Sunday, 30 August 2015

Faction Review (Review): House Martell

Six factions down and just the two southern houses to come; Martell and Tyrell, both late to the game in the books, are a fitting place to be wrapping up the CardgameDB reviews of the Core Set factions.  Martells first and it seemed as though the reviewers were all on pretty much the same page in agreeing that this faction is still a work in progress.  Doran Martell doesn't play the game of thrones the same way as many of the other house leaders and, quite flavourfully, the Martell's don't really approach the LCG in the same way either.  You can see exactly what Martell are trying to do in trading early weakness and biding their time before delivering a lethal game-winning strike, but what's not so clear yet is that this plan is actually going to work.

Going back to my first review of the Starks I said that the word which sprang to mind was 'solid', while for the Lannisters it was 'powerful'.  For the Martell's I think the most telling word, both for its good connotations as much as the bad, is 'potential'.  There's a lot of potential power in Martell, there's a lot of potential for the future of the house... but right out of the Core Set box they might just be the weakest of the eight factions.

Let's talk about what the Martell plan actually is, though.  The dream would be doubling through the strength boosts from Doran Martell and Sunspear on the 7th turn to make the Martell's champion The Red Viper into an unstoppable 17-19 Strength threat, then launching an Intrigue challenge to play Doran's Game and cash in a huge amount of power at once (as much as 5 from Doran's Game, plus maybe 3 or 4 from The Red Viper's ability).  If you manage to pull this off then if you've accrued even a few points of Power in the game so far it could be enough to win the game outright in one challenge.

The downside to all this is how passive it makes you in turns 1-5 because so many of your best cards are waiting for the big payoff down the line.  In Doran Martell and The Red Viper the house has almost certainly got the two faction leaders who have the least impact when they're played.  Against a determined opponent the Martell house will find their house and their plan in tatters long before the masterplan can kick in.

Interestingly the Martell strategy might be one that works out better in Melee games than it does in Joust.  In Melee you can attempt to hide amongst the pack and let everyone else fight it out while you prepare for the strike, and in a melee game you're more likely to have a weak opponent to pick on when the time is right for Doran Martell to play his hand.  In Joust, when you're the sole focus of your opponent's ire, there's nowhere to hide and nobody to turn to for aid.


It's not all bad for Martell and there are some cards in particular that really stand out as good enough that any faction would be proud to call them their own.  The banner card for this is perhaps Ghaston Grey, which perhaps gives the single most certain and cost-effective solution to the best characters your opponents will play.  Ghaston Grey gives you the ability of the Lannister's The Things I Do For Love for a fraction of the cost and this is a crucial tempo play - TTIDFL costs you the same amount of gold to remove Robert Baratheon from play as it does to play him, Ghaston Grey lets you do that while paying only 2 gold and playing another powerful card as well.

Areo Hotah is another card that sits nicely alongside Ghaston Grey as a way of stalling for time, although ambushing him in for 5 gold telegraphs the play somewhat.  That advanced warning can be avoided with the neat interaction with the last of Martell's really good cards: Arianne Martell.  Arianne's ability take a little though to really appreciate but one way to think of it is almost as a Standing effect, because you can kneel Arianne to launch/oppose a challenge and then return her to hand to play a second character that arrives in play standing.

Unfortunately for House Martell once you drop down beyond their few banner cards you really get into a bunch of things that just don't seem to achieve much, or are notably underpowered compared to what other houses have got.  It feels as though as part of handing Martell the theme of 'stall for time' the designers not only gave them abilities like Doran's that get better over time but also looked to nerf their other cards to the extent that all Martell CAN do is stall for time.

Ghaston Grey is powerful but it's a temporary reprieve, the same for Areo Hotah and perhaps the most useful Martell event continuesthis theme.  Confinement compares quite easily to the Baratheon event Consolidation of Power as removing icons for a turn is similar a lot of the time to kneeling a character... but it's another temporary solution.  You get a slice of that ability on Maester Caleotte as well.

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken is another similar event - it can prevent a challenge of your choice once you've lost a challenge, which is a lot like The Night's Watch card A Sword in the Darkness although that actually prevents all challanges.  This is another unfortunate trend for Martell cards, which is that often they just seem a shade underpowered compared to what other houses get, eg. Obara Sand is a 3 STR monocon who can defend Power where other houses would expect to get a straight 3 STR bicon for a 3 gold unique (Rhaegal, Margaery Tyrell, Waymar Royce, Black Wind's Crew).  

You see this just a little bit too often, and combined with weak faction leaders it leaves House Martell very little to go on for how to win.  Ghaston Grey is good removal but entirely defensive and there's no support for challenges aside from the so-so Confinement.  Their weapon is playing a long game, their events are nerfed and narrow in focus, their midgame characters are weaker than they should be to ensure you can't go on the offense and disturb the flavour of playing as Martell.


It's not that many of the Martell cards are actually bad, it's more that not enough of them are actually straight-up good.  Yet.  I feel as though House Martell are in a similar position to The Night's Watch, but reversed.  The Night's Watch have got all the support cards but are waiting for something compelling for them to support, while House Martell have got a clear plan but are waiting for enough solid cards outside that plan to ensure that they haven't already lost before they get to try and win.

And, again, I do feel as though they're going to be better in Melee then Joust.  At least initially.

I'm adding the following section after seeing Martell in action a bit more.

One of the biggest challenges for a Martell deck attempting to play a longer game is that it doesn't actually have any card draw outside of Doran Martell's Insight ability.  It's worth noting that six of the factions have a card draw effect in the Core Set, from Messenger Raven all the way up to The Red Keep, and only two go without - Targaryens get the Plaza of Punishment and the Martells have Sunspear.  Both these locations are quite similar in that they work more as additional board control than they do as additional card draw, and arguably of the two cards Sunspear is the more potent.  A Martell deck prefers to be the second player (with quite often means playing Plots with high initiative so that you can choose to be second, which is a bit counter-intuitive but there you go) and Sunspear is one of the strongest reasons for this, as it's blank when you're the first player.

As the second player Sunspear becomes a real problem for opponents, who have to carefully judge when they can afford to actually win a challenge and have it rebound back on them at double strength.  The Martell's don't believe in an eye for an eye, and if you're not careful about when you cross them they'll take both eyes.  Sunspear is more situational than a lot of the other card draw locations, but arguably in the right scenario it's actually stronger as adding +1 Military claim and destroying two characters that the opponent has invested gold to play is a better effect than your opponent drawing more cards.

The CardgameDB guys rated Sunspear a pretty weak 60% and I think that may turn out to be criminally low.  Sunspear is another card that makes House Martell a more dangerous foe in Melee over Joust - being a spiky target to hit may persuade players to look elsewhere for their challenges - and it's also another powerful Martell card waiting for the chance to shine when the house as a whole improves a bit.  

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Faction Review (Review): House Greyjoy

Ah, the Greyjoys.  Living out on that rock in the middle of the sea.  Nobody likes them and they don't care.
Well the CardgameDB team liked them in their review, and from what I'm seeing around the internet a lot of other people like them too.  They've got a very strong lineup of Uniques that largely complement each other, some solid non-unique characters to fill up the rank & file and perhaps the best collection of non-character cards of any of the houses.  What's not to like?  The answer coming back from the CardgameDB review was clearly 'not much' and Balon Greyjoy's men look set fair to be one of the early dominant houses in the fledgling relaunched A Game of Thrones metagame. 
Let's talk about Stealth.  Stealth is a pseudo-removal effect that the Greyjoys have in spades, meaning they can slip past opposing characters when they launch challenges.  I call Stealth a pseudo-removal effect because, similar to kneeling with Intimidate, you're using it to take your opponent's cards out of the equation.  In a format where targetted non-conditional character removal is extremely scarce having Stealth attached to some of your best characters (which you wanted to play anyway) is extremely powerful.  Not only that but the best defence against Stealth is, well... more Stealth.  So not only do the Greyjoys virtually monopolise Stealth but that also mean they've virtually monopolised their opponent's ability to defend themselves! 
You only have to look at one card to see the value of Stealth, particularly in an aggressive faction like the Greyjoys, and that's the unfavoured son Theon Greyjoy.  As a 3 STR bicon Unique for 4 Gold with a 'sort-of-renown' ability Theon should be severely underpowered - he compares badly to a bunch of the non-Unique Army cards let alone Uniques like Cersei Lannister.  Except Theon Greyjoy has Stealth, and that probably adds 2 pts to his rating, taking him from a 2/5 card to a 4/5 staple in the Greyjoy lineup.
Along with the ready availability of Stealth on their best characters I think the Greyjoys have another repository of power in the powerful fleets they can command.  The Great Kraken is Balon Greyjoy's ship and as well as granting Stealth to the lord of Pyke it's also a hugely powerful card in its own right, feeding directly off the successful Greyjoy raids to provide loot in the form of either cards (most of the time) or Power (when the end of the game is in sight).  Swinging a single unopposed Power challenge with Balon Greyjoy will net you 4 Power if the Great Kraken is around (1 for unopposed, 1 for renown, 1 for claim, 1 for Great Kraken) - that's over 25% of the points you need to win in a single challenge!
The Great Kraken is a hugely powerful card but to my mind it's overshadowed by the incredible power of the Iron Fleet Scout.  This is one card that I have to disagree with the CardgameDB crew on, even though they gave it a pretty healthy 78% rating.  I reckon that's approximately 22% too low because this card is ridiculous.  Widow's Wail will give you a permanent +2 STR bonus to a single character, for the cost of 1 Gold and it's Unique.  Castle Black will give you a flexible +2 STR bonus on defence, for the cost of 2 Gold and it's unique.  For The North +2 STR and maybe draw a card, but it's a one-shot Event.  Iron Fleet Scout makes all these cards look bad by being a 0-cost +2 STR flexible bonus that's not unique. 
One Iron Fleet Scout is a serious pain for your opponent to work around, particularly when you're already making challenges on an uneven playing field thanks to Stealth.  Two Iron Fleet Scouts make even the Iron Islands Fishmonger a problem - swing the Fishmonger with two Iron Fleet Scouts in play and even the Queen of Thorns will need help in repelling that challenge... AND YOU DIDN'T EVEN HAVE TO KNEEL THE SCOUTS TO DO IT!  Now the Scouts are ready for the next challenge, and the next challenge, or even for defence once your own challenges are made.
I've seen the Greyjoy house described as 'cheap' and many people think they're a little overpowered in Core set.  It's really early days for us to be saying something like that (I'd wait at least until the game is released!) but what is true is that the Greyjoy theme is a very good one.  Each house has a theme: like the Targaryen's have burn and the Baratheon have kneeling.  The Greyjoy theme is Unopposed Challenges and Stealth or, as I like to think of it, the Greyjoy theme is "winning".  When the Greyjoys are on top everything they do get better - they stand Asha Greyjoy, they gain power with Theon, they draw cards with Great Kraken, they kill locations and attachments with We Do Not Sow... everything gets better.  Greyjoys are the #1 house for being able to turn a slender advantage into a gamewinning lead.
The flipside of this mechanic is that if the Greyjoys ever find themselves behind in a game then it's relatively difficult for them to get back on top because a lot of their cards shut off.  If you can't get in unopposed you can't destroy Lannisport with We Do Not Sow, and if you can't destroy Lannisport then your opponent draws more cards and you fall further behind.  If you're behind in the game you lose military challenges and can't use your Throwing Axe, you can't play Kraken's Grasp usefully, you're having to defend with your best characters so don't benefit from Stealth.  It all falls apart.  Greyjoy are absolutely a powerful faction.  They take a small lead and turn it into a crushing victory.  But God(s) help them if they fall behind, because they certainly don't help themselves.

Faction Review (Review): House Targaryen

All the above ratings were drawn up by a group of the A Game of Thrones LCG veterans at CardgameDB, with each rating a card from 1 to 5 and the percentage score being an aggregate of all their marks.  So a card that gets 100% means everyone rated it 5/5, while a slight wrinkle in this method (or their refusal to hand out 0/5 scores) means the lowest result possible is 25% if they all gave the card 1/5.

The CardgameDB review handed the Targaryen's an average character rating of a weighty 80%, well ahead of the other factions who all scored in the mid-70's.  With help from some solid non-characters like Fire and Blood or Dracarys! the house seems to be in great shape.  The one thing I felt during reading through their reviews was that I saw the word 'Dracarys!' far too often included as a reason for scoring a character as highly as they did.  Each Hatchling gained a bit of a score from the fact they're needed to play Dracarys!, similarly the Unsullied had "works well with Dracarys!" as did Plaza of Punishment and even Daenerys Targaryen herself.  How you feel about this really depends on quite how good you think Dracarys! actually is.
Burn is a unique Targaryen mechanic, a form of removal that is particularly potent for its combination of flexibility (no "win an Intrigue" challenge or "military by 5 STR or more" needed here) and lethality.  When you burn a character down to 0 STR that character dies, and if you had any way of saving them such as a Bodyguard or duplicate then it won't work as you'd still be left with a 0 STR character in play and they'd immediately die again.  Played alone, Dracarys! will remove any lower or mid-level character from play by giving them -4 Strength, but combined with Daenerys Targaryen handing out a -1 Strength to anyone in a challenge against her Dracarys! becomes much more potent and threatens almost any character in the game.
That's the good side to Dracarys! and there's no doubt that it's a powerful card, but it doesn't come without a cost.  Having to kneel Daenerys or a Dragon to play the card is not a negligible cost and often your desire to hold a Dragon back standing will telegraph your intended play to your opponent for them to work around.  And just as importantly while the dream of Dracarys! is burning through Balon Greyjoy with two duplicates and a Bodyguard for a 4-for-1 trade that removes their puts their best character in the dead pile... that dream only lives if you've got Daenerys and a Dragon both standing and your opponent is dumb enough to walk into it.  Most of the time Dracarys! removes 4 Strength characters only and won't touch the very best cards, meaning there's a tradeoff in power between the fact you burn through duplicates vs the fact that something like Tears of Lys can at least TRY to kill Robert Baratheon when there's no way of saving him.
A lot of the debate around the CardgameDB review was around the rating for Dracarys!, which wavered between 3/5 and a 5/5.  Where you settle on that debate probably defines how you feel about the ratings for a lot of the other cards because I think in the CardgameDB review 5 or 6 Targaryen cards are being given some reflected glory from the possible power of Dracarys!
Khal of Khals
While much of the Targaryen cards are obsessing over the potential benefits of dragons there is another side to the faction that is far more predictable and certain - Khal Drogo's war machine. 
This, to my mind, is where the power of House Targaryen lies... not in obsessing over creating a three card combination to potentially Dracarys! a powerful Lord but in riding forth Conan-style and laying waste with repeated Military challenges, supported by as many Military characters as he can lay his hands on. 
Drogo is his own one-two combination punch but he also combines very usefully with another powerful Targaryen card, the Plaza of Punishment.  Putting my cards on the table I personally fall into the camp who think Dracarys! isn't the ultimate removal card, and I'd even rate Plaza of Punishment more highly.  While Dracarys! will burn mid-level characters as well as the low ranking ones the Plaza can really only handle the little guys, but it can do this repeatedly and that takes away the claim soak dudes.  This is especially important for Targaryen decks because it means that Drogo's military challenges will bite much more deeply into your opponent's powerful cards.
In the end: Daenerys and Dracarys! combine to kill a powerful character.  Plaza of Punishment and Khal Drogo combine to kill ALL the characters.
The Wily Merchant
The one card that completely split the review team was Magister Illyrio, and reading between the lines I think I saw why.  There are a number of attractive reasons for adding the Lannister banner to your Targaryen faction (Jaime Lannister and Khal Drogo never met in the books but the LCG tells us they would have got along famously) and Magister Illyrio gives you another powerful axis of alliance, this time with Tyrion Lannister.  Tyrion gives you gold for Intrigue challenges and that allows Magister Illyrio to stand your best characters for future challenges, which is hugely powerful (not least when you've got cards like Daenerys and the Dragons who want to be standing to threaten Dracarys!).  So for those players rating Magister Illyrio as part of an alliance with the Lannisters then I fully understand where that 5/5 rating came from.
If you're not allying with the Lannisters?  Yeah the 2/5 he got from the other reviewers is probably about right.  Magister Illyrio is a lot less impressive without all the gold in Casterly Rock behind him, and for a house so low on card draw as the Targaryens I think Littlefinger makes a much better case for occupying Illyrio's slot at 5 Gold in your deck.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Faction Review (Review): House Baratheon

Baratheon was generally considered to be a strong faction, largely it seemed because although the strength in depth of their faction is not significantly better than any other faction the high ratings are focussed around cards with specifically powerful mechanics.  A lot like how the Lannister 5/5 cards were really throwing their weight around in terms of removing cards from hand with Intrigue the Baratheon 5/5 cards are similarly influential in terms of the board position.  Robert Baratheon is probably the single strongest character in the game - he's huge and he can kneel virtually any character thanks to Intimidate.  Supporting Robert are the tricks of the R'hllor followers from Dragonstone which help to further pin down the board.

House Baratheon is really about the power of three key characters - Robert, Stannis and Melisandre.  Find these characters and keep them alive... they will win the game.

While other houses like the Starks are left waiting for enough Direwolves to be printed to make use of their mechanics fully, Baratheon come flying out of the core set with a great package of R'hllor cards to support the essential Melisandre.  With Melisandre every R'hllor card doubles as tempo removal, kneeling key cards as you strengthen your board.  What's nice is that virtually every R'hllor card is playable enough on its own that you're not really sacrificing anything by playing them if you don't find Melisandre, and then if she is around then they all become much MUCH better.

I've already taken advantage of the fact that the "R'hllor package" is primarily non-loyal by exporting them en-masse into my Targaryen deck and that portability makes R'hllor an attractive banner for almost any house. 3x Melisandre, 3x Fiery Followers, 3x Seen In Flames, maybe Selyse Baratheon as well and a couple of copies of Ser Davos Seaworth... that's your 12 card banner all ready for deployment overseas!

Back to the CardgameDB reviews and the card that really split opinion right down the middle was Stannis Baratheon, who earned as many 1/5 and 2/5 ratings as he did 5/5 ratings!  Take your pick between these two opposing viewpoints:

"I don't see this working in practice. 6 gold to partially-sorta limit standing, while letting the opponent choose which characters they can stand and which they can keep knelt but continue to use for their effects or claimsoak. Whoop-de-doo." - JCWamma
"Can just take over a game on his own. Add your kneel effects and build around him with stand effects and you got yourself a very strong deck." - mnBroncos
Much like his stern manner in the books Stannis brings an ability that sucks the fun out of the game - what use is marshalling all these cool characters if you aren't allowed to use them? 
Alone Stannis doesn't do much, but combined with Melisandre or the Intimidate of Robert Baratheon he can force your opponents to their knees and never let them up.  My experience of playing the R'hllor faction in my Targaryen deck is that the tempo you gain from kneeling cards with Melisandre is always nice but not always decisive if you can't take advantage of the turn when Balon/Daenerys are kneeling.  Stannis helps you to extend the benefit from your kneel effects into multiple turns and that's potentially huge, especially with Robert Baratheon around.  It's not very Nedly, but Stannis really needs his big brother around to showcase his ability to the best.
The final piece in the Baratheon jigsaw is that it has one of the strongest card draw locations of all the houses in The Red Keep.  I can't labour the point enough: Card Advantage Matters.  At the moment A Game of Thrones LCG is frequently very attritional - to use a single example: if you can draw more Bodyguards then they draw Tears of Lys then you keep Robert Baratheon in play and win, if they draw more Tears then you probably lose.  The Red Keep does FANTASTIC work in delivering 2 STR to any Power challenges, and then allowing you to draw 2 cards if you don't lose them.

Drawing 2 cards is very good.  It's a lot better than drawing 1 card.  Approximately100% better, in fact.

We can demonstrate how good The Red Keep is by comparing it to another location that's quite similar - Lannisport.  Every time the Lannisters win an Intrigue challenge you draw a card, which in Joust means you've got the potential to draw 2 cards per turn (3 if you add Casterly Rock and have a LOT of Intrigue).  So Lannisport gives you 2 cards for 2 challenges like The Red Keep... but it doesn't hand you a free 2 STR each time to help you win those challenges!
The Baratheons are a very top-heavy House - all the power is centred around Robert Baratheon and Melisandre and flows downwards from there via Stannis and The Red Keep.  Their greatest strength is that in a metagame dominated by expensive 'uber' faction leaders their is the top dog, along with the fact that kneeling can hit anyone while other targeted removal like Tears of Lys, Dracarys! and Put to the Sword comes with heavy conditions on when you can play it and who it can kill.

Faction Review (Review): The Night's Watch

Basically, the consensus was that The Night's Watch isn't in great shape.  Although there's some strong 95%/100% ratings in there for the best Night's Watch characters, take a look at what those cards are... Samwell Tarly and Messenger Raven help you draw more cards, and Maester Aemon helps you keep those cards alive.  That all sounds good so what's missing from the equation?  What's missing is cards that you WANT to draw and WANT to keep alive.  If you look at Jon Snow as also primarily being a support card (alone he's an uninspiring STR 4 Intrigue for 6 Gold) then the best cards of The Night's Watch are all about shining the spotlight on worse cards from The Night's Watch.
The Night's Watch is full of cards that are good in combination with other cards but relatively poor when played alone.  Yes when you get Sam Tarly and Jon Snow in play and can keep them there with Maester Aemon then you can play Old Bear Mormont and he'll be good and you can finally take full advantage of The Wall, and Castle Black will help you hold it... but until you've got a bunch of cards in play at the same time you're not winning many challenges or triggering many of your most important card effects.
The reviewers at CardgameDB hit upon the real problem with The Night's Watch: namely that its cards are trying to do two very different things.  In defending the realms of men with The Wall the brothers of the Night's Watch have been given one of few truly defensive strategies in the A Game of Thrones LCG.  Unfortunately their most powerful and iconic Unique character, Jon Snow, does nothing to help you in defensive challenges but wants everyone he's with to ride out and launch challenges.  Old Bear Mormont helps you defend but he's one of the weakest cards for his cost and he only really punches his weight once The Wall is around and you're strong enough to block everything.
The hope has to be that future releases bring enough cards to one strategy or the other to really allow The Night's Watch to shine.  A deck able to throw up robust defence of The Wall will be formidable, as would a deck able to consistently attack and take advantage of Jon Snow's charismatic leadership.  The core-only Night's Watch tries to do both half-heartedly and in my opinion it succeeds at neither. 
You can try to banner out to solve some of these problems and focus on attack or defense but I think The Night's Watch, much like the Starks, are bad at teaming up because so many of their cards only work with other The Nights Watch cards (eg. if you play Martell with a banner then Doran Martell will boost non-Martell Lords & Ladies, but Jon Snow won't boost challenges without a Night's Watch character in them).  The Night's Watch are also unique in missing out on their reducer location like Western Fiefdom (they get the one-shot Meager Contribution instead) and this makes them economically weak and thus staying with Fealty is more important than for any other faction.
In terms of the card ratings the CardgameDB team handed out I think I disagree meaningfully on a couple, both of which I would pull down a notch.  The one that most baffles me is Old Forest Hunter, which is a monocon 1 STR character for 2 Gold that has a mediocre ability.  Of all the reasons for drawing extra cards with Messenger Raven, throwing them away for 1 Gold is the worst use you can think of.  In an absolute pinch it might make the difference but those occasions won't arise anywhere near often enough to justify playing his mediocre stats. 
The other card I think is overvalued is Longclaw, which might mean that I'm undervaluing Renown a little.  I feel like the Night's Watch faction is pretty weak right now and winning challenges is hard so I'd rather have a stronger weapon that actually helps me to win challenges in the first place, or supports their theme of playing defensively.
Insular and unloved, The Night's Watch are set up to be quite 'Nedly' (the term for a deck or mechanic that is thematic to the books more than it is actually powerful), so is it hopeless for brothers of the watch, doomed to live and die forgotten at the end of the realm?  No.  The really good Night's Watch support cards like Maester Aemon and Messenger Raven are seriously top level quality card advantage generators, and they're probably going to be competitive for the entire life of the game - it's hard to see a time when there would be something better than these at what they do! 
Once the right frontline cards arrive at Castle Black then the stars are ready to align for The Night's Watch as they already have powerful locations and card advantage tools ready and waiting.  But that time is not yet.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Faction Review (Review): House Lannister

All the above ratings were drawn up by a group of the A Game of Thrones LCG veterans at CardgameDB, with each rating a card from 1 to 5 and the percentage score being an aggregate of all their marks.  So a card that gets 100% means everyone rated it 5/5, while a slight wrinkle in this method (or their refusal to hand out 0/5 scores) means the lowest result possible is 25% if they all gave the card 1/5.

While the chaps are CardgameDB were lukewarm in their praise for House Stark they were quite unanimous in their appreciation for the headline cards in House Lannister, such as Cersei and Tyrion.  It's a distinction that's not immediately obvious in the % score ratings of the cards, though, so let me expand a little.  The 5/5 rating that they handed down to a lot of the Stark cards like Catelyn Stark or Arya were of the "yeah this is a very good card for its cost" variety, while for cards like Cersei and Tyrion those 5/5 ratings are more of the "OMG this card is amazing!" variety. 
Basically, if they could have handed out a 6 on their scale of 1 to 5 for those cards then they would have done.
I summed up my thoughts for House Stark by saying they rarely made me think of the word "powerful", but there's a good half dozen Lannister cards that do.
For all House Stark's effective cards it was almost entirely lacking in anything capable of generating card advantage and trading 2-for-1 or better.  Lannister has tons of the stuff.  More card draw in Lannisport and the easy-to-overlook Grand Maester Pycelle, the 2-for-1 Intrigue claim via Cersei Lannister, Tyrion's combination of Stealth to ignore a defender and Intrigue to strip cards from hand, Ser Jaime Lannister's ability to attack without kneeling... throughout Lannister there are numerous ways to find little edges and advantages over your opponent.
The Lannister deck is a clear card advantage machine - outdraw your opponent, force them to discard their hand, and if you haven't already lost by that point then you're probably set for victory.
What's really missing from Lannister at the moment are the Clegane brothers - The Hound and The Mountain.  The two beefcakes in the Lannister arsenal would surely solve the House's biggest problem, which is a lack of Military might.  The Lannisters  aren't as helpless at Military as the Starks are at Intrigue as they've got Jaime and Tywin at the top end along with their trusty Gold Cloaks and the sacrificial lambs of the Burned Men, but they don't dominate the table like a Greyjoy or Targaryen deck.  This can be the undoing of a Lannister deck that focuses too heavily on solving tomorrow's problems with Intrigue at the expense of dealing with cards in play.

Perhaps the two best solutions to this problem lie in abandoning the Fealty agenda and playing more Neutral cards, either turning to the wiles of Varys to reset the board once you've emptied your opponent's hands or bringing in some hired muscle in the form of Wildling Horde (and possibly some supporting Put to the Sword).
The CardgameDB reviewers were pretty much as one voice regarding the Unique Lannister cards being good, where they really got split were in the values of the non-Unique characters and the value of the Ambush mechanic.  There's no doubt that adding Ambush to cards like the Gold Cloaks, the Burned Men and the Queen's Assassin has taken from the raw strength and icons on these cards - where Lannister gets a 2 STR Military in Burned Men other Houses are either getting a character with two icons like Tumblestone Knight, or +1 Strength like the Braided Warriors of House Targaryen.

The Ambush characters are good with Tyrion's challenge-phase Gold production and bad without it as the surprise impact is lessened somewhat by sitting there with a bunch of Gold unspent and six cards in hand.  However you feel about them it's clear that they're pound-for-pound weaker than what other factions get for the same cost, making Lannisters more likely to want to call a banner from a rival house to find better support cards for their top-notch Unique characters.