The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due
Preview a Champion Card from the Oberyn’s Revenge Chapter Pack
“Littlefinger borrowed heavily. From you, amongst others. Yes, the incomes are considerable, but they are barely sufficient to cover the usury on Littlefinger's loans.”
–Tyrion Lannister, A Storm of Swords
The Seven Kingdoms may be won with swords, but they cannot be held without golden dragons. From feeding armies, to funding tournaments, to maintaining order in the cities, a stream of golden coin runs through every page of A Song of Ice and Fire—even if it’s often behind the scenes. Still, those coins must come from somewhere. And sooner or later, every debt comes due.
Today, the 2013 A Game of Thrones: The Card Game Melee World Champion, Ryan Jones, shares his thoughts on his first champion card design—and how it can give you the sudden influx of gold to give you a fighting chance in the game of thrones.
Ryan Jones on His Champion Card
I've always said that I hate surprises. Unless they're small surprises, like finding a ten-dollar bill in your back pocket. Or bigger surprises, like breakfast in bed on your birthday. Or momentous surprises, like winning the 2013 Melee World Championship for A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Alright, fine… it turns out I love surprises, but only when I'm on the winning side! It’s this realization that was the eventual catalyst for my first champion card: The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due.
After earning the chance to design a card in 2013, I took my time with the process. Soon after I’d finally locked in a spicy little character that would transform my favorite Lannister holy crest characters into a wrecking crew, FFG made the announcement that the game would be rebooted. My card didn’t fit the new edition very well, so it was back to the drawing board.
While looking for inspiration during the initial testing for the second edition Core Set, I came to the conclusion that, as with most things in life, it's the community that makes this game so special. My favorite part of this shared experience is telling “war stories:” the improbable intrigue pulls, clever challenge ploys, and razor-thin victories from past games. While the Core Set is a good place for beginners to learn the game, I felt that the opportunity for epic stories was far too low. In this, I found a high-level direction for my card: give the storytellers something worth sharing.
With my vague goal in hand, I set out to give it shape by investigating what made games more (or less) thrilling. The word oft repeated with vitriol amongst our group was “safety.” There is little worse in this game than your opponent feeling completely safe. Your hand is empty, you've played your only reset as your seventh plot, you don't have any gold in the challenges phase; the round is as good as solved. No more surprises; no chance for a story.
There's a sinking, helpless feeling that accompanies your five STR military challenge going casually unopposed since you lack the two gold to play Put to the Sword (Core Set, 41). Or if you’re one gold short of playing The Hound (Taking the Black, 9) to stop a game-winning power challenge from Balon Greyjoy (Core Set, 68). With the realization that if you don't have gold, you can rarely make fun, story-creating plays, my nebulous goal found a target: create a gold-generating effect that could be played at a moment's notice.
From there, the dominoes fell quickly. To ensure the card had the widespread impact I was hoping for, it had to be neutral. To be a surprise, it needed to cost zero gold. Keeping with the surprise theme, and somewhat by process of elimination, the event card type was the only fit. However, paying no gold for some gold usually requires another type of cost. I ran through a few bad options before landing on a cost that can often be a boon: returning a character to your hand. With faction, card type, cost, and effect decided, I arrived at the first draft: Redeploy—a zero gold, neutral event with the text: “Action: Return a character to your hand to gain X gold. X is that character's printed cost.”
That initial version didn't go over too well! It was pointed out that Redeploy could be used in the taxation phase, after gold had been returned for the round, to return a character to your hand, play Valar Morghulis (There Is My Claim, 80) to kill all characters, then spend the saved gold to replay the character, essentially making this a neutral “save” card. To stop that madness, it gained the text “Action: If it is not the taxation phase, return a character…” and the testers calmed down for a brief time—although Martell players can still pull that combo off with The Long Plan (Taking the Black, 16).
A few weeks later, testers identified that the card could essentially copy any character’s “enters-play” effect with no effort. Or, as an example, you could play Littlefinger (Core Set, 28), return him to your hand with Redeploy, and immediately play him again for a total of four cards drawn. So the card gained the text “You may not play or put into play a card with that name until the end of the round.” And once again, there was peace in the land.
I accepted the weight of the additional text and was happy that the card’s core was still intact, but out in the distance, a murmur began to rise: “Is this a non-limited quasi-economy card? Better throw a faction card kneel on that bad boy!” I picked my card up off the ground, wiped away the blood, and looked to see if the core was intact—though it was faint, the heart still beat! I knew then that the name Redeploy was far too pedestrian for a card that had valiantly survived this ordeal.
Some designers start with a favorite character or scene from the books, then mold the card's effects to match that theme. While I do love the book series and several of its characters, the game mechanics have always come first for me, so it should be no surprise that I designed a finished card with basically no theme in mind. Even worse, I ended up outsourcing that task to my local wolf pack, asking, “Is there anything that makes sense for a character leaving the battlefield, getting a huge influx of gold, then returning later?” In retrospect, I probably should have seen the obvious connection, but I was saved the trouble when John Kraus brought up the Iron Bank of Braavos and David Keller suggested their motto: The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due (Oberyn’s Revenge, 99). Done and done!
So, did I achieve my goal of creating a more dynamic, fear-filled game? There are certainly more options for fueling surprise challenge effects with The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due, but it's actually the potential that comes from returning a character to hand that I've come to appreciate most. A few of my favorite, subtler uses are:
- Dropping negative attachments like Craven (Called to Arms, 26) or Marriage Pact (Guarding the Realm, 22) off of your characters.
- Dodging end of phase effects like Tears of Lys (Core Set, 44), Tyene Sand (True Steel, 115), or Harrenhal (For Family Honor, 50).
- Returning a knelt character near the end of the challenges phase to steal dominance.
- Returning a big character with The Long Plan revealed, playing Valar Morghulis, then replaying that character next turn with your saved gold.
- When The First Snow of Winter (No Middle Ground, 79) is revealed, returning a three-cost character during marshaling to afford a big character.
- Returning a character with a great “enters play” ability, like Summer (Core Set, 148), Newly Made Lord (The King’s Peace, 51), Beric Dondarrion (The Brotherhood Without Banners, 117), or House Florent Knight (Wolves of the North, 37) to use again next turn.
The real trick is to get several of these benefits out of just one use. I'm looking forward to returning my Littlefinger in challenges to discard the attached Marriage Pact, which forces the opponent to sacrifice a character, using my newly gained gold to ambush in The Queen's Assassin (Core Set, 95), which forces my opponent to kill another character, using The Queen's Assassin and my last gold to play Tears of Lys, then marshaling Littlefinger again next turn to draw two cards. The stars may never align so perfectly, but it sure would make for a great story!
Ryan Jones is a veteran member of the SoCal meta that has been attending the FFG World Championships since 2012 and organizes the annual Thrones W.A.R. event in San Diego. With a Melee, Overall, and Draft championship to his name, the Joust title remains his white whale. Hopefully the hunt doesn't consume him whole!