[FTG] Cyvasse seen in A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

ASOIAF was always one of the more popular fantasy novels in my eyes, but when the show came out a few years ago it absolutely erupted with new people to watch, read, and generally worry about the characters of Westoros. A quick web search leads to a fair amount of discussion about Cyvasse (not to be mistaken with Kvass, the fermented beverage). So we’ll use that to gauge some of the assumptions on. So I’ll try to keep a similar format as the post about  Keschet so it’s familiar to any of the readers out there, but also improve things over time. I’d imagine it will always be fairly long-winded, as I do go on a bit. Maybe in the future I can break these posts into multiple pieces to be able to post more often, but also easier to consume in one sitting.

I’m not a researcher here, mostly an enthusiast and hobbyist, so by no means will any of this attempt to be complete, but things I’m looking for our direct quotes from the books, and interview questions with GRRM himself.

Game Comparison: GRRM – “A bit of chess, a bit of blitzkrieg, a bit of stratego. Mix well and add imagination.” – GRRM.

Now I’ve never played Blitzkrieg, which is a 1965 war game from Avalon Hill. But for me, Cyvasse always reminded me of Feudal, with the addition of adjustable terrain pieces. This is mostly because of how some of the descriptions take place.

Book Quotes

Feast of Crows

  • “There were ten different pieces, each with its own attributes and powers, and the board would change from game to game, depending on how the players arrayed their home squares.”
  • “He always sets his squares up the same way, with all the mountains in the front and his elephants in the passes…So I send my dragon through to eat his elephants.”
  • “She touched one of the cyvasse pieces, the heavy horse.”

A Dance with Dragons

  • “as they arranged their tiles on either side of a carved wooden screen…Tyrion almost grabbed his dragon but thought better of it. Last game he had brought her out too soon and lost her to a trebuchet…He moved his light horse toward Haldon’s mountains…The Halfmaester moved his spears.”
  • “Young Griff arrayed his army for attack, with dragon, elephants, and heavy horse up front…Tyrion moved his elephants.”
  • “He picked up his heavy horse…Tyrion moved his crossbows…The dwarf pushed his black dragon across a range of mountains…”
  • “Smiling he seized his dragon, flew it across the board…Your king is trapped. Death in four.”
  • “onyx elephant…alabaster army…He moved his heavy horse.”
  • Tyrion advanced his spearmen. Qavo replied with his light horse. Tyrion moved his crossbowmen up a square…toying with his rabble…plucking up his dragon. ‘The most powerful piece in the game,” he announced, as he removed one of Qavo’s elephants…He moved his catapult again, closed his hand around Tyrion’s alabaster dragon, removed it from the board.”
  • “Near the end of that final contest, with his fortress in ruins, his dragon dead, elephants before him and heavy horse circling around his rear…”

Board setup

While originally I pictured a chess-like board (8×8), there are some references to a hex board, one of which appearing in Fantasy Flights CCG which displayed a picture of a Cyvasse game. This combined with the mention of Blitzkrieg leads me to the same conclusion that the westeros.org forums decided on. A large hexagonal board. Additionally, you have specific tile hexes that you place at the game setup, when the pieces are hidden to the opponent via a screen. Now for those of you are unfamiliar with hex based movement the nomenclature is the same as checkerboard movement, but it might be a bit confusing at first. Orthogonal moves are straight lines from adjacent squares. Diagonal moves “hop” over the adjacent hexes, in what looks like a more traditional “horizontal” or “vertical” movements.


10 pieces, each with their own attributes and powers. Here are some potential movements, notes I think each piece could have. (Obviously no playtesting has gone into this, and aside from some light reading of the westeros.org forum post.). The number in parenthesis is hypothetical strength values.

  • King(2) – Starts in the Fortress, limited movement range, player losses if captured.
  • Dragon(7) – Unaffected by terrain movement restrictions. Large movement range. Orthogonal and Diagonal.
  • Elephant(5) – Short Charge Diagonal movement. Maybe 2 or 3 squares. Or 1 square Orthogonal. (Unable to charge through Rivers)
  • Heavy Horse(4) – Medium movement.
  • Light Horse(3) – Long movement. Good for flanking.
  • Trebuchet(4) – Long range attack, can damage Fortress. Slow movement.
  • Spearman(2) – Medium movement.  +1 when attacked by Horse
  • Crossbowman(2) – Medium movement. Medium range attack.
  • Rabble(1) – Short-Medium movement.

Terrain types

  • Fortress – A defensive structure, potentially the King has to start inside the Fortress. Probably multiple squares in size. Each tile has a full fortress on the front, and a damaged fortress on the back to represent damage.
  • Mountain – Each player would start with a number of these, able to create a “range” of restricted movement or “passes” to funnel traffic through.
  • River – Unmentioned, but I’d be surprised if Rivers aren’t another terrain type. You’d get a handful, and pieces couldn’t move through and past a River during it’s movement.

Strength Values

One interesting addition that some people were considering were strength values of pieces. Now in most abstract games, the pieces don’t have strength values (or all values are 1). So in Chess, my Pawn can always capture your Queen if need be. One example of strength values is Stratego. I think they recently changed the ordering of the numbers in Stratego but basically your stronger pieces appear less often and always defeat weaker pieces. Except in the case of the Spy who can defeat the strongest piece, but nothing else. There are also Attack/Defense values like you see in Magic. When two pieces fight, there isn’t a guarantee that one of the pieces are removed. This isn’t very interesting from an abstract game perspective. Any time two pieces conflict you want at least one of them removed from the board, otherwise you might have to keep track of damage which usually doesn’t fit on a gameboard. Another way of handling strength values is the way Axis and Allies handles it. Each of your pieces that attack rolls a die. If you roll your attack value or higher, than you score a strike. Each strike removes a piece from the skirmish. This certainly fits a bit in the theme of fighting mini-skirmishes across the board, allowing the army pieces to work together. But it’s a fair amount of overhead, especially given the abstract nature that Cyvasse appears to be.

I think the simplest way to handle it is to just do straight number comparison. Ex. My Charging Elephant is worth 5 +1 from an adjacent Flanking Light Horse, +1 from a nearby Crossbowman is 7. Your Dragon is worth 7, so both the Elephant and Dragon would be killed. Supporting units aren’t destroyed in this manner.

Some final thoughts

Hidden deployment with the big reveal is a neat mechanic. Seeing exactly how you’re opponent places his pieces and starting terrains can greatly impact how to play the game and what type of game will be played. Related to this is the terrain pieces. I could easily setup a trap with my terrain pieces around my Fortress, forcing my opponent to deal with heavy losses just to attack. It’s hard to have a planned opening, when you don’t know exactly what you’ll be facing across the board.

Ranged attacking pieces are interesting. Capturing without movement, forces your opponent to extend into you, allowing you to create a trap at a mountain pass with crossbows and trebuchet.

All of the above is assuming single piece unit back and forth. But maybe you could move more than one piece during each of your turns. Maybe you could move up to 10 strength values a turn. This could make the landscape change drastically from turn to turn, as pieces you think are safe become surrounded and destroyed before you realize.

External links:

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/58545-complete-cyvasse-rules/ – One ruleset

http://gameofcyvasse.com/ – Another ruleset

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:92172 – 3d printed set


One Response to “[FTG] Cyvasse seen in A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin”

  1. Here’s a link to another version of rules. This has variants for square or hexagonal chess boards, and from simple chess-like play up to more complex Stratego/Blitzkrieg-like play with terrain and flanking. Video tutorial links at the site:


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