It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the season of spring, it was the season of taxes and April snow, our hopes were for the Legacy Packs, our fears were of printer trouble and regrettable delays, we had everything before us, we had nothing in our hands, we were looking forward to Nationals, and looking back at the glory of ChiCon. In short, the period was so far like the present that… wait! It is the present!
Fortunately, that tumultuous period shall soon be left behind, as the Game of Thrones Collectible Card Game is poised and ready to go "As High As Honor," into its most thrilling and competitive convention season ever, with the Wardens of the East, the Arryns, taking center stage in the House of Talons expansion.
I had a lot of fun working with Eric and Luke on the design and development of this set, and it's looking very much like the crown jewel of the Iron Throne block. The set appeals to me both in its "big picture" vision and scope, as well as in many of its minute particulars, and it really does have something for everyone. I'm going to kick off our House of Talons spoiler series with a fast overview that takes a look at those big picture themes and ideas, and then over the next few weeks we'll take a look at a number of specific cards and some of those minute details, right up until they day you're tearing into your very first pack.
A House of Talons
At the heart of the House of Talons expansion are the Arryns, who are making their debut appearance in the game. Their presence was the first thing we discussed in our initial conferences on what we wanted to do with this set, they were the first cards we designed and tested, and, to some extent, these cards then guided and informed every subsequent decision that was made.
There were a number of thematic concepts that we seized upon and tried to capture as we worked on these cards. First and foremost, the Arryns, in Martin's novels, are "aloof and apart." In the game they are going to do their own thing in their own way. (For example, check out the new "set-up replacement" mechanic of The Eyrie over there on the left: yes, you do get the cards out of your deck and put them into play before drawing your set-up hand.) With the High Seat of the Arryns being perhaps the most unassailable position in all of Westeros, stability is another theme that will define Arryn presence in the game, and you'll find them particularly difficult to dislodge and defeat: closing out a game against a well-built Arryn deck can give you fits! Finally, while the Eyrie is quite the defensive position, it does not house a large number of men, and it does not need to. "Character-lite" has always been looked upon as something of a "bogeyman" that haunts the fringes of the game, but when you're defending a fortress like the Eyrie it might only take a few men to defeat an army.
A Foil For Every Falcon
As we moved out from the Eyrie, into the Vale and its surrounding mountains, we realized that our beloved Arryns needed a foil, and what better foil than the clansman hordes of the Mountains of the Moon? Clansman decks will be back with a vengeance in House of Talons, and they'll be the natural thorn in the side of anyone who wants to play Arryn. There is a little twist, though, and these clansman decks may not be exactly what you'd expect…
Back to Westeros
As you may remember, one of our design principles for the Iron Throne block was to work with a "back to Westeros" perspective, and a number of cards and themes captured the nostalgia and history that is now a part of the game. You'll find the continuation of this theme in the House of Talons expansion, but you can also see it played out over the entire block: Westeros introduced a core environment in the base set, added the Greyjoys in Sea of Storms, and the Targaryens in Flight of Dragons; the Iron Throne block introduced a core environment in its base set, added the Tyrells in House of Thorns, and introduces the Arryns in House of Talons. Combined with a number of reprints in the soon-to-hit-the-shelves Legacy Packs, we really have gotten back to our Westerosi roots.
The Development of a Theme
The Iron Throne base set gave us some clusters of cards that were designed around an interesting, flavorful new card feature: the Crest. At the time, the idea of building a deck around one of these Crests was but a glimmer in the eyes of our most intrepid players. They dabbled, and used the Crest mechanics where they could, and hoped for a little more. With the post House of Thorns metagame, Crest-based decks have started coming into their own and making players take note. With House of Talons, these card clusters will be strong enough to make any of the Crests a viable weapon to use as the centerpiece of a tournament deck.
Another "Island of Cool" (to quote lead designer Eric Lang) in the House of Talons expansion is the second wave of cards that were designed around a specific challenge concept. As you may recall, House of Thorns brought the intrigue challenge and the intrigue icon into the spotlight, and the intrigue Houses have thrived in that environment. House of Talons will bring the other "neglected" challenge onto the stage, with a plethora of cards that are designed with the "Power Matters" theme in mind. The power challenge, the power icon, and the power counters themselves will matter more than ever before in the post House of Talons environment. It should make for an interesting metagame - the Tyrells and the "Intrigue Matters" theme of 'Thorns hasn't gone anywhere - as the two concepts (Intrigue Matters and Power Matters) and their champions fight for center stage, the military challenge (which has historically held the ground of being the "best" challenge) may wind up as the odd man out for the first time ever. But as we've seen on many occasions in the Game of Thrones universe, being slightly removed from the spotlight may just be the surest route to the top. Time, and summer tournaments, will tell…
I'm looking forward to showing you some of the secrets of the House of Talons expansion set, but next week you will hear from a far more talented player than I as World Champion Matt Ley shares his own card, and his thoughts on the "Design a Card" contest. It truly is the best of times…
And from the desk of LUke: Should this iteration of The Eyrie not tickle your fancy, check out this bad boy, available through our pre-order promotion for this expansion.
Discuss this R&D Corner on the boards here.
Ed. Note: Hammer-jacks make for pounding headaches.