Thursday, 20 August 2015

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.

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