Tired of Tywin? Thought so…
One of my favorite ongoing discussions surrounding this game is the abstract “Which challenge type is the most important?” It’s obvious enough that in any specific game situation a certain challenge type is going to become the most critical, but it’s fun to occasionally take a step back from those specifics and try to look at things from a more generalized perspective. A slightly different question that examines the game from the same angle (but perhaps with a little more scope) is “Which challenge icon is the most important?”
Up to this point, R&D has approached the game with the attitude that all three challenge types, and all three challenge icons, are equally important and more or less “balanced” in how they affect the game. Put to the Sword, Tears of Lys, Contested Claim. Superior Tactics, Superior Politics, Superior Claim. Small Council, War of the Five Kings, Heir to the Iron Throne. Castellan, Counselor, Steward. The Streets. Assassination, Invasion, Conspiracy. Everywhere you look, it seems, you are encountering these triads of cards or effects that are built around the belief that all challenges and challenge icons are created equal. No More Games. “Equality” and “balance” are concepts that look good on paper or in theory, but in reality they tend to come up short, and rarely exist anywhere except in our minds.
With House of Thorns, R&D has for the first time in the history of the game done away with the (admittedly illusionary) concept that the challenge types and the challenge icons need to have equal representation and be, in a word, balanced. Instead, the challenges and their corresponding icons are going to start acting a little more like the Houses, coming into and out of favor and strength, etching out their own unique tier in the metagame. What’s that? You like balance and you’re not convinced? Well, keep in mind that perfect balance leads to a perfect stalemate 100% of the time, and building a competitive deck for the Game of Thrones CCG is an exercise in creating imbalances between that deck and everything else you’re expecting to see in a given tournament field, and then exploiting those imbalances as you play. Further, even in a game like chess, where both sides have an identical composition of force and there is no random element or hidden information, it is the imbalances that arise throughout the course of a game (the simplest and most subtle example being the right to move, a more obvious case being the sacrifice of a piece for open lines and the attacking initiative) that make the conflict interesting. Even in sports, it’s the differences—the crafty veteran against the talented but inexperienced rookie, the well-coached technician against the innovative but undisciplined free-stylist, strength against speed against endurance—that keep us coming back for more.
When I think of the Tyrells, I think of the Queen of Thorns and the shadows and spiders that creep through the forgotten corners of the rose garden. I think of Margaery charming her way into a seat of power. I think of the Knight of Flowers, using the “Mare in Heat” to outwit and defeat the more powerful and dangerous Ser Gregor Clegane in a joust. With these thoughts, the obvious challenge icon to feature in a set based on the Tyrells was intrigue. And so from a desire to add another tier to the metagame by manipulating the relative impact of the challenges and their icons, and matching our first step along that tier to the Nedly focus of the set, one of AHoTh’s themes was born: Intrigue Matters.
The Tyrells aren’t the only players in AHoTh, however, and you’d be surprised how many ways there are to make intrigue “matter” a little more in the game. Over the next couple weeks we’ll take a look at a few of these ways, starting with… the Boltons? Yes, House Bolton is back with a vengeance in House of Thorns, and if Olenna isn’t careful they might just end up stealing the show! The Bastard’s Recruits is a solid “meat and potatoes” House Bolton card that ties the “intrigue matters” theme of the expansion into our larger, block-oriented, “back to Westeros” approach. Anyone who misses playing (or playing against) the game’s original Wolf King, Robb Stark himself, should appreciate this card. Imagine bringing a couple of these across in a military challenge, and watch your opponent’s ranks thin before your eyes. And after taking into account some of the tricky things that can be done with the House Bolton trait (I’m not telling!), I get the feeling this card should be making it’s way into quite a few “Bolton” decks over the next couple months.
The end result, if The Bastard’s Recruits and those of their ilk start to terrorize the game? Well, people will start to take them into account when they build decks, and you’ll see a gradual increase in characters sporting an intrigue icon. With more people running more intrigue, though, it will be more difficult to make use of (or defend against) the intrigue challenge, and people will have to start running even more intrigue to keep up. At some point, though, someone will realize that with all this effort and energy being invested into the intrigue challenge and its icon, there’s a considerable amount of booty being left behind in the military and power fields, and sometimes it’s a heck of a lot easier to pick up what’s left behind than to face a powerful enemy head on. At which point The Blackfish and Robert and Victarion and the Dragons will creep back into the game, apologizing for their lack of intrigue but happy for the free pass they’re finding in the other challenge types… and The Bastard’s Recruits will be there, waiting for them all, with an axe
Stay tuned until next week, and we’ll take a look at how intrigue can matter in a completely different way. We might also have an FFG sealed league update for you later this week, and, if he can ever stop writing, lead Designer Eric Lang’s thoughts on the Winter Edition Hall of Shame are still in the works… that guy is just too hard on himself!
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Ed. Note: All the mysteries of FFG sealed league shall soon be revealed.