I want to discuss unexpected courage and how it is bad for the game and limiting design (also my suggestions for fixing it). I personally think this is the most broken card in the game and would like to explain why.
Firstly though I want to say that this is not about whether you can have 3 unexpected courage but only have 1 in the core set and I would appreciate it if that derailment can be avoided as much as possible.
I assume everyone is familiar with unexpected courage but just in case you’re not:
Cost: 2 Spirit
Attach to hero.
Action: Exhaust Unexpected courage to ready attached hero.
Readying a hero is one of the most important aspects of the game – you pay in threat for every stat point that a hero has and being able to ready is essential for utilising all that you’ve paid for. Many heroes also have useful abilities that being able to do twice or once along with using some of their stat points is highly valuable.
Readying is absolutely essential for any deck that wants to run few allies as you need to maintain action economy (that is; number of actions) that matches the enemies in play or beats them as much as possible.
Readying is better than allies though because it allows you to make much better risk free decisions. You essentially can get the willpower for questing and then still have the defence if it’s needed, or have some other effect if the defence isn’t needed – where as if you commit allies to the quest but then find you quested too well but lack defenders, you can’t fix this mistake as easily. Additionally some of the most threatening effects can be negated (undefended attacks having to go on heroes – it’s almost always better to be able to defend with a hero).
Essentially readying effects are no brain choices – you always want them. I personally think they’re the best type of card to have. I think they’re important to the game though because they help to solidify the value of the core cards (heroes) and also allow for interesting plays that can’t be created with each card only being allowed one use a turn. Extra levels of complexity like readying are necessary to build a card pool and deck building game. So they have an important role to play.
So far so good; what’s wrong with Unexpected courage then?
“Action: Exhaust Unexpected courage to ready attached hero.”
This is essentially the ultimate basic form of this rule for an attachment. (If we discount the obviously broken, ready attached hero with no drawback or cost at all). The exhaust cost is the most basic because the exhaust mechanic is the standard way to pay for any action with a card in play. Being able to ready with no other conditions at all makes it the most basic solution for readying.
We can see that Unexpected courage is amazing because it’s hard to see how to improve it with any finesse – we can only make a better version of it by replacing it with a superior in every way card. (For instance, attach to character, cost 1, remove the exhaust requirement – or some special rule like, if this is discarded return it to the owners hand), or a duplicate of a different sphere (tactics but otherwise identical).
Now the real problem is that we’ve created the superior readying card and assigned it a very low cost of only 2 resources. The secondary problem is that this card (I think uniquely of all the readying effects) can be paid for three times and have 3 readies per turn for a hero if you wish (all later readying effects cannot be chained so well or easily multiple turns in a row).
This means that all the other readying cards we would like to add to the game need to better than the superior version (and mostly they would require much higher costs) or we need to limit them in some way and fit them all into only cost 1 and cost 0 – which is leading to some very skewed card design.
The following is a list of two other readying cards to illustrate my point.
Cost: 1 Tactics
Attach to a tactics or Rohan hero. Restricted.
Response: after attached hero participates in an attack that destroys an enemy, exhaust Rohan Warhorse to ready attached hero
Light of Valinor (Unique)
Cost: 1 Spirit
Attach to a Noldor or Silvan hero.
Attached hero does not exhaust to commit to a quest.
Okay so what do we have here; firstly they’re both cost 1. (All readying in the game that targets a single hero have to be cost 1 or 0).
Both of them contain restricted targeting; which is interesting for balance (it lets you limit deck-building, and increase theme), but is ultimately weaker than no restrictions.
Both of them are limited to only working for one single effect. (You can quest + 1 other action, or attack + 1 other action).
One of them is a mount which lets it be fetched by different cards than conditions (Although it pays for that with the restricted rule – which means that unexpected courage is even better than it is for 2 attacks – because you can have two restricted attachments with it).
The significant detail however, is that these two cards are not even equally valuable; Light of Valinor is better. Being able to quest + any other action is more valuable than attacking (which comes after questing and defence); not having to exhaust in the first place is better for a few card effects. The unique modifier makes it a bit less flexible if you run multiple copies but on the other hand not being restricted is a huge advantage.
The problem is that Rohan Warhorses is not enough worse to be cost 0, but is clearly inferior enough that it should be cheaper than Light of Valinor. This is because Light of Valinor should probably be cost 2 (especially as to prevent it being a first turn play on an included Glorfindel as the only spirit hero).
However because Unexpected courage is so much better and we can’t really have a card that’s superior to it and remain balanced, all the other cards we might want to design have to fit into cost 0 or 1. I would argue that in design terms making Unexpected courage exist at all was a mistake – it should have been designed as a card not for release but as an example of what the power version of readying looks like to help with the design of new cards.
I hope that my two examples are sufficient to show what I’m talking about you may like to argue that Rohan warhorses is a weak card and that other examples would have shown my argument less well – however most of the other single hero ready effects either have associated resource costs to use (Miravor, Steed of the Mark) or else have to be discarded (Event cards, Cram, Westfold Horse-breaker).
Having established that Unexpected Courage has set the superior mark too low for readying effects I’d like to look at some solutions;
The best solution that involves the least changes in my mind is to ban the card. A banned card could of course still be used for casual play, but not in a formal setting. This would free up card designs that are better and more varied (2 cost readying effects, 3 cost readying effects), without invalidating any cards we currently have.
The big problem with this is people don’t like to have banned cards – people want to use what they paid for. A second problem is that all the cards have been designed with Unexpected Courage as a comparison would then seem a bit out of place. If we remove unexpected courage now, after a year or two all the current readying effects will probably seem a bit poor (except valinor which is too good for other reasons). It may be that even if we remove it now it’s impact will already be felt because all new cards still need to balance against the cards in existence.
When looking at changing individual cards, a second edition of the game would allow many of the problem cards (I think this is the worst but there are others, like valinor) to be looked at – I however doubt that many of us would be willing to invalidate all are cards and start over. I can’t see enough changes occurring to justify the second edition.
This would be a reset to the whole card pool and might be nice, but I can’t see it happening and would resent it personally.
Finally we can look at what errata we could make to Unexpected courage, this is the route I would expect to see, though I favour banning the card myself.
Make it limit one per deck – this would solve the problem of a hero getting unexpected courage, 3 times, it would also mean that you can justify its low cost because of the 1 in 50 card effect. You could then have other readying effects that were cost 2 or cost 3 which didn’t have the limitation. This also prevents the chaining of the courage. – This is the most similar to the kind of errata we’ve had so far (adding limit once per round).
You could make it a unique card – this would be adopting the light of Valinor balancing technique. Personally I don’t think it works as well as limit one per deck for making a rare but amazing card; however it would also prevent the courage chaining and allow other cost 2 or cost 3 readying effects to be made which were not unique (but had other limitations). This effect has gone some way towards making Steward of Gondor not the most broken card.
These two solutions are similar in feel and it depends if you need to balance more for multiplayer or single player I feel (limit one per deck = one copy per player, whereas unique is one copy in play per game). I think the first is better because I think that unexpected courage has less impact on bigger games. Either of these two errata would have minimal impact compared with my other suggestions.
You could errata the cost. I think unexpected courage is so good it could be cost 5; on the other hand I think at cost 5 people wouldn’t play it – I think at cost 3 it’s still too cheap so I would argue for the errata to cost being at 4. Cost 4 would allow you to have all the room for cost 2 and 3 readying effects as suggested before; would not invalidate anyone that did own many copies of the card. I think 4 is best because it guarantees needing to play it on turn two (without resource acceleration), even in a mono-sphere deck, while still allowing you to play it turn two if you had spirit as the major sphere in a dual deck. We’ve never had an errata to a card cost, however 4 is clearly closer to the cost it should be than 2. I’d be happy with this change.
You could errata the targeting. For example – make it so that only willpower 1 heroes can receive it (that’s why it’s unexpected). This would instantly free up the design of the readying effects – remove the superior form of the card from the game. You could maintain some of the uniqueness of the card (it still has the freedom of any two actions; it still has the ability to stack with itself much better than any of the more restricted versions). I like this idea, but I think it’s not enough. On the other hand low willpower heroes are generally less good to have multiple actions on (Beregond getting multiple defences would still be amazing but that’s still reducing the viability of the card a lot).
You could add a new type of condition we haven’t seen before (we’re getting into the realms of fantasy here so this is my last suggestion) for instance, if attached hero takes damage discard this card – this type of change would do all the stuff I’ve said before and also help the card to be powerful but more easily lost. I believe this also matches the theme the card was going for – it’s always made me think of Merry vs the Witch-king.
My last two suggestions are such fundamental departures from the current card design that they would in effect be new cards. I feel that the new cards would be better than keeping Unexpected Courage as is, in the card pool, but then we may as well just ban the card.
In conclusion; Unexpected courage in its current form is an overpowered card. Not just because it’s very very good, but because it is starting to show cracks in the card designs. While other power cards exist (Light of Valinor and Steward of Gondor both listed in this post, but there are others). Each of them have limitations which ‘at least’ mean you can imagine better cards than them while still following the balance and card design rules in place. Unexpected courage is basically so good you don’t need new cards – and can’t make new cards that work better than it.
It would be healthier for the game to address this problem now, rather than later after another full cycle of card designs. AS a result I would like them to change the card (or officially ban it) so that a fuller range of card designs options which are the life of the game can be explored.
Edited by Rapier, 21 April 2014 - 06:02 PM.