Bannermen! We return for another look at the upcoming 2021 Updates.
Michael Shinall here, and today we are taking a full look at the revamped Neutral Tactics Deck, as well as diving into the denizens of the Dreadfort themselves: House Bolton.
Before we jump in, be sure to take a look at all our previous Visions in the Flames articles, but particularly our coverage of House Baratheon, available HERE. As previously mentioned, we’ve had a full article series going over the specific design and development ideas moving into 2021, and while some glimmers were seen when we released our 2021 Preview Document (Available Here), I believe seeing the full Tactics breakdown, along with the previews, from Greyjoys to Baratheons to today with the Neutrals, begins to paint the larger picture of our 2021 updates. Having said that, let’s jump right in.
What drives a man Neutral? Over the many years since the game’s release the argument of “Are Neutrals a real faction?” has been continuous, with the answer really depending on your definition of what makes a faction. Is it access to a specific Tactics Deck? Well, Neutrals have their own, so by that definition they absolutely are. Is it unique and diverse styles not found elsewhere? Again, they check that box as well… But having said that, they still stand unique among everyone else in the fact they can be incorporated individually into any (most, sorry/not sorry Free Folk) existing Faction. This means that their main purpose has always been a supplementary role to the “real armies”- at least that is how some view them.
So what direction did we want to push the Faction/Not-Faction in 2021? Well, of course we wanted to keep their role as supplemental forces intact, but when it came to pushing them as their own faction, we took a different approach. Specifically, due to the wide and varied nature of Neutrals, making everything within the “faction” a cohesive force just wasn’t going to happen- and we never wanted it to. Applying that level of homogeny to the most unique and eclectic selection in all of A Song of Ice and Fire wouldn’t do the series justice.
With that mindset going in, we asked a simple question: What actually binds these groups together? With the Great Houses, it’s usually a philosophy, a regional identity, tradition… A number of possibilities and doctrines… When it comes to those who remain Neutral though? Usually it is self-interest, and this self-interest usually stems from a single powerful individual… a Commander, if you will… Who through charisma, might, or reputation gathers people to their cause and goals, forming order out of the random elements not aligned to the greater factions of the world.
It was with that mentality that we shifted the Neutral’s focus to be heavily influenced by your choice in Commander. You will see, as we explore the cards, that above most any other faction, Neutrals draw upon their Commander, their cards, and their unique style to bring victory on the battlefield: A Stormcrow-centric army led by Daario Naharis is going to play vastly different from a Bloody Mummer army with Vargo Hoat, and both of those different from the focus of today’s talk: House Bolton of the Dreadfort.
NEUTRAL TACTICS CARDS
Since we have a lot to cover, we’re going to briefly go over each of the Basic Neutral Tactics cards and give some design notes, then dive right into the House Bolton specifics.
TACTIAL APPROACH: This card isn’t overtly flashy, which is a trend you’ve hopefully seen across most of the 2021 Tactics Cards, but provides a small buff that can potentially give you the boost you need when you need it. Neutrals prefer the Tactics Zone, and this card exemplifies that while also showcasing the focus on your Commander.
ADAPTIVE METHODS: A fair number of Neutrals deal with various Conditions. While we won’t go so far as to say this is a “major subtheme” of the faction, it is a recurring element, and this card is sure to get plenty of use.
ISSUE COMMANDS: Here is the first example of a card that really shows off the Commander focus. Personally, one of my favorite cards in the deck for the flexibility it brings to an army.
WORTH THE RISK: Neutrals are usually vagrants and sell-swords- not the bravest or most loyal. This card keeps them in check, especially when your Commander is nearby.
METICULOUS PLANNING: Your Commander’s specific Tactics Cards are going to define a large part of how your army plays. Meticulous Planning aids you in gaining access to those cards.
SURPRISE STRATEGY: In keeping with what we just mentioned with Meticulous Planning, having access to your Commander’s cards is key, and here is another element to assist with that (or really, accessing whatever card you need at the time).
SPOILS OF WAR: While not a facet of every faction deck, most decks include a card that deals with the destruction of units, whether it be friendly or enemy. Spoils of War is the one included with Neutrals and gives them an advantage for… Well, having an advantage. As is the sellsword way.
As you can see, the Neutrals deck doesn’t really push itself into one specific play-style or mindset. It’s not overly offensive or defensive. More than anything, its adaptive, and again this is to focus on the specifics of the Commander and their units.
Now that we have a better understanding of the foundation, let’s take a deeper look into one such Commander: Ramsay Snow, the Bastard of Bolton!
THE BASTARD OF BOLTON
Ramsay and his cohorts are not good people. A sadist through and through, Ramsay delights in the misery and suffering of others, and his Commander Attachment and Tactics Cards embody that.
With his Commander Attachment, he confers two key elements to a unit: Affiliation: House Bolton and Horrific Visage. This has the benefit of making any unit he joins into a recipient of the numerous buffs his Commander Cards bring, and if you want to keep it “pure” and attach him to a unit that is already a House Bolton unit then you still gain the benefits of his Horrific Visage ability. Of course, you also get access to a very special version of Theon Greyjoy: Reek. While he now costs a point to include, his effect has received a boost in that it now affects all enemies in Short Range, as well as having a lower chance of destroying Theon himself.
We previously mentioned though that a Commander’s specific cards was what really defined their play-style and role. Ramsay, being the cruel deviant that he is, urges his forces to gain bonuses against Panicked enemies- specifically, increasing their effectiveness and damage. Ramsay is a butcher. He is not calculating and plotting like his father- he is a blunt cleaver meant to hack and slash at the opposition. Leave the sly tactics to Roose.
Perhaps this doctrine is most readily seen in Our Blades Are Sharp, which grants Precision should the defender be Panicked. If the Attacker is House Bolton, they gain the added benefit of re-rolls, which obviously combines well with Precision.
Next we see Cruel Methods, which can both restore Wounds to the (somewhat, depending on unit selection) fragile House Bolton units. With the potential to restore upwards of 4 Wounds or dole out Vulnerable and Weakened, this is the most versatile card available to Ramsay.
As you can see, Ramsay enjoys his Panic (as do all of House Bolton, as a matter of fact), and his final card, Sadistic Games, grants a method of gaining said tokens (noting he does still have access to Reek, should all else fail). This card, when played properly, puts your opponents in a real No-Win situation. A cunning Commander will make this card a nightmare for their foes.
To wrap up the talk with Ramsay, we also have his generic Attachment version. When supplementing a Roose led army (whom we previous previewed) the synergies are obvious- Ramsay grants the lovely Intimidating Presence ability to aid with Panic damage, while also boosting his own unit’s survivability via Fueled by Slaughter, all of this while also granting Affiliation: House Bolton. Since he is a generic Attachment, he can be slotted into any existing army. And while this is true of his Commander version as well, when utilizing him as an Attachment you’re just focusing his unique set of capabilities into one unit, rather than building an army around him- again, supplementing themes rather than defining them.
TROOPS OF THE DREADFORT
Now that we’ve seen Ramsay as a Commander, we’re also going to briefly go over the dedicated House Bolton units and how they have shifted into 2021 from their previous versions. As you can see, overall there are not many changes here, most are keeping in line with our previous talks of reducing overall dice-pools, buffs, and alike, while pushing the overall theme of each unit.
FLAYED MEN: The premier cavalry of the Dreadfort, over the course of the game’s life the Flayed Men have had a bit of a roller-coaster existence. Upon their initial release they were the elite 2+ Defense Cavalry Unit. In 1.5 we shifted their identity from “the tankiest” to focusing specifically on Panic and its effects. Moving into 2021 this remains true, with them combining the signature elements of heavy cavalry with the Panic-inducing theme of House Bolton. Unlike a lot of other cavalry options, who focus on piercing defense and raw damage, the Flayed Men bring Vicious and Intimidating Presence to the table. It’s important to note that Intimidating Presence affects any enemy they are engaged with- they aren’t the ones who have to be the source of the Panic. This effectively makes the Flayed Men a mobile support unit, in addition to packing a deadly punch of their own.
BASTARD’S GIRLS: Some minor quality-of-life changes here, namely is reworking a bit how Tracker’s Bow operates. Unlike its previous incarnation, which required the random roll of a “1” to trigger, this effect is now automatic. The Bastard’s Girls are a high-damage, high-mobility “glass cannon” unit, and they filled that role well.
BLACKGUARDS: Another quality-of-life change here with the Blackguards’ Melee Attack gaining Vicious, giving them more synergy with other House Bolton elements. Of course, Horrific Visage did receive a boost in the update, reinforcing the Blackguard’s role as objective holders and defenders. CUTTHROATS: Across the board, the units most affected by 2021 were perhaps those in the 5 point range. In many cases, they simply gave peak performance for their point cost in comparison to other units of cost 6+. While it may seem that the Cutthroats have been toned down from their previous version, that’s only because that’s exactly what was done. They still retain a very high damage potential and set of offensive abilities, but this is at the cost of their defensive stats being… Well, not great. But you shouldn’t be taking Cutthroats because of their survivability: they exist to kill things.
DREADFORT CAPTAIN AND BOLTON FLAYER: You might notice the Abilities of the Dreadfort Captain and the Bolton Flayer have been switched. This was intentional and done for two reasons: The primary reason was a thematic one- we simply felt that the Abilities matched the “personality” of the Attachments better if they were reversed. The second reason was the respective Unit Boxes that the respective Attachments were part of. While both have incredible synergy with pretty much all the House Bolton units (and for different reasons) we felt there was a slight (and we do mean slight) edge for placing these Attachments in their respective units- The Captain aids the Cutthroats in the area they suffer the most in (Survivability) and the Flayer, in specific combination with Horrific Visage, makes the Blackguard a truly scary support unit.
In speaking to the strengths of each Attachment independent of their units, however, it’s plain to see how they aid the overall House Bolton theme, especially with Ramsay. The Dreadfort Captain is going to reinforce the sustain elements that Ramsay brings, while keeping his troops in fighting shape. Meanwhile, the Bolton Flayer is going to force out those Panic Tests, of which Ramsay, and his capabilities to hand out Panic Tokens, is sure to take advantage of.
And that is going to wrap up our look at Neutrals in 2021 and House Bolton specifically. Join us next time when another faction will get the spotlight!