Saturday, 26 December 2015

Valar Morghulis

Hiatus became delays became a long period of silence.

For anybody waiting for my next update I'm afraid there won't be one, as I've sold my cards.  The creeping realisation hit me that while I was trying to understand the game, to build the best decks, understand the metagame... what I wasn't doing was actually enjoying playing the game.

I understand what I'm good at in card games, and also what I'm bad at.  A Game of Thrones LCG places my single biggest weakness (combat math) front and centre and builds almost the entire game around it with overlapping lines of attack across the different challenge types.  In other games I've played I've been able to build/play in a way that minimises my exposure to that weakness and maximises my strengths but it's very difficult to do that in A Game of Thrones, especially in a limited Core Set cardpool.

One week at my local gaming group I left the cards at home and played a bunch of other games instead, and had a much better evening.  I remembered that I was supposed to playing these games being I enjoyed them, not because they were a job to be endured.  The cards never came out again.

So, apologies to those who've been waiting in vain.  Hopefully you'll still find useful things in the pieces I've already written - they won't be going anywhere - but I'm going to turn the clock back 20 years and try my hand at miniature gaming for the first time since Magic: The Gathering was released and I traded my Space Wolves and Striking Scorpions for Hurloon Minotaurs and Serra Angels.

I may blog about X-Wing, which is where I'm going, but for the time being I'm going to try and just enjoy playing the game before I worry too much about trying to master it.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


A quick note for anyone wondering why there's been a bit of a break... I'm getting married in a week or so and it's kind of taken over my life, so there's no time for blogging or graphing, or charting or any of that good stuff.

Normal service will be resumed, until then just go and play some more cards!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Day One: The State of the Realm

Well, it's been a few months since I started my blog... and the A Game of Thrones LCG Core Set is finally here.  I actually have it in my actual hands!

So, after a few months of preparation the game is here and you can rush out to your nearest Friendly Local Game Store and purchase it (probably with three copies if you're pretty sure you're going to be getting serious about things).  But even though the game is brand new in stores we're in a rather odd place in that a lot of people (myself included) have actually been playing the game quite a lot already.

A lucky few secured actual copies at Gencon several months ago while FFG's printers were busily hoarding enough stock for the full release, many others took advantage of the super-helpful .pdfs of the cards that were posted online to create paper copies of the game to play in proxy form, and more still took advantage of the fact that the online tabletop platform OCTGN was updated to include the new cards.

The end result is the rather odd position that on Day One of the LCG hitting stores we actually know quite a lot about which cards and good and bad, and which strong decks people have found so far.  This absolutely isn't to say that there's nothing to explore or new decks to make, by the way.  The number of people about to descend on the game in stores far outnumbers those who have played to date and they could well find something new.  More games will be played, more combinations explored, more strategies tested.  The outcome of all that collective brainstorming is unknown, but the purpose of this blog is give all those guys a bit of a leg up by talking about what has been worked out so far.


If you've been one of those players tuning into the forum discussions about 2nd Edition then you'll probably agree that almost all of the focus has been around the strength of two factions in particular - Greyjoy and Baratheon.  In the very early days after Gencon, when people were first trying cards out, it was the Greyjoy deck that crystallised first.  With a bank of powerful characters using the Stealth keyword, impressive bonuses from launching unopposed challenges (eg. by using Stealth), and a strong suite of supporting Locations and Events it was clear almost immediately that the Greyjoys had what it takes to stand alone without needing to call a banner to their aid from anybody else, which meant they could benefit from the economy bonus of playing Fealty as their Agenda.

Playing against the Greyjoy Fealty deck is not pleasant, especially if you're new to the game and attempting to work out what your deck is supposed to look like.  I know how unpleasant it is for a fact because that was precisely my first experience of the A Game of Thrones LCG... being swept aside by angry ninja vikings.  My 'I think I want to try the Night's Watch, they sound cool' deck never stood a chance.  Before you go ahead and unleash the Greyjoys on an unsuspecting friend who you're trying to teach the game to then it's probably best to pre-warn them that they're about to have no fun at all, because that's pretty much what the Greyjoys do - they reduce your opponent to a spectator.

At the heart of the Greyjoy assault is a suite of options that make opposing their challenges either impossible (Stealth on Theon, Asha and Wendamyr, Kraken's Grasp, Balon Greyjoy) or unpleasant to attempt (Throwing Axe, Iron Fleet Scout, Drowned Men).  Unopposed challenges then allow the Greyjoys to trigger benefits as well as their standard claim effects (draw cards with Great Kraken, remove locations with We Do Not Sow, stand characters like Asha or gain power with Theon, etc...).

The Greyjoy war machine is very difficult to stop, as they Stealth past your characters with impunity and simply race away with the game while you have very little to say about it.  Character removal effects are at a premium in the Core Set and Stealth, which doesn't kill characters but does ignore them quickly established itself as the best pseudo-removal option around, propelling Greyjoy to public enemy #1.

This is a sample Greyjoy Fealty deck from Core Set, and I don't want to labour their strengths too much before I move on to Baratheon, but what's important to bear in mind is just how dominant Greyjoy initially seemed (and how potent and cohesive their Core Set cardpool still is)


If you go back to read my initial 'Review of the Review of Baratheon' blog then I described them as a faction where the power flowed outwards from their strongest cards - Robert Baratheon and Stannis Baratheon, which then transferred out through Melisandre and The Red Keep to give Baratheon control effects and the best card draw of any faction.  That initial read of how Baratheon works created quite an inconsistent deck, where if you drew your best cards you could dominate anybody but would pretty rapidly capitulate with a weaker draw.  In actual fact, you would often find that you didn't even have 60 cards you really liked in a Baratheon deck and were playing something just to make up the numbers in the hope you wouldn't actually draw it.

The matchup between Baratheon and the strong Greyjoy deck was very testing, because the Baratheon needed to draw particularly well to be able to control/race the Stealth of the Greyjoys unless they got something like the Robert & Lightbringer & Stannis lock to keep all their cards kneeling the entire game.

Baratheon was one of the decks with the best chance against Greyjoy, but even then you were hoping for a slice of good fortune.  That was Baratheon - hugely powerful one game and impotent the next, while Greyjoy was more consistently a threat in every game.

But we had missed a card.  The Chamber of the Painted Table - which had been rated at only 62% in the initial CardgameDB reviews of the Core Set - has turned out to be an absolute powerhouse, particularly in combination with The Iron Throne.  What the Iron Throne/Painted Table combination (or 'Table & Chairs' as I call it) has brought to Baratheon is twofold, both of which filled a gap that we didn't realise the deck really had.
  1. First of all, Chamber of the Painted Table is very good at ensuring that you don't actually lose the game on Power before you can draw your best cards.  If you don't draw Melisandre/Robert then the Chamber of the Painted Table will keep incrementally pulling back the Power scores in your direction even if you're losing the board position horribly.  It's easily worth a couple of extra turns in a game you were losing, which is a bunch more cards drawn as you look for Robert Baratheon or Stannis to come and save the day.
  2. Secondly, Chamber of the Painted Table gives Baratheon a real plan for how they're going to win.  In my 'Review of the Review of...' I pointed out that Melisandre's kneeling effects were good temporary removal, but without Stannis to prevent characters from standing it was difficult to turn that into long term advantage.  Chamber of the Painted Table means that you don't HAVE to turn it into a long term advantage, you just have to keep kneeling things long enough for the table to get you to 15 Power and the end of the game.

Pretty much as soon as the 'Table & Chairs' version of Baratheon Fealty arrived on the scene it shoved the old Baratheon decks aside, and it shifted the narrative away from "God I hate Greyjoy" to "OMFG how are you supposed to beat Baratheon?". 

Which is a fair question, so let's look at the strengths of Baratheon:
  • Best marquee characters?  Check (Robert Baratheon is the best character by a mile)
  • Most efficient control?  Check (hard to beat 'free' kneeling on Melisandre, Stannis and Robert)
  • Best Card Draw?  Check (The Red Keep is by far the best card draw location in Core Set)
  • Most resilience to removal?  Check (Maester Cressen kills Milk of the Poppy, Selyse Baratheon protects from Tears of Lys)
  • Best Power generation?  Check (Chamber of the Painted Table)

You can't take on Baratheon's characters in a heads-up fight, you can't kill them easily, they draw more cards than you and they stop your cards from doing anything.  Baratheon's impact on the Core Set games was extremely oppressive, and not many serious players would have contested that Baratheon were/are the strongest faction.

Moreover, in combination with the Greyjoys the strength of Baratheon created an unhealthy metagame for the small Core Set cardpool.  Baratheon kneeling beat the Greyjoy stealth (you can't Stealth when you're kneeling!) but if you wanted to try anything in the other six factions then the combination of the amount of kneeling and stealth being played made it a very tough environment for any new deck to find a niche and survive.

Having the Baratheons as the strongest faction by far may be a flavourful representation of the state of Westeros at the beginning of the novels, but it doesn't make for a great and varied card game unfortunately!


This narrative of Baratheon oppression changed somewhat when Alexander Hynes (aka Istaril) shared the Lannister deck that he had devised as a specific counter to the two dominant decktypes being played.

The Lannister deck had been well explored by many other players, but was ultimately found wanting.  Yes, you could Intrigue the opponent's hand away with Cersei and Tyrion, and yes you could draw a bunch of cards with Lannisport.  But when all that advantage was happening off the table, and on the table Tywin and Jaime were being knelt/stealthed past it was all somewhat academic.  Congratulations, you've got far more cards in hand than me... but you've no characters in play and I'm on 12 Power to your 3.

Istaril's Lannister deck is different precisely because of how much it plays down the classic Lannister strength of Intrigue card advantage and replaces it with more board control elements to ensure that you don't lose the game through Military at the same time as you're trying to win it with Intrigue.  More specifically, Istaril found a spot for two cards that had been largely ignored to date by many of the other early players.  In a similar way to how the Chamber of the Painted Table transformed how Baratheon played, adding Seal of the Hand and Varys gave the Lannisters the tools to counter both kneeling and Stealth.  

Getting all your characters knelt?  Stand them!  Opponent's characters waltzing past your defences with Stealth?  Discard everything from play and start again!  And on top of that, the Ambush in Lannister works well in both matchups as you can play characters after Baratheon has knelt targets, or Greyjoy has nominated who they will Stealth past. =

In truth by focussing on those two cards I'm horribly underplaying some of the subtleties in this Lannister build, and in particular the bravery it took to slay so many of the sacred cows of Lannister in the process.  By slaying sacred cows I'm talking about deckbuilding decisions such as removing Cersei Lannister to play Wildling Horde and Rattleshirt's Raiders, or removing Casterly Rock and Western Fiefdom to play Seal of the Hand and Put To The Sword.  But by taking those significant steps to rebalance the Lannister deck away from Intrigue towards a strong suite of board control effects is precisely what makes this deck work.


The recent development of this Lannister deck could be very important for the health of the Core Set metagame, and on until the Chapter Packs start to really shake things up.  On one level it's simply important to have a deck that can fight back against the manner that the Baratheon and Greyjoy Fealty decks tore away at your ability to defend yourself meaningfully.  Secondly, if the Lannister deck gains traction and is played by many people then it reduces the amount of Baratheon and Greyjoy being played, which in turn creates a more forgiving environment for the other houses to attempt to flourish.  It's also useful for the other houses to note that the Lannister deck is so focussed on beating Baratheon and Greyjoy (including niche cards like Seal of the Hand) that there are chinks in the armour for other houses to exploit.

It may not be very 'Nedly' for the devious Lannisters to be cast in the role of protector of the realm, standing up for the little guys, but that's what is happening.

So, here we are.  Day One.  The game is in stores, and really everything else has just been the warm up routine for the real play - tournaments and competitions will test decks more rigorously than players have managed so far.

So are there only three decks to play?  Do you just pick one of these three?

No, absolutely not.  This is what a lot of players have focussed on (and with good reason) but the arrival of the Lannisters in particular has opened things up for the other factions - Targaryen in particular could be well-positioned to burn down the key characters of the Lannisters and destroy Seals and Bodyguards along the way.  As well as what the other factions can deliver these three decks are all running no Banner, and there's dozens of House/Banner combinations to explore.

Is Baratheon/Martell better than Baratheon/Fealty?

Is Lannister the best banner for Greyjoy, or is it Tyrell?

I've got a Stark deck I think is very strong.  Other players are getting good results with Night's Watch, Targaryen and Martell decks.  The picture of the wider metagame is still unclear, but if you're just jumping in now then what we DO know is that the Greyjoy, Baratheon and Lannister decks are setting the standard, and defining the narrative.  

These three decks are not the end of the story of this LCG, not by a long shot, but they might just be where the story starts.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Relative Importance of Challenges

I've spent so long blogging about the Core Set card reviews that I've almost forgotten that it's not really what I want to be blogging about.  What drives people to play games is often very different, some are competitive, some are casual, some are social, some just enjoy escapism into the game world.... but for me the main reason I play games is to try and 'solve' them.  I approach games from the sense of trying to learn the language of the game design and understand underlying mechanics - what lies behind the rules of the game.

This is very true in video games as well as in board games, and it's just as true that often the language of game design common across multiple games (but can also be very unique to a particular game).  So in video games you'll often find hidden rewards in hard to reach places - a health potion, a new weapon, a shiny golden star to collect.  These are all rewards for exploring the game more fully and they've become so common across multiple games that players expect them to be there and will explore, and because players have learned to explore designers have learned to put something there to reward them for doing so.
Nowadays we find a locked door in a video game and we understand that the language of the game was that the door is there for a reason.  If there's a door there must be a key, and even if we don't need to open the door to progress onto the next level the door has to be there for some reason.  So we hunt for the key, we look in every corner and  tap every wall looking for a hidden cupboard... because we know there has to be a key.  And then we find the key, and we open the door, and there's an extra life inside.  We explored and were rewarded, hurrah!
This all happens because somebody designed the game world with us in mind.
Try that in real life.  A locked door stays locked because it's not for us.  It's for the maintenance man, whose path through the 'level' of our office block has nothing to do with our path as a 'player' (or worker).  If you hunt in every desk drawer in the office and pull the water cooler apart you still won't find the key for that door, because it's not been designed that we should have access.  And if we did somehow get it open, say we found a crowbar or drilled the lock (showing lateral problem-solving thinking, as some games require) would we find an extra life behind that door?  No.  We'd probably find controls for the air conditioning and an old mop and bucket.
Skyrim is a great example of a game that has a specific language you can learn.  Skyrim is a game of adventuring into dungeon after dungeon, going deeper and deeper into the earth through labyrinthine mazes of enemies and traps.  At the end of each dungeon will be a boss - we learn this very quickly, and indeed we learned it from hundreds of games before Skyrim - and if we defeat that boss there will be a reward.  And then after we claim our reward do we have to run back up through that whole dungeon we just cleared?  No!  Because in Skyrim every secret undead lair, every vampire's tomb, every dwarven ruin or spider's lair has a handy shortcut back to the surface right behind the boss!  You soon learn that this is part of the design language, and so when you enter an unfamiliar cavern and defeat an unfamiliar boss you know to look for the shortcut out, because you know there will be one.
But it wasn't in the manual that the shortcut would be there.  It's not a mechanic of the game or of any of the items you pick up or classes you play or quests you choose.  It's deeper than than all that.
And I love things like this.  I love decoding how games were designed and how they work.  The attraction of any game, for me, is seeing beyond the rules and the playing pieces to the mechanism underneath and, often, discovering what the game is actually about.

Where was I?  Oh yes, this is a blog about the A Game of Thrones LCG. 
I wanted to talk about Challenges, and the relative value of the three different types of challenges you can make.  It's a debate I've seen a few times: what's more important, Military, Intrigue or Power?  On the CardgameDB forums I saw somebody post "we all agree it's Intrigue > Power > Military" and literally the first reply was somebody saying "no, it's the reverse, Military > Power > Intrigue".
So, which is the right way around?
Well, first of all the most obvious answer is 'it depends'.  It depends on the board state - a military challenge when your opponent has Robert Baratheon as their only character is much better than a military challenge when they've got three cheap characters to lose as well, and a Power challenge to gain your 15th Power and win the game is a lot better than a Power challenge to claim your first Power.  It also depends on the cards in hand or play, so Plaza of Punishment makes Power challenges more important, Lannisport makes Intrigue challenges better, and so forth.
But going deeper than that, underlying the specific board states or cards we've drawn in games, which is more important?  All other things being equal, should I be throwing a Military challenge or an Intrigue challenge?
Again, I think it depends, but this time I think it depends in a way that we can begin to use to help us form decision making, around both the plays we make and the decks that we build.  This time it depends based on what point of the game we're in...

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL Military challenges are best in the first few turns of the game, that's when being a dominant military force is most likely to turn into a win.  This is because typically your opponent's ability to play new characters is going to outstrip your ability to kill characters, especially if you're only using Military claims to do so.  In the early game you've the greatest chance of being able to kill all of your opponent's characters with a surge of claims and kills.  Ultimately you can then lock them off the board by killing any character they try to play after that.  As the game progesses your opponent plays more and more characters, or duplicates and Bodyguards, so he has more and more 'padding' around his key cards and your Military claims lose value.
I've seen the term 'pillow fort' used a few times and that refers to times when you have so many cheap characters out that however hard your opponent hits you with Military claim it doesn't really hurt.  It's very difficult to have that on turn 1, but will naturally develop over time if you allow it to.
So is Military useless if you can't start it straight away?  No, but you usually need to work much harder to make it relevant again.  This is why I still use Wildfire Assault in my aggressive Military decks even though my main plan should see me with lots of characters and my opponents having none.  I need Wildfire Assault because if Plan A doesn't work (I get a poor setup, my opponent opens with A Game of Thrones as his plot, etc) then I need to be able to break apart his pillow fort with Wildfire Assault on turn 3 or 4 and then try and capitalise from there to make my Military claims count.


ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL Power challenges become more important as the game nears a conclusion and one player gets close to winning.  In the early game it's more important to be trying to gain tactical advantages on the board with Military or taking cards away from your opponent with Intrigue - you could fight hard to gain power today at the price of sacrificing power in the next three turns if your characters are all dead or your hand is discarded.
As players get towards 10 power, though, it becomes a red alert for power challenges and the importance of the board position switches - now you could fight for Military control only to find the game ends before you can really make that advantage work for you if your opponent is happy to sit back and use Dominance and a couple of Power challenges to win the game.

I left Intrigue for last because it's perhaps the most complex to understand, but ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL Intrigue challenges are best during a window of a few turns in the middle of the game. 
So why is this?
Well, in the first few turns of the game the danger of being locked out by losing all your characters to Military challenges is likely to be your main focus of attention.  Also in the early game your opponent has a relatively big hand of cards, and although taking any card out of his hand is good there's a good chance that taking him down to 5 cards instead of 6 won't really affect too badly what he wants to do on his next turn.  Intrigue challenges in the early game are good because they lead into making stronger Intrigue challenges in the midgame a turn earlier than you would otherwise get to that point, but in terms of immediate impact they're usually less important than Military.
Towards the end of the game your opponent has likely played out most of the cards in his hand and unless he's got a really strong draw engine like The Red Keep or The Mander he's probably down to topdecking two cards each turn and putting them into play, leaving you with little in the way of a target for Intrigue challenges.
In the midgame, though, when you're not in danger of losing your best cards to Military challenges and your opponent has only a moderately sized hand, is when Intrigue really shines.  This is where you can rip the last couple of cards from your opponent and force him into topdecking mode a couple of turns early, while you still have extra ammunition in hand.  At that point, ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL, you should be able to win through simply having more cards than your opponent, which should turn into more successful Military challenges, more successful Power challenges, winning more Dominance phases... and ultimately victory.

All together now: it depends!
The real answer isn't that one is more important than the others, the real answer is that when you're building your deck with a strategy of Military/Intrigue/Power in mind you need to be aware of which part of the game you're trying to dominate.  A slow Military deck is probably going to struggle to make their challenges meaningful, likewise a quick Power deck will race to 7 or 8 power and then find that all of their characters are dead and they've no cards in hand, and so find themselves eventually overtaken on the way to 15 power.  Intrigue decks, on the other hand, have to play a careful balancing act and be ready to take control of the game halfway through and make the advantage count of forcing your opponent into topdecking mode.
And none of this is in the rulebook.  There's no card that makes Military challenges better on the first turn than any other turn, no card that means your Intrigue challenges discard more cards on turn three than they do on turn one.  The only thing similar is the broad strength boosts that Doran Martell gives out based on your plot discard deck, but those aren't tied to a specific type of challenge.
The question of which challenge is most important is defined by the underlying game mechanics.  The relative strength of Military and Intrigue challenges comes about because of the balance between the rate at which players can draw and play cards, while the late game inevitability of Power challenges comes about because the amount of Power in the game ticks up throughout the game through Dominance, unopposed challenges and Renown.  If you played with the core mechanics of the game like this the balance between the challenge types would be disrupted - make characters more expensive and Military challenges get better, for instance, give players more cards and gold each turn and they'd get worse.
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL the balance of the game is such that the various challenges all have their time to really shine and define who wins games.  Understanding why and when each challenge is going to be strongest is a good first step in learning to think about the game on a deeper level than what is written on the cards or in the rulebook.
And that's why I play games.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Core Set - Card Power Rankings - Old Gods & The New Edition

In my last blog I shared my way of creating some power rankings for the cards in the Core Set, based on the scores that the cards got in the CardgameDB reviews for those factions.
As I've gone through the reviews I've been pointing out where I agree/disagree materially with how they've rated cards and for my last trick I'm going to re-rate the cards and factions having made some changes to a few cards, and I'll explain my rationale behind those changes.
Now I've deliberately avoided going through the reviews and saying things like "they only gave this 67% and I think it's easily 70%, maybe 71%" because differences that small are purely about personal taste.  I'm going to adjust for cards where I think they're out by 10-20% or more, which will have a bigger impact on the rankings and house standings.

So, in big bold letters so it's clear:
These ratings are affected by my own experiences playing the game and reflect my personal opinion at time of writing.  Ten other experienced players provided the original scores that I'm changing.  There's a good chance I'm wrong and they're right. 
With that out of the way, here is the summary of what I've changed...
What this creates is a much clearer distinction between the three strongest factions, which I think are the only ones people are really seeing more success from in Fealty builds, while casting the other five factions as all being very equal overall.

Up - I'm a massive fan of Iron Fleet Scout (CGDB rated 78%) and I think it's maybe the most obviously undercosted card in the entire set, or desperately needed to be Limited.  Having played Greyjoy a lot I'm also aware of just how important Stealth is to their battle plan and to my mind Theon Greyjoy (CGDB: 80%) is pretty much essential alongside Asha as part of that Stealth suite.
Down - I think the importance of Aeron (88%) is lower in such an aggressive Stealth-heavy deck as Greyjoy is, and while Maester Wendamyr (88%) has Stealth is still a good card I think he's less important than Theon.  Euron Crow's-Eye (80%) is a big hitter for 7 gold but I think he got a bit of a better rub of the green than he deserved for some relatively minor abilities (I think 2 gold from Tywin is much more important), and the Drowned Men (58%) are a pretty average Army to bring to the table, and if King's Hunting Party and Vanguard of the North only rate 48% I don't see why these are any better.



Up - none
Down - I broadly agreed with almost every card in Lannister, I just don't think Joffrey Baratheon (68%) really deserves his score unless you're handing him his crossbow every time.


Up - Stannis Baratheon's rating (64%) was a controversial mix of high and low scores, and I'm firmly in the pro-Stannis camp.  I think Consolidation of Power (65%) makes for great tempo control in a faction that can capitalise in it the best of all, and the Baratheon card that has most impressed me is Chamber of the Painted Table (62%), which forms a potent combination with The Iron Throne to make Baratheon a formidable foe - I've seen many games where Baratheon never really control the board but manage to win anyway by sucking power counters over to their side of board in Dominance.
Down - The one card I think they overvalued is Maester Cressen (88%), he plays an important role in saving Robert Baratheon from drinking Milk of the Poppy but outside of this narrow function I think he's a pretty average character.


UP - None
DOWN - As I pulled down the Drowned Men I'm going to do the same with the Unsullied (80%).  I said in my Targaryen review that I think a lot of cards got a bit overrated just because they worked with Dracarys! and that's part of why I bring down the Unsullied, and I also take a little bit off the three dragon Hatchlings.  The last card I changed was Handmaiden (78%) as she might have some nice interactions down the line but with only one Lady in Targaryen at present she's very narrow and I don't think she rates as highly as they put her.


Up - I like the character removal in Stark, and although Ice (58%) is expensive I think 3 Gold is a fair price to pay for something that's a hybrid of Widow's Wail and an improved Put to the Sword in one card.  Similarly undervalued is Grey Wind (55%), without Robb Stark he's a fair military body with Intimidate that you're not embarassed to play and when Robb is around he devours claim soak and makes all your military challenges that much better, a key part of Stark's battle plan.
Down - The flipside is that even thought Stark doesn't have much Intrigue I don't rate either of their Intrigue characters highly.  You'll play them just because you have to fill the Intrigue gap somehow, but I think both Catelyn Stark (95%) and Sansa Stark (85%) were given generous ratings compared to similar cards like Cersei (much better than Catelyn, just 5% more) or Alannys Greyjoy (similar stats to Sansa, though no Power gain, 54%) and I'd pull their scores down a bit.  I'd also slightly tweak down Gates of Winterfell (83%) because it's the worst card draw location in the game, card draw is still important and Gate is a Stark Fealty essential, but that doesn't mean it's actually good.


Up - I rate highly the 'much better when going second' combination of Sunspear (60%) and Palace Spearman (64%), which I think is one of the better Armies as basically a 4STR tricon.  I think Sunspear might actually be on the few reasons to play Martell in Core Set and I definitely value that card more highly.
Down - Arianne Martell (96%) is a solid character and the potential is there for her to do really dirty tricks in future but outside of Areo Hotah trickery there's not a great deal for her to do in Core Set.


Up - None
Down - I was pretty scathing about Old Forest Hunter (78%) in my review of Night's Watch cards and nothing I've seen since has changed my mind any.  I think Longclaw (85%) suffers in comparison to other weapons like Widow's Wail, Ice and even Dawn or Heartsbane, and really only adds significant value to Jon Snow.  The last card I would rate more poorly is A Meager Contribution (85%), as it never seems to annoy your opponent quite as much as you'd expect - in 2nd Edition the other player is often leaving a gold or two spare to possibly play events so Meager rarely blocks them playing the character they want and they still get most of the value out of their turn.



Up -  I waxed lyrical about Highgarden (already rated 89%) in the Tyrell review and I would definitely make it a near-essential card in Tyrell decks.
Down - I said in my review that I think the Queen of Thorns (84%) was overvalued compared to some of the other 7 Gold characters and I'd bring her rating down, along with Olenna's Informants (78%).  Outside of alliance with the Lannisters it's really hard to keep gold up to ambush the Informants into play without telegraphing your intentions, and that hurts the card.
So, if you agree with all of the above (which probably nobody but me will, that's the nature of opinions)...
BEST IN HOUSE (Old Gods & The New Edition)

Core Set - Card Power Rankings

For the past few weeks I've been compiling the excellent CardgameDB reviews of the cards in the Core Set of A Game of Thrones LCG Second Edition.  You can see each of those reviews by clicking on the appropriate house sigil below...

 With all eight faction reviews complete I can now unveil the true reason behind why I've been compiling them in one place, namely using those reviews to help us compare the various factions and get some sense of the shape of power levels in the Core Set.  I'm going to do this by using the CardgameDB card rankings and applying a weighting to those scores that factors in either the gold cost (for characters) or what type of card it is (for non-characters) to get to a combined power ranking.

I'm using the CardgameDB reviews score rather my own personal opinion because this represents a blended average of the opinions of a number of for experienced A Game of Thrones LCG players.  The weighting that I'm using is above.  It's intended to reflect that a good 7 gold character is more powerful than a good 3 gold character, for example, but the modifier that I apply helps to flatten the gold advantage off and gives the good weenie characters the chance to rank above relatively average 6 gold characters.

 Why Are You Doing This?

I was always going to compare the factions but the need for applying some additional weighting occurred to me while I was writing the Night's Watch review.  I was trying to reconcile in my own mind why the high ratings for the individual Night's Watch cards wasn't translating into a strong faction when I actually played with them.  Part of this was down to a lack of synergy between cards but I also felt, as I said in the review, that the Night's Watch suffered from having it's support cards be good but the main hitters being weaker.  It felt as though having good expensive characters was more important in the Core Set metagame than having good cheap characters, and this was what was hurting the Night's Watch.

This weighting system is an attempt to adjust for that and thus get us closer to an actual power level for the cards.  I'd expect an average 5 cost card to be better than an average 2 cost card, in terms of quality of the card, and yet that difference was always apparent in the CardgameDB ratings system.

How Did You Define Your Weightings?

Partly through discussion with other players and partly through trial and error: making small tweaks and then looking at how they affected the rankings. 

I initially weighted characters only for gold but players I talked to strongly suggested this was undervaluing the best cheap character.  In retrospect they were almost certainly correct - by not giving Ser Jorah Mormont the chance to score highly I was dooming arguably the best 2 gold character from ever ranking above some decidedly average characters that were more expensive.  With this in mind I made several passes trying to balance up the weighting to boost cheaper characters and pull down the most expensive.

For the non-character cards I classified the card by what it was in order to apply a weighting, valuing card draw and character removal above other effects.  Again I made several passes of the weightings until I felt I had it close to correct - I wanted the best one-shot Events to rate highly enough to make the cut but I also wanted to ensure that cards like removal or card draw didn't completely dominate the lists and push all the good characters too far down.

One last thing to note: the two faction reducers (such as Illyrio's Palace and Targaryen Loyalist) were rated at 5.0 for the location and 2.5 for the characters.  Most of the time this doesn't matter as every faction has them, but in the case of The Night's Watch (which sees their location replaced by A Meagre Contribution) it's significant - Meagre Contribution is a great one-shot event, but it's a poor replacement for a permanent economy location.

So Is This A Definitive Power Ranking List?


I don't believe that would ever exist as card values are subjective and change with the local metagame and personal styles of play.  This is a combination of a blended average of 10 people's ratings of the cards, passed through another person's method for valuing those cards.  Hopefully you will find that you agree with these rankings more often than you disagree but I wouldn't want to suggest that this is taken as gospel.  This isn't necessarily how CardgameDB would rank cards and it isn't how I would rank the cards if I was doing it alone, but as a blend of the various viewpoints of the experience and knowledge of the players involved it hopefully produces something useful.

If you agree with the rankings and find this helpful, then good.  If you disagree but this sparks you thinking about things in a different way, or creates an interesting discussion, then good.


This immediately throws up some interesting observations.

Baratheon: relatively top-heavy, as I talked about in my review their power flows from a small number of cards (Robert, Red Keep, Melisandre).  In Robert Baratheon they probably have the single most dominant card in the Core Set and The Red Keep is probably the best card draw effect, but once you go beyond that the cards get rapidly worse.

Greyjoy & Lannister: they're the two most consistently strong factions, with both having a slew of good cards.  With a power score of 3.3 the 8th best Greyjoy card is as good as all but the best two Martell cards.

Martell and Targaryen: both houses are hugely dependent on their Loyal cards and this would make them poor choices to banner into other factions.

Night's Watch: although only two of the best Night's Watch cards are loyal there's a hidden message against bannering here, as Jon Snow, Maester Aemon, Longclaw and Benjen Stark all exist purely to buff Night's Watch characters.  So you CAN banner the Night's Watch, but you'd want to bring in a lot of characters, rather than just 12 cards, to really get the benefit.

Neutrals: three Neutral cards are demanding to be played - Littlefinger, Milk of the Poppy and Tears of Lys.  All the others are significantly weaker or only have a niche application so will be picked up only by players with a specific need for the card.

To my mind this list is quite solid, assuming you believe in the CardgameDB reviews that form the basis of it.  If I compare within factions I'm pretty happy with the rankings (Cressen is worse than Melisandre, better than Fiery Followers... Ser Jorah is better than an Unsullied, but not as good as Dracarys! or Khal Drogo). 

I also think it stands up relatively well to comparisons across the factions, for example Tyrion and Asha are both 5 gold Stealth characters with similar rankings... Robb Stark is probably slightly better than Jaime Lannister who is slightly better than The Knight of Flowers... Dracarys! is better than We Do Not Sow which is better than Confinement.

You can disagree with the placings of individual cards here and there but I think, overall, the list is a lot more right than it is wrong.


Compiling across the houses, this is therefore the Top 40 ranking for cards.

Effective card draw locations and the strongest characters in the game dominate the Top 10 spots, while slots 11-20 are primarily taken up by the best mid-range characters and powerful removal effects.  After that, slots 21-40 are less clearly structured, with a mixture of OK big guys (Ser Jaime Lannister, strong non-removal effects (Widow's Wail) and the best cheap characters (Ser Jorah, Greenblood Trader).


So what does this weighting do to the overall power rankings of the various factions?

This table shows how the original CardgameDB average % rating translates into a weighted Old Gods & The New (OG&TN) rating.  The biggest change is that the Cardgame DB reviews effectively gave us four good factions and four bad factions, while the weighting rankings create a bit more of an even spread, with Night's Watch coming down slightly and Baratheon jumping up towards the middle of the rankings.  The gap between the Greyjoys and the other houses is also shrunk a little.

There's also some interesting observations about where the weighting ranking is coming from, in that the Tyrell's have the clear worst characters in the Core Set but actually the third-best non-character cards, boosted by the strength of The Mander and Highgarden.  In the opposite direction the Targayen, Night's Watch and Stark factions have strong characters let down by weaker non-character cards like Dothraki Sea and Wolfswood.

The two factions that stand out at the head of the pack, Greyjoy and Lannister, combine solid characters with the best non-character cards in Core Set, and it's the non-character cards that really make the difference I would argue.  Core set characters are largely interchangeable - with not many exceptions everyone has a 5 gold character that's a threat, and a few annoying 3 gold characters that have powerful abilities or keywords like Insight or Stealth.  I would argue that it's having strong and cheap events (We Do Not Sow, Treachery), locations (Lannisport, Iron Fleet Scout) and attachments (Widow's Wail, Throwing Axe) that really help create a gamewinning edge over the other factions with less impactful cards.


I think there's plenty to digest there so please let me know what you think - what you agree with and disagree with.  Please try and remember that if CardgameDB didn't like a card then that's not my fault, though!

I'm also going to return to this in my next blog for a little bit of a more personal view, changing a few of the card rankings that I disagree with to get to something that more reflects my personal view on Core Set, as much for my own satisfaction as anything else!

Edit: a calculation screwup on my part originally rated the Tyrell cards wrongly, that is now corrected!