Review: Game of Thrones – Taking the Black

At the back-end of last year, the messenger ravens finally arrived with the first chapter pack for Game of Thrones the Card Game 2nd Edition. With the run-up to Christmas, I didn’t get nearly as much time testing out the cards as I’d hoped, but with the New Year, and new casual sessions, it seemed like time revisit the pack.

There are two cards for each faction, and 4 new neutral cards, so everyone is getting more-or-less the same amount of love. Greyjoy and Martell get their own loyal plot-cards, whilst the other houses receive standard player-cards to go in decks.

With 20 new cards in the pack, I don’t have time to talk about all of them: there are some good small characters which fill in gaps, good utility cards, and a few puzzlers, but here are the ones which seemed worthy of special attention.

Robert’s Warhammer

The deck I’ve been having most fun playing around with until now is some variant on the last deck I played in first edition 5 years ago, basically a variation on “Robert is big and bludgeons you into submission.”

robert-baratheon
It’s expensive (+2 gold for playing the attachment out-of-house) but monstrous one it gets going…

In first edition, I had a Robert who could keep re-standing, and an attachment which allowed him to power up to monstrous proportions.

This time round, the card-pool is a bit more limited, but there are still options. In an ideal world, aside from a duplicate, Robert will be wielding Lightbringer (to re-stand when he claims power for renown), bearing Seal of the Hand (to re-stand) and sporting an Intrigue Icon, either via a Little Bird or Selyse’s ability. He goes first, and kneels the other side out so that they have nothing to attack back with.

WarhammerKing Robert’s Warhammer is a fun addition to his bag of tricks. The +1 strength is a great place to start, making it more likely that he will win his challenge, and/or increase the value of his Intimidate. If your opponent has a lot of characters arrayed opposite you, it can enable him to flatten a whole wall of weenies.

So far, I’ve only used this in-house and on Robert himself, but as a non-loyal card, it also has potential out-of-house, and Greyjoy banner of the Stag seems like a good option: It can boost Balon, helping to make him unblockable, and it can kneel out other characters for Theon and Asha to get their unopposed characters through. It may not be the best card in the pack, but it’s definitely my early favourite.

 

At what cost?

It’s only early days for this game, and ideas of what is “normal” are still fairly nebulous. Nonetheless, there are a couple of cards in this pack, which are already challenging assumptions. Cersei’s Wheelhouse, and the Please Barge.

Appearing in Lannister and Tyrrell respectively, these cards are both locations, both offering an ability, but one that comes with a draw-back.

WheelhouseCersei’s Wheelhouse is a loyal card with a cost of 1, and a permanent -1 initiative. Whilst it is in play, in exchange for your reduced initiative, you get to either draw a card or gain a gold whenever you become the first player.

This was a bit of a head-scratcher for me, but on reflection there does to be a lot of potential here. Like many factions in this game, there seems to be a strong feeling that Lannister are happy going second. Whilst sacrificing a small amount of control over initiative, this card enables you to give your opponent some awkward decisions, and probably warrants an inclusion for that squirm factor alone. If they go first, you have the opportunity to react, to ambush things in with the stacks of gold Tywin is producing, and stomp over their exhausted board. If they make you go first, then you can reap a gain in terms of cards or gold (the flexibility is particularly nice) and punish them that way.

BargeThe other “drawback” location is the Pleasure Barge, a zero-cost loyal location for Tyrrell. Provided you have not drawn any cards this phases, marshalling the pleasure-barge allows you to draw three cards, which can be a big jump at the right moment in the game.

This time though, the drawback feels a lot heavier: immune to card effects, this location is sticking around for the rest of the game, and whilst it’s out, your income is reduced by 1 per turn. True, Tyrrell are one of the houses with the best income acceleration to counter this, but played too early, it could still end up crippling you. It’s non-unique, so you could stack up more than one, but I’m not sure I’d want to risk it.

Another unusual card in this pack is The Hound. He is a Lannister character, although fittingly, he is not loyal, and for a very reasonable 3 gold, he is 6-strength Military and Power. At that cost, he is brutally powerful, ideal for set-up, or for re-building quickly after a reset. The downside, is his card-text, which requires you to discard a random card, or return him back to hand every time he wins a challenge. Fittingly, he doesn’t have renown (all the power would be going to waste every time he leaves play) and by himself, he doesn’t really offer a winning strategy, but his sheer size does make him an economical way to plug a gap or smash a way though.

 

False Friends

There are few cards that leap out from this pack as being thoroughly terrible. That said, there are definitely some who I don’t think are as good as they might seem / worth bothering with.

Vaes Dothrak

DothrakA unique, loyal Targeryen location, Vaes Dothrak gives you some additional attachment control – but at a high price. Although the location only costs 1 to begin with, you only get to discard and attachment by discarding an attachment of your own from hand, and the card you discard must be of equal or greater cost. Add to this the fact that you can only trigger this when you reveal a plot (so not going off during marshalling or challenges), and it just feels like a waste of deck-space.

 

Will

willWill is a Ranger for the Watch. He is a 4-cost, 3 strength character with Military and Intrigue, and he also has both Stealth and Insight, making it likely that you’ll get challenges through successfully with him. If that was all he did, he would be a good card.

Unfortunately, Will also comes with a Forced Reaction, which requires you to discard one of your Rangers from play when you lose an unopposed challenge. Obviously, a lot of Watch Decks (certainly those with The Wall) don’t want to lose unopposed challenges, but that doesn’t make it guaranteed, and this extra rate of attrition could be punishing. This card isn’t without its uses, but the potential drawbacks just feel too big.

 

Theme

Not strictly deserving of a place in the “bad” cards section, this next card is one I’m going to pick on, on grounds of theme.

LadyLady is an attachment for Stark. At 1 cost, she is certainly affordable, and you can use an action to bounce her from one character to another. Whilst Lady is attached to a Stark character, that characters gets +2 strength, which can be very powerful on a character who is getting multiple uses like Eddard.

My real beef with Lady, then, is her synergy with Sansa. After you attach Lady to a new character, if that character is Sansa, then you can stand her. This feels like it was designed to mesh neatly with Sansa’s own ability to gain you power when she stands – except that Sansa’s ability is limited to once per round- meaning that you would have got that power when she readied at the end of the round anyway.

Now obviously, there is some advantage to being able to stand an extra character, especially if your opponent has Stannis out, to limit the amount of natural stand in play. It’s also true that a 4-strength intrigue/power character does help to sure up an area of weakness for Stark, but overall this just feels underwhelming.

Overall, this card is useful, but the combo doesn’t work the way that theme ought to make it play. Play Lady, ditch Sansa.

 

Conclusion

There’s a lot more I could say about this pack, but I wanted to keep things relatively brief. I’ll look at the plots separately, once a few chapter packs are out, and might do something on the neutral cards too. I’ve talked about a card for every faction (except Martell, and everyone knows they don’t mind waiting), but for now I’ll leave it at that.

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One thought on “Review: Game of Thrones – Taking the Black

  1. […] Last time out, I got caught in a bit of a rant against Lady, a card which I have belatedly come to accept is actually rather good. It’s with a little bit of trepidation then, that I offer my opinion on the seemingly useless Winterfell Castle. Admittedly, the Castle has a potentially powerful effect: it can give +2 strength to 2 characters during a military or power challenge. However, the 3-cost of the location itself, together with the fact that both the characters have to be Stark AND unique, seems a bit too much. Maybe there will be a build for this later, but now I can’t see it. […]

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