This week’s column is the first of several that will focus on the upcoming expansion set, A Sea of Storms (ASOS for short), and I’ve got a lot of ground to cover. The card we’re featuring today is really, really good, but doesn’t require a whole strategy article, so we’ll take you behind the scenes for a moment and have a look at…
The Making of a Storm
Way back in May, when Westeros edition was in its final stages of playtesting, I began work on "GotSlush.xls," a collection of every card ever designed for this game which has yet to see print. I should point out that not every card makes it into GotSlush.xls. Only cards that have been at least mildly "theory tested" make it into this file (more on theory testing in a moment). In any case, back in May it was time to start thinking about both the near and distant future of GOT. It may please you to know that much of the groundwork for the two expansions following ASOS has already been laid out; development is getting farther and farther ahead of the release schedule as time goes on.
In mid-July, I had the slush pile up to about 200 cards, with no guarantees that any one of them would make it into a set. But we had a mission statement for the set, and I knew essentially what sort of cards needed to make it in. By early August, I had a rough draft of 150 cards that I spent some time "theory testing" (there’s that phrase again!) during GenCon with Kevin and Brian, after staying up nearly all night every night playing with our newly minted Westeros cards.
As a CCG designer, I too had some agendas with this expansion. One is that, no matter what, we continually try to be gutsy. Complacency has no place in CCG’s; you always make sure to push the boundaries of what your game can do, or it dies the quiet death of stagnation. Euron is a small example of this. With him in the set, we are telling you that House Greyjoy is not an afterthought in the game of thrones. Against a skilled opponent using this House, you are going to have quite the fight on your hands. There are two plot cards (which I will cover in the coming weeks) that are guaranteed to change the way everybody thinks about deck design. Additionally, many ASOS cards that will greatly expand the number of deck types players of the existing Houses can think about building. There are also two cards that will give many of the Johnny’s and Jaime’s amongst our fans a coronary when they first see them.
I also wanted to make sure that we added cards that interact well with some of the underused cards from Westeros edition. Timmy, imagine if your War Host of the North didn’t kneel to attack or defend. Baratheon players, imagine an event card for you that is, in some ways, better than Counterplot. Shagga, imagine being able to build an all Clansman deck, with a bunch of your clansmen being free to play!
Future Greyjoy players, see below…
In order to be playable and competitive as a separate House, we needed to put 30-plus Greyjoy cards into the set, and they had to count. I took around 20 from GotSlush.xls, and ended up returning over half of them. The rest needed to be designed specifically for the new themes and mechanics we were introducing with this set.
House Greyjoy can be played on its own like any of the other Houses. The set is booster only, so you won’t be able to find a pre-constructed Greyjoy starter, but there is a Greyjoy House card in the set (in the uncommon slot), and income/discount providing locations in common slots. Through collation, I also did my best to make damn sure you can build a decent Greyjoy deck without a huge investment. While Euron is a rare, he is not absolutely necessary to every Greyjoy deck (in the same way that Tywin Lannister is a good card, but not a must in every Lannister deck).
I’ll make sure to show off a few common and uncommon Greyjoy cards in the near future, to give you an idea of just what this brutal House is capable of.
Three Degrees of Playtesting
After I complete my initial design document, it goes into a round of what I like to call "theory testing" (told you I’d get around to explaining this). Put simply, this is when a bunch of people—notably my colleagues—take a look at the cards, and we begin a cursory round of analysis. Some cards that are clearly too powerful or bad for the game for other reasons can be spotted at this level, before any real playtesting begins. As I said, I always try to be gutsy and throw in some cards that at least seem to be environment-defining. This causes my colleagues no end of grief, and some cards get thrown out the window before any playtesters get to see them (which, to be honest, is for the best…somebody has to keep the wacky designer in check). Cards thrown out like this are known as "broken in theory."
After theory testing ends and the basic revisions are complete, some preliminary playtesting is done. This is fairly enclosed and private, and tends to involve a lot of arguments (as do all creative development processes). It also puts some of our theory testing to the test, so to speak. All those cards that looked to be ridiculously overpowered on paper get tested to see if decks using them really do win a disproportionate number of times. At this stage, we catch more problems. But, naturally, we can’t catch everything.
The third stage of testing involves players outside the company. These players and their playtest groups are hand picked by yours truly, and are given a set amount of time to look over and try to abuse all the new cards. This stage of playtesting is invaluable, as we then get a sneak preview of the public’s reaction to our new cards. During this stage rarity, art and flavor text are assigned, and the last batch of changes are made to the cards.
During stage three of playtesting, Euron made quite an impression on the players, and it was noticed very quickly that he is only the second character printed with all three challenge icons. Ultimately, the general reaction to this badass was essentially what I wanted: people took notice, initially fearing he would be far overpowered, but eventually commented that he is "powerful, but not game-breaking...and a lot of fun."
A Feast for Crows
I can imagine many of our "Ned" players reading this article and thinking "dear gods, how come Euron Crow’s Eye is so powerful? I don’t remember reading that much about him in the books!" A fair question indeed.
What I can say is this: many of the characters, locations and events from ASOS are based on the forthcoming novel in the series—and, out of respect for the author, I must ask that you do not email him to ask when it’s coming =). Our next expansion set is also going to feature a lot of new material.
I had some difficult decisions to make with this set; there is a bunch of really cool Greyjoy-centric stuff in the book, but nobody wanted this set to act as a "spoiler." So let’s just leave it at this, Ned: read A Feast for Crows, and you’ll see why he was designed this way. Think of it this way, you now have another reason to look forward to the new book!
Join me next week, when we get to see why challenges will never be the same.