When FFG's Card Game Line Coordinator asked me if I wanted to write an overview article on the upcoming A Time of Ravens expansion to the A Game of Thrones Living Card Game, I jumped at the opportunity to do so. I finished the first draft of the design file for this set back in October, and the set — and the game— have gone through a number of transitions in the months between then and now. All along I've been sitting on it, excited about the day that these cards would become a part of the game. That day is finally upon us.
As I moved in to the design of A Time of Ravens, Eric Lang had just moved on to different projects. This change to the core of the design team was both exciting and daunting, but for the most part I found it inspiring in that it forced me to "step up my game," if you can pardon the pun. Working with Eric on A Song of Night, Iron Throne Edition, A House of Thorns, A House of Talons, Five Kings Edition, and A Clash of Arms was both a pleasure and a blessing, and I cannot begin to relate how much I learned from him. With the opportunity to "do my own thing" in front of me, I was determined to put together a set that would do him proud.
Along the way, we've seen a number of changes to the way the game is packaged, marketed, and distributed to players. Melee play has become just as important as Joust. Morgan has brought new levels of energy, commitment, and innovation to the LCG line. There's been an unprecedented amount of change over the course of the past year, but through it all A Time of Ravens (and it's follow up, that I am currently hard at work on moving from "design notes and slush" to the first official design draft) has been a beacon of stability, and along with the Core Set it marks the dawn of a new era for the A Game of Thrones LCG. Let's have a look…
Sometimes the title of a set isn't decided until the last possible moment. Once everything else is designed and looking good, we take a step back, see what the final result says to us, and then decide upon a name. This was not the case with A Time of Ravens. Instead, this title was decided right from the start, when the "arc" of the Five Kings Edition block was laid out. As some of you may recall, Five Kings Edition was initially plotted out as a narrative block, with the base set representing the build up and re-establishment of House lines and identity before an epic battle or war, A Clash of Armswould represent the conflict itself, and A Time of Ravens would represent the aftermath of that conflict.
Of course, with the change to the LCG model, the possibility of abandoning this arc and starting completely from scratch was investigated, but it seemed somehow appropriate to stay the course. The game is emerging from a time of unprecedented change, just as the continent of Westeros was in the aftermath of the War of Five Kings. It is a time of reassessment and regrouping, a time of looking to the future and seeing what plots lie ahead, a time of reaching out for allies, and a time of burying the dead… it is indeed A Time of Ravens.
Thematically, you'll see this concept play out in the form of scavengers, refugees, bandits, broken men and broken armies, as well as reinforcements and opportunistic individuals who are ready to make a name for themselves in the aftermath of war. Mechanically, you may notice that this set adds a high degree of unpredictability and uncertainty to the game, making for a swingy play experience in which the game may turn faster than ever before, with the drop of a single card or the outcome of a single challenge.
And, of course, there are ravens.
'Tis the Season…
So I started with a title, and I knew because of that title that there were going to be ravens, rookeries, and maesters in the set. The next question was simple: what do they all do?
A couple different avenues initially presented themselves. The ITE search plot "On Raven's Wings" suggested exploring search effects on an unprecedented scale. The old school Stark "Rookery" location suggested that ravens & rookeries are either all about events, or all about discard pile recursion, or both. In the end, however, it was an idea from the books, and the fact that I had been playing quite a bit of the Call of Cthulhu LCG, that determined the actual direction in which the ravens would fly. The idea came almost fully realized, when one of our editors and office-league Thrones enthusiasts, Michael Hurley, asked if there were going to be both Black and White Ravens in the set. When I answered in the affirmative, he asked if the White Ravens would have anything to do with Winter Edition… perhaps keying off Others plots or the doomed mechanic, as the White Ravens are used to herald the coming of Winter in the story. Of course, I knew that Winter Edition would rotate by the time that these White Ravens would be hitting the game, but the idea of introducing a new seasonal element to A Game of Thrones captured my imagination.
Thus, the Winter/Summer mechanic was born. It is similar to the Day/Night mechanic in the Call of Cthulhu LCG, but the mechanic was handled in a slightly more "Martinesque" way for this game. In CoC there is a rather firm line drawn between the extremes of Day and Night; in AGoT the extremes are there, but there is also some attention paid to the "grey" area in the middle.
How does this mechanic work? It all starts (and occasionally ends) with the Raven cards. The Black Raven, as you can see, makes it Summer. As you can probably imagine, the White Raven makes it Winter. These cards are both, in turn, fairly resilient due to their far-reaching immunity. Once they're in play, they're probably going to stick around for a while. Then, there are a number of cards throughout the set that key off of the season. Care to take a look?
The first Chapter Pack in the A Time of Ravens expansion is called A Song of Summer. Two of the six Great Houses in the game, the Targaryens and the Martells, are generally at their best when it is Summer. Have a look at the Maester of the Sun, and you'll have an understanding of how the mechanic works at its most basic level: an average, somewhat "vanilla" card that kicks it into overdrive when the season is right. The Starfall Bannerman present the "Summer" mechanic from a slightly different angle: a card that is pretty solid as long as it isn't Winter, but is a bit under-costed in what, for House Martell, is the "wrong" season. (And yes, this guy's ability does stack…)
The Winds of Winter, then, is the second Chapter Pack in the series. The Starks and the Greyjoys are both generally at their best in the Winter. The Ice Fisherman is another example of the kind of card possibilities that can be explored with the seasonal mechanic. He is under-costed, just about "worthless" when it is not Winter, but if he's on the table and it is Winter, watch out! His opponents are in for some lean marshalling, and the Greyjoys will be the beneficiaries of their strife.
What about the villainous (some would say misunderstood) Lannisters and the pompous Baratheons? They're kind of in the middle. Sometimes they prefer Summer, other times they prefer Winter. Sometimes, they even prefer it to be neither Summer nor Winter. This is representative of the "grey" area between the extremes that is so important in George R.R. Martin's universe. The third Chapter Pack in the series is called A Change of Seasons, and it works to flesh out the Summer and Winter mechanic by exploring some of this grey area, as well as the moment of change itself. More on that after GenCon.
The fourth Chapter Pack in the series is called The Raven's Song. This promises to be one of the most exciting packs yet, featuring a cycle of "Rookery" cards that will take challenge phase plot manipulation to a level we have not seen since the days of Wheels Within Wheels. Is it really that crazy? When it comes to AGoT, losing my mind is always a distinct possibility…
The fifth AToR Chapter Pack is entitled Refugees of War. The survivors take center stage in this pack, fighting for their lives against seasonal bandits who would prey on the refugees of the War of Five Kings. And those Bandits sure are wicked, especially if you're in the habit of playing Kingdom locations…
The final Chapter Pack in the A Time of Ravens series is called Scattered Armies, and it introduces the "Reinforcements" event card, that will add another layer of vengeful uncertainty to the challenge phase. These events will help you out when you're feeling the beat-down, making those "landslide" challenge phases a thing of the past… assuming you have the right type of reinforcements in your deck.
Looking back at the design of the entire A Time of Ravens set has been fun, and I'm even more excited about (and ready to dive back into, as soon as I finish this article) its follow up for Winter/Spring of 2009, which is coming together quite nicely. Seasons change, and "Winter is Coming" once again, but the future of the A Game of Thrones LCG is bright.
See you soon!