Visions in the Flames: Baratheons in 2021

Bannermen! Michael Shinall here, designer of A Song of Ice and Fire: The Tabletop Miniatures Game, and per the results of last week’s poll, Baratheons gets the spotlight this time on our Faction Focus.

So we have numerous articles in our Visions in the Flames series going over the philosophies and design choices moving into the 2021 updates (all of which you can catch up on here) but in this article we’re going to go into more details on those changes with some real examples as to how they are applied to a faction.

The faction we’re starting with was chosen by fan-polling, and it just so happened to be Baratheons. This presents an interesting situation as, when it comes to who was affected the most by these updates, Baratheons were near the top of the list.

Why exactly? Well, they just happened to contain a number of key elements that were targets of these updates (namely free actions and some other raw “power” elements). This resulted in various shifts as to how some of their effects worked. When it came to discussing the overall faction, there was also the factor that they are still one of the newest factions, thus the pool of content to discuss was a bit more limited compared to, say, Starks or Lannisters… Compound this with the dual-Loyalty nature of the faction and deciding exactly what to focus the discussion on became a discussion in itself!

That being said, we’ve decided that for this Faction Focus we’d take a look at the Generic Tactics Cards for the Baratheons, how they changed, and what impacts this has on the overall faction. To go along with this (and not play favorites) we’re also going to show off the updates to both Stannis (The Rightful Heir) and Renly (The Charismatic Heir).

Lots to cover, so let’s dive right in!

BARATHEON FACTION PHILOSOPHY

The core faction identity of the Baratheons has always been focused on two aspects: retribution and prolonged engagements. This was seen through their (previous) generic cards such as Counter Charge, Ours Is the Fury! and Last Stand. These cards specifically allowed out-of-activation Attacks for the army, usually triggering from the enemy attacking them. Of course, this was the easiest method of feeding into the entire “retribution” mechanic of the faction. With the updates, however, we wanted to cull the raw number of “free” bonus Attacks, but also wanted to take this as an opportunity to expand on the retribution theme. As a result, we’ve expanded it to more than the basic “You hit me I hit you”, with it now covering the full gambit of effects ranging from Morale Tests, Condition tokens, and yes - being Attacked. The point now is that if you do something to the Baratheons, you are going to be punished for it.

The second element of the faction is their benefits for prolonged engagements: Baratheons are a faction that will grind you down. They might be slow initially, but they are inevitable, and the longer they stick around, the worse its going to be for their opponents. This was seen in their cards Baratheon Conviction, Hold the Line! and Stag’s Wit. This element of their faction identity has remained, and like their focus on retribution, has also been expanded on as well.

Finally, there was the concept of the numerous overlapping triggers found in the Baratheon deck. This was an intentional design choice to off-set the power available through their cards. While it did balance itself out, it also came at the expense of not being very player friendly. What that means is that, while yes, the effects were powerful, not being able to consistently use them was frustrating. Overall, players would prefer to be able to use their cards more often, even if it meant smaller overall impacts, rather than holding several power-cards that couldn’t be played in tandem. This mentality is actually one of the primary focuses of most of the Faction Deck revamps in 2021, but as we originally mentioned, Baratheons were affected by this more than most, thus see greater changes than most. While it is still true that there are some overlapping triggers present in the Baratheon deck, they usually originate from very common effects (Panic Tests, Being Attacked, etc) but their utility usage is different, and combo into each other and other cards to play the long game.

So with that bases discussed, let’s take a look at the new Generic Baratheon Tactics Cards and what they bring to the table:

GENERIC BARATHEON TACTICS

BARATHEON JUSTICE: A newcomer to the deck, the trigger for this card is the Baratheons passing a Moral Test. The most common instance of this would be the Panic Test when being Attacked. Here is the first example of their “retribution” facet, with strong play on the “counterpunch”.

STAG’S WIT: The core effect of this card remains the same as its previous version, but the limitation on how it is triggered has been eased, giving it more utility.

OURS IS THE FURY!: The previous version of this card gave a free Attack for being Attacked. A very powerful effect indeed, but also one of the items we wanted to limit in the game. Again, while these effects have not been entirely removed, we decided to revamp this card to giving a variety of combat buffs for the army to utilize. Baratheons have a high variance of unit variety, and this card might not be flashy but it does work across the entire army.

SUSTAINED ASSAULT: Another newcomer to the deck, this card focuses on the grinding nature of the faction, allowing them to maintain efficiency when others would begin to crumble and fold.

BARATHEON CONVICTION: This card remained the same in theme but its in-game effect was modified. Again, it retained its link to the “grind” theme of Baratheons, but its focus was shifted from being defensive in nature to offensive.

FINAL STRIKE: You could view this as the “replacement” for Last Stand, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Last Stand is still in the game, but, being a very powerful card, it was a bit more than we wanted to see as a generic card available to Baratheons. Replacing it with Final Strike also opened up the harsh/overlapping trigger aspect we were toning down (as this shifts from a unit being destroyed to the much more open “just being attacked” criteria).

OATH OF DUTY: This one might surprise a number of people, as this was formally a card belonging to Stannis Baratheon (The Rightful Heir). You might also notice, however, that the effect has also been modified and now more closely resembles the old Baratheon Conviction. The full explanation and path of this particular change isn’t so much one sweeping explanation as it is just the result of several micro changes and shifts within the faction that eventually landed it here- one of those “numerous other changes snowballed and knocked stuff around until we wound up here” things.

Now that we’ve explored the Generic Cards, let’s take a closer look at the two central figures of the army: Stannis and Renly.

STANNIS BARATHEON, THE RIGHTFUL HEIR

As we discussed in our previous article going over Commanders, each one should facilitate a certain play-style and experience- a character’s “theme” was paramount when we were looking at the 2021 updates.

With Stannis, he always had a strong focus on Condition token play. Stannis knows advantages when he sees them and is an expert at capitalizing on them. To push this theme, his Attachment not only applies Condition tokens via Mark Target but also shows his ability to capitalize on these openings with Adaptive Planning.

Looking at his Tactics Cards, we have Will of the One True King, which gives him fuel for his Condition Token engine by placing 3 tokens across the battlefield (or on the same enemy if you really want to hurt one/two units specifically). Since numerous Baratheon cards gain additional benefits from the Crown Zone, this compounds the benefits.

Harsh Conditions is now one of the premier “ability removal” cards - an effect that, as we previous discussed, has become more limited in its availability. Stannis again knows when to capitalize on advantages, and this card shows it.

Finally, Tactical Approach functions as the opposite side of the same coin that Harsh Conditions plays on. While Harsh Conditions removes a unit’s capabilities, Tactical Approach allows you to hit them harder. Harsh Conditions is your precision-hit, Tactical Approach is smashing them with a hammer.

Overall, Stannis provides a clear play-style and theme: Gain advantage on your targets through the clever use of Condition tokens. He does this not only through his available cards and his Attachment, but also the natural synergizes of the various “unaligned” Baratheon units as well as his own Loyalty Units (which, admittedly, at the time of writing, are still unreleased).

RENLY BARATHEON, THE CHARISMATIC HEIR

Renly wants to be the focus of the battlefield, plain and simple. In our Commander Spotlight article, we discussed Jaime Lannister and this sort of role, but whereas Jaime is all about Jaime and What Jaime can do, Renly is about boosting those around him. Both are their respective focuses when it comes to tactics and strategy, but how they use the spotlight is what sets them apart.

Renly himself grants his own unit bonuses through Boldness and Courage, but its really his Embolden effect that plays to the overall army (noting that in this updated version, it also affects Renly’s own unit, not just the other units around him).

When it comes to Renly’s Tactics Cards, you’ll see not a huge amount has really changed here. He had a good focus previously and moving into 2021 none of his cards conflicted with the design directions we wanted to take in the update. Some aspects were expanded, such as Wealth and Charisma gaining a boost with being able to remove all Condition tokens, and some aspects were toned down, as seen with They Will Make Me King! which saw its Wounds and Healing both scaled back (again, in line with other changes to design aspects, such as auto-wound availability).

Younger, Bolder, and Far More Comely received a change, perhaps the most noteworthy being the additional effect of being able to draw a tactics card. This is seen across a few cards that have very specific triggers that can result in “dead cards” in your hand (in this case, Renly being dead). Such cards, usually, gained a “cycling” effect that prevents them from taking up space in your hand while providing nothing. Again, this is not a rule but typically the case with such cards.

And there you have it Bannermen. This is the first Faction Focus moving into the 2021 Updates. These articles won’t always follow the same formatting (aka always talking about just Tactics Cards, Commanders, etc) but will vary from faction-to-faction, with us covering what we believe to be the most interesting aspects affecting the faction moving forward.

What army shall we cover next time?

Until then!

Visions in the Flames: Baratheons in 2021

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