In this article series, Kenno addresses some of the crafting and design aspects of A Game of Thrones: Second Edition by examining the relationship between current cards and 1.0 counterparts as well as by projecting how certain 1.0 cards and general mechanics may scale in the coming cycles.
One of the most interesting things about A Game of Thrones: Second Edition is it is one of the few existing card games with an extremely colourful and comprehensive past. The game was originally launched as a Collectible Card Game (CCG) in 2002 and was rebooted as a Living Card Game (LCG) in 2008. In August 2015, despite First Edition’s (1.0) popularity, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) made a conscious decision to release a second edition (2.0) of Thrones, but this time, with streamlined rules and new factions, with the intent of chapter packs cycling out after a certain number of years.
The last part is especially important, since 1.0 was never designed with a rotation in mind — it was simply a vast pool of different cards that interacted with each other in ways the designers did not intend to happen. Most of all, its core set, designed during the early stages of FFG’s exploration into the LCG format, was more than six years old.
With that said, 2.0 brought forth an amazing number of cards — 211 of them to be exact — in a brand-spanking new Core Set that aims to be a non-rotating, evergreen set for years and decades to come. Thrones is unique in that there are cards from the CCG and 1.0 era that have been reworked and tweaked, with the intention of being playable, but not broken, in 2.0.
These various “callbacks” are what we’ll delve into in this article series. We aim to examine 1.0 cards and their 2.0 counterparts while discussing: the decks that use them, what type of effects synergize with them, their place in the meta, as well as going deeper into the design decisions that R&D considered and lessons learned from previous versions that led to the printing of these new and (in my estimation) better-designed cards.
Each week, The House of Black and White (thanks for the title, Luke!) will focus on one theme and discuss certain cards that fit.
Much like the Faceless Men that shake off their former identities, old mechanics are made new once again under a different name, with a different face.
To start off the maiden article, let’s talk about a mechanic that has been very dear to me as a 1.0 player: kneel.
The Kneel Mechanic
In Thrones, kneel involves turning the card sideways, usually to declare a challenge or to activate an ability. This means that having a way to kneel your opponent’s cards outside of their challenges phase is key to challenge denial and soft control.
In 1.0, the kneel mechanic belonged to the Lions of Casterly Rock. No other house harnessed the power behind the throne better than these sneaky little Lannisters, and thus, making enemies kneel into submission. In 2.0, however, the mechanic has been passed on to R’hllor and his followers, in their mission to convert everyone into their religion, led by none other than the Red Queen herself, Melisandre.
Let’s take a look at Melisandre and her 1.0 counterpart, Castellan of the Rock.
Mel reads: “Reaction: After you marshal or play a R’hllor card, choose and kneel a character. (Limit once per round.)”
Naturally, she also has the R’hllor trait, which means that she triggers off her own ability. Because of the size of the card pool, Melisandre is currently being used in almost all Baratheon decks. This number will start to dip once the card pool expands, though. Now, let’s look at Castellan:
Castellan reads: “Limited Response: After you play a House Lannister character or location from your hand, choose and kneel a character without attachments. (Limit 1 Limited Response per round.)”
And as you can guess, Castellan was in all Lannister decks, up till the end of 1.0. If you were running a different restricted card, you had to justify your decisions.
Let’s break this down one by one.
Icon-wise, both characters are similar. Their strength has also been scaled well, in my opinion.
However, this is where their similarity ends. If we look a Thrones history, we can see that Castellan of the Rock was one of the first few cards to be restricted in the game, along with a pesky location that also provides a kneel effect. Why were they restricted?
Because they were recurring effects that were too easy to trigger.
If we look at other houses and their options for control, we see that Stark and Greyjoy rely on kill, while Targaryen has burn. These effects disposed characters in a permanent way, but were harder to trigger, to say the least. But Castellan’s triggering condition is literally a joke — either a Lannister character or location. And guess where you would be playing those cards? In a Lannister deck! If you weren’t triggering this card every turn, you’re building your deck wrong.
This made soft-but-targeted control a monster in Joust, since you could always just disable the most potent threat turn after turn.
Aside from the triggering condition, Castellan was also non-unique, which meant that he was as disposable as your other characters. You could always marshall a new one anyway.
Now, looking at Melisandre, we can definitely see why FFG designed her as such. These are qualities that went into her design:
1. Triggering condition – By using a trait-based condition rather than just trigerring off from every character you play, it forces players to make a conscious decision — how many R’hllor cards do I need to run to make her work?
2. Unique – Giving the recurring kneel mechanic to a unique character is definitely the correct decision. Rather than having a disposable generic character that can serve as claim soak, Melisandre becomes one of the priorities of the Baratheon player to protect, specially in the early game. Putting Melisandre to the Sword early means that the Bara player won’t have a reliable means of targeted kneel.
3. Non-loyalty – Since the bannering to houses is now easier as compared to 1.0, keeping the recurring kneel mechanic non-loyal becomes a boon for defensive decks like Martell or The Night’s Watch, which still opens up options for these factions. This is balanced by keeping certain R’hllor cards loyal (Selyse Baratheon, Lightbringer) and some nonloyal (Fiery Followers, Seen In Flames), which makes sure that kneel is still the most potent when used as the main house.
4. Choice – For the health of the game, I believe this is one of the most important points that needs to be tackled. Much like point number one, Melisandre and the R’hllor kneel module is not an immediate given when building a Baratheon deck — it is a conscious choice that the player has to make. There is calculated risk in playing Melisandre, such as not getting triggers, her dying, or getting Milked. Right now, it can be argued that Mel and co. is an auto-include in all Baratheon decks. But as the card pool expands, we can definitely see other strategies emerge for Baratheon, like an aggresive “Go-First” variant, which uses Bob, Stannis and Royal Entourage to win Military and Power, while maybe utilizing removal such as Put to the Sword.
As you can see, our game has a wealth of history that old and new players can look back on from time to time. It would be a waste if we did not acknowledge errors, oversights, and lessons that the first two iterations of the game have taught us.
Join The House of Black and White in the next edition as we continue dissecting 2.0 card design and their 1.0 counterparts! What card or theme would you like to see next? Sound off in the comments section.