“And Victarion?” asked Gorold Goodbrother. “He has the Iron Fleet. Will Victarion make a claim, Damphair?”
–George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows
The A Song of the Sea cycle for A Game of Thrones: The Card Game kicks off next week with the release of Reach of the Kraken, and the most groundbreaking element that the Chapter Pack and cycle introduce is the new naval enhancement (). As lead developer Damon Stone explained in his introduction to the cycle:
“As an action during a challenge, a player may kneel a character with a enhancement on the appropriate icon to declare it as an attacker or defender and add it to the challenge. This makes characters with the enhancement exciting wild cards since they can join challenges outside of the normal declaration step.”
Because it alters the timing of those challenges it impacts, the enhancement offers players a tremendous level of granularity and control. Also, when you have a number of characters with the enhancement on the table, you present your opponent with some truly difficult decisions.
Will he declare just enough Strength to his defense to overcome the characters currently involved in your challenge? Or will he commit enough Strength to defend against both those characters you’ve committed and those with the enhancement who can join the challenge if they’ll help you win? Of course, if he does commit enough Strength to defend even against your characters, you don’t need to have them join the challenge, and they remain ready for action later in the turn.
Greatjon Umber: The Prototype
They would be right. Senior LCG deigner Nate French explains how the Greatjon’s ability helped inspire the core mechanic of an entire cycle:
“Occasionally, the ability on a single card has enough potential that it can be expanded upon and codified for broader inclusion in the game, and Greatjon Umber was one of a handful of such “prototype” effects we examined while considering how we would develop the idea of challenge enhancements, and specifically that of the new enhancement. Now, instead of printing text like the Greatjon’s on a wide-scale cluster of cards, we can represent the effect with a single icon. This allows us to add layers of possibility in the challenge phase, while simultaneously exploring the nuance and synergistic potential inherent in any broad group of similarly behaving cards.”
Taken on its own, any given character with the enhancement ends up functioning much like the Greatjon, but with some minor distinctions and one significant difference. Because the enhancement is part of the challenge icon it enhances, it can’t be blanked by cards like Meera Reed (Tourney for the Hand, 2) or Nightmares (Lords of Winter, 46). Conversely, the enhancement is rendered ineffectual if the icon it enhances is stripped by an Orphan of the Greenblood (Princes of the Sun, 15), The Scourge (On Dangerous Grounds, 55), or another similar effect.
However, while those finer points may offer limited distinction, the truth is that the enhancement really distinguishes itself from the Greatjon’s ability in the greater context of the game’s card pool. The Greatjon is a very good character, but he stands alone in the card pool. While a variety of plots and attachments may increase his Strength, and therefore his utility, they don’t increase his overall impact. In the end, the Greatjon is a character that might give your opponent some headaches, but he’s not going to do anything other than help win a challenge.
On the other hand, characters with the enhancement gain support from other cards immediately. Starting with Reach of the Kraken, players will find a plot, an agenda, and a host of characters that create deeper synergies centered around the enhancement.
Deploy Your Fleet
For example, because his Military challenge icon has the enhancement, Victarion Greyjoy (Reach of the Kraken, 6) can lend his Strength to any Military challenge outside of the normal framework. Much like the Greatjon, right? Yes, except that he also has the following game text:
“While Victarion Greyjoy is attacking, raise the claim value on your revealed plot card by 1 if you control more participating characters with enhancements than the defending opponent.”
It’s worth noting that Victarion’s game text doesn’t automatically raise the claim of your revealed plot card when he attacks. He only raises it when you control more characters with enhancements than the defending opponent. It’s likely Victarion will sometimes be the only character in a challenge with the enhancement and, thus, able to trigger his own ability. Still, if you want his ability to trigger more consistently, you need to include more characters with the enhancement. This may be a simple practicality, but it’s the sort of consideration that lies at the root of distinguishing between a card that stands on its own and a card that is built into a larger, overall strategy.
The agenda draws a clear line to the use of characters with the enhancement, offering unlimited card search from a random pool of cards whenever your character with the enhancement helps win a challenge as an attacker. The plot, though, offers another, secondary sort of synergy with the enhancement that many experienced players will feel is even more important.
Obvious combinations are easy to spot, but the depth of a mechanic is often only truly realized as its impact spills through multiple layers. The Black Sails agenda triggers off the enhancement, but Naval Reinforcements doesn’t. Nevertheless, because Naval Reinforcements supports the agenda, it also ends up supporting the enhancement. When Reach of the Kraken arrives, as the card pool grows, and as the enhancement takes root, these secondary synergies are likely to be those that truly engage and inspire creative deck-building.
Raise Your Sails
You’ll soon be able to sail your fleets and make use of the new enhancement. Reach of the Kraken is scheduled to arrive late next week, so keep your eyes to the horizon as you wait for this exciting Chapter Pack to launch the A Song of the Sea cycle!