This is the first in a series of Question and Answer interviews with the Archmaesters of the Conclave. The order of the interviewees were selected from a poll on the A Game of Thrones LCG 2E Community Facebook page and questions were selected from community members on the page as well. Our first interviewee is the Archmaester of Design, Hanno Lunser.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How you got into the game? Where is your local meta?
I got into the A Song of Ice and Fire universe back in 2011, when the first season of Game of Thrones aired. I quickly fell in love with Westeros, and started reading the book series. Looking for ways to satiate my hunger for more Thrones, I discovered the HBO edition of the AGoT card game in 2014. I instantly loved the game and played it a lot with my girlfriend, even designing new decks for us after a while. You can check them out here: https://boardgamegeek.com/…/16-expansions-season-7-update
I knew the LCG existed, but I was afraid of getting into it, because somewhere on the internet I read that a LCG isn’t a hobby, it’s
a lifestyle. In 2017 I finally dared to make the step to the LCG, and never looked back!
There wasn’t much of a meta in Berlin at that time, but we slowly built an awesome local community. AGoT has shaped my life ever since: it’s without a doubt my favorite pastime, it has significantly influenced my travel plans, and most of all, I made lots of very good friends thanks to this wonderful game!
When I started the game, I didn’t intend to play the game competitively. My focus was on creating new, innovative decks while remaining loyal to my Houses Baratheon and Tyrell. Those decks sometimes proved to be competitively viable, such as the Song deck or Bara Qohor. You can check out my published decks here: https://thronesdb.com/decklists/find?author=Diomedes
I’ve only played at a competitive level since late 2017, but managed to have some decent success in these years: 4 Regional/Prime wins, both German and Polish Grand Champion 2019, European King of Swiss both 2018 and 2019, European finalist 2018, and 3rd at Worlds 2019.
I’m very happy to serve as Archmaester of Design and will try my best to contribute to our game growing strong. I’m looking forward to playing Thrones with this amazing community for a long time to come.
From a designer standpoint, what is your favorite card from the Core Set, from the first cycle, and from the “bin pack” (The Things We Do For Love pack)?
My favorite design from the Core Set is Heads on Spikes. Winning in the plot phase by a random pull just feels awesome! Just kidding, it’s Arianne Martell. Arianne is probably the card that allows the most tricky plays out of all Core Set cards. I especially like that she has so few restrictions: you can put characters from any faction into play, it’s an any phase action, and she is non-loyal to boot! There are so many possibilities to make good use of her ability in lots of decks!
My favorite card from the first cycle is hands down Political Disaster. It’s much needed location control available to all factions. But it’s far from an auto-include with those bad stats. And it features one thing that makes for good plot design: a symmetrical effect! So you have to build your deck around this plot.
Am I allowed to say no card from the bin pack? The agendas are fine, but not that interesting apart from Dark Wings, Dark Words. I’m a big fan of agendas that make bad cards see play like Qohor and Valyrian Steel did for positive attachments. DWDW does this for sub-optimal event cards, so I certainly like that design.
Do you believe the “bin pack” (The Things We Do For Love pack) has earned its name?
Yes. It’s almost an insult to the community to release an untested pack with broken cards as a farewell present. I get the nostalgic aspect, but it mostly shows how little FFG cared about this game in the end.
If you were to pick 8 unique characters, 1 from each faction, for the next pack. Who’d they be and why?
Good question. I’m torn between introducing secondary characters that are still missing in the game and new versions of main characters that represent their situation at the end of Dance with Dragons. I actually started a thread on this question a while ago: https://www.facebook.com/groups/gameofthroneslcg2ecommunity/permalink/1498165950343218/
- Baratheon: Gendry. I bet he will become important in later books. And as a member of the Brotherhood, a R’hllor convert and a smith, Gendry could fit several mechanics: non-loyal characters, kneel and attachment synergy.
- Greyjoy: Erik Anvil-Breaker. One of the missing contenders of the Kingsmoot. He could be a cheap lord for House Greyjoy. I’d also like a cost 8 King Euron version.
- Lannister: Oh boy, Lanni has too many missing characters: Harys Swyft, Addam Marbrand, Jacelyn Bywater, Daven Lannister, Strongboar, Boros Blount… Lancel (The Seven) and especially Jaime (one-handed Lord Commander) could need new versions as well. If I had to name one character, I’d say Ser Borous Blount to complete the Kingsguard.
- Martell: Alleras the Sphinx. This is controversial, but I’d like to have a Bastard. Maester. Sand Snake. character. The Bastard/Sand Snake theme urgently needs support and another high-cost maester to make Ebrose better would be cool.
- Night’s Watch: Dywen. He’s one of the best rangers, who has appeared in every book with Jon Snow POV chapters. He could give rangers a new direction. Honorable mentions: Iron Emmett, Leathers, and a Maester Samwell.
- Stark: Reek. He’s one of the main POV characters missing. A new card for the Bolton theme would be nice.
- Targaryen: Ser Barristan is our Targ POV character, Hand of the Queen and a badass legendary fighter! He needs a 7-cost Targ version.
- Tyrell: Mina Redwyne. She would complete the Redwyne family and could be the start of a tribal Redwyne theme.
- Neutral: Vargo Hoat. The Brave Companions have very memorable characters. As Mercenaries they are the perfect cards to support the bestow theme.
What is your top priority right now?
Our top priority right now is a major overhaul of the Restricted List. The first step is to ban cards that cause fundamental problems, and use pods to tackle problematic interactions. The next big step is a redesign of the restricted cards toning down their power level. This serves several functions:
- We will able to dissolve the huge RL (temporarily) giving players more options.
- We will give the players a large amount of new cards to experiment with. Tweaking well-known cards for a start is much easier and more quickly done than designing cards from scratch, both design- and development-wise.
- We will vastly change the meta. The redesigns will have a much bigger impact on the meta than a couple of new cards or changes to the RL would achieve.
- Most importantly, these redesigns will help us design new interesting cards in the future. Without the redesign of overpowered cards, new designs would need to match their power level to be interesting enough. And our possibilities as designers would be limited because a new card could have a too strong combo with an overpowered restricted card.
- We’re working with thronesdb and theironthrone, so the redesigned cards will be available on these platforms. We will also provide prints with the new textbox.
Can you give us a peek inside how the design team works? Do you have a forum or Discord? Can you share who is on the team? Is there international representation on the team?
The Conclave is indeed using Discord to communicate. We have assembled great teams to support our work. The design team consists of 16 helpful maesters, 9 from Europe, 6 from the Americas, and 1 from Australia. We have established House Maesters to keep the design of the individual factions organized. I proudly present the House Master, several of them were also running for Archmaester of Design:
- Baratheon: Adem Kolar (Australia): Staunch Baratheon loyalist and the driving force of the Australian meta.
- Greyjoy: Ben Weselowski (USA): Long-time playtester and best Greyjoy player at Worlds 2019
- Lannister: Daniel Bellido (Spain): Passionate card designer in the very active Spanish community
- Martell: Colt Humbert (USA): Creative deckbuilder and “weird combo” expert
- Night’s Watch: Ryan Lenard (USA): Long-time playtester and builder of innovative Night’s Watch decks
- Stark: David Kennedy (UK): Creative Stark deckbuilder and Direwolf lover
- Targaryen: Alejandro Gómez (Spain): Reigning European Champion and enthusiastic squid eater
- Tyrell & Melee: James Waumsley (UK): Much-loved Thrones celebrity and very important contributor to the game and its community
Glad to have you on the team, everyone! 🙂
Will you be mapping out a full color pie with primary, secondary, and perhaps even tertiary mechanics for the houses to help guide design?
We have compiled a comprehensive list of all faction (and neutral) themes, but I didn’t consider it helpful to classify them as primary or secondary. When designing new cards, we will make sure they fit into one of the existing themes before creating new themes.
Here’s an example, the House Baratheon themes:
- Traits: King, Bastard, R’hllor, Smuggler, Fool, House Florent, Kingdom, Warship, Westeros
- Power challenges/Not lost a power challenge
- Kneel/Cannot stand
- Contribute/does not contribute STR to Power/Dominance
- More power on faction card
- End/no Challenge
- Reaction to gaining power
- (Hand) Knowledge (R’hllor)
- Stealth (Smuggler)
- Opponent’s STR
- Efficient characters with drawbacks
- Move/discard power tokens
- Losing/Giving control of characters
- Gaining renown/intimidate
- Claim raise
- Return to hand when killed (Davos)
- Icon gain
- Shadows/send to shadows
What do you see as the design space for Tyrell vs Lannister?
I assume this meant that both factions have similar themes, e.g. gold. I think it’s possible to distinguish the two houses. Whereas Lannister interacts a lot with gold like gaining gold during the challenges phase, paying or having gold for effects, and making the opponent pay gold, Tyrell focuses more on having good economy locations while having only a couple of cards that require paying gold for effects.
Some themes we’d like to explore in the future for the 2 houses:
- More Knights & Kingsguard synergy
- Explore the randomness theme, if it’s not done like Ser Gregor.
- Gold in challenges phase/recursion
- Control (‘The Seven’, Cersei’s scheme to remove Margaery)
- Aggro (Clansman, Mercenary, Kingsguard)
- Rush (Crossing, Freys, Knights/Kingsguard)
- Remove from challenge
- More focus on Intrigue challenges and Spies
- Giving cards to the opponent for some benefit is an intriguing concept
Do you plan to create new traits and keywords?
New traits and especially keywords are definitely something we consider, but in the short term, I’d like to support an existing keyword that fell flat so far: Bestow.
Do you plan to design cards for traits untouched by FFG, like Old Gods, Commander, Brotherhood etc. or first expand on existing ones, like Clansmen, Direwolves, etc.?
Definitely both. Creating something interesting for Old Gods is one of our ideas for Stark alongside Direwolf support. Having cards like Lady Stoneheart interact with the Brotherhood trait is easily done. Traits I’d like to expand on include Spy, Sand Snake, Martell Lord and Lady, Smuggler, Raider, Old Gods, Direwolf, Kingsguard, Winter, Summer, having all 3 NW traits, War.
How do you plan to balance the desires of the competitive players vs those who play more casually?
I don’t think their desires are mutually exclusive. Competitive and casual players alike are annoyed by a bad design like Sea of Blood. I’m confident both kind of players like having a balanced metagame.
I will also heavily focus on thematic designs and ASOIAF-related card names, which might be a higher priority for casual players, but it’s not something that will hamper competitive play.
What’s your vision? How do you see this game two years from now?
I’m certainly confident the game will be alive and healthy two years from now. I hope we will able to create interesting card designs for the community. We won’t do everything right, but we will certainly react more quickly to community requests and unhealthy metas than FFG ever did. Online playtesting will also be a huge improvement, so I’m confident we’ll have a cool and interesting game for years to come.
Ability to errata existing cards was one of the planks you ran on. What is the criteria that would qualify an existing card to be updated via errata? Would you like to errata or rework cards that see little to no play? What about cards that are overpowered?
As mentioned above, most of the restricted cards and some almost-restricted cards will get redesigns.
There are a couple of under-powered cards that I would like to change, but in general I only want to do it if it’s a meaningful change, something like supporting an underdeveloped theme. I also want to wait for the community’s reaction to the redesigns of the restricted cards before making more of them.
Can you tell us about the playtesting process?
We have a great team of some 30 playtesters assembled on the Conclave’s Discord server. They are providing valuable feedback on the design team’s decisions, be it card designs or RL updates.
What are the playtesters currently working on?
We’re currently playtesting a new Restricted List. This will be a major change to the current structure of the list, so we’re working hard to get it right. Expect the Restricted List update to be released on June 26th.
In the player survey, there was mention of pods in order to separate problematic interactions. Can we expect pods soon?
Yes, you can. They will be used to separate problematic interactions as well as a balancing tool.
Which tastes better? Bratwurst or Knackwurst?
Knackwurst! But on the rare occasions that I even eat meat, I prefer a steak 😉
Any last words?
These are all amazing questions that I’ve been happy to answer, but please be aware that not all of these changes, new cards, etc can happen at once, so if your favorite isn’t in the first release or two, don’t despair!
Thank you Hanno and thank you to everyone who submitted questions. Be on the lookout for our next Q & A!