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.


  1. Don't the Scouts say "Kneel... to choose?"

    1. Yes, but in the Example, if you attack with the Fishmonger, the Queen can not defend alone, because you COULD kneel the Scouts if she does. You basically force your opponent to overcommit in a challenge and when he does you just choose to not kneel them, you loose this challenge, but his board is knelt, you still got the Scouts standind and the next challenge is yours (unopposed).
      This is how I imagine it anyway.

  2. Kinda like their backstory... they hit hard but can't really take a beating.