that can have huge consequences for Stalling and Last-Turn-First-Turn combos.
Another way to deny an Activation (temporarily) during a Round is by utilizing the Tactics Board. Here, we take advantage of the “A Full Tactics Board” rule. It says that we can’t activate an NCU if the Tactics board has no empty Tactics zones. This is relevant in a 3 NCUs vs 3 NCUs matchup where one NCU cannot go on the Tactics board. If your opponent has an unactivated NCU left and you take the last Tactics zone, your opponent is not able to activate this NCU this Round, thus losing that Activation temporarily. Your opponent can avoid this scenario if they just “pass” by activating an NCU but not performing any Action. They can do this with their second NCU, and this grants them the Activation and also ensures a free Tactics zone for their third NCU.
While this strategy is dependent on your opponent, it can still enable you to get better zones on the Tactics board. Alternatively, if your opponent feels forced to go on the Tactics board with his second NCU, this grants you a temporary Activation Advantage. So, keep the Tactics board in mind when thinking about Activation Advantages in your games.
Try to think about your Activations in your next game and you will find more success on the tabletop. Stalling, Last-Turn-First-Turn Combos, and the knowledge to manipulate Activations during a Round are tools that ensure that you are best prepared to fight on the battlefields of Westeros. Activations are important, so you must try to think about them during list building. It can make a huge difference if you are able to have more Activations from the beginning of the game, or if your list concept tries to deny your opponent Activations through destroying enemy units. This is a topic for another article.
I hope this article helped you gain some insight into the Activation game of the A Song of Ice and Fire: TMG. Thanks for being here!
About me:I’m Yannic from the German YouTube channel Tabletop Warden. There, we discuss strategies, armies, and all things ASOIF related. My favorite aspects of the game are miniature painting and, of course, playing the game in a more competitive way, either in tournaments or during a friendly game night.