I got into this game fairly easily because my favorite major house in the show is Lannister. Let’s take a look at them and their arch rivals, House Stark.
My wife really digs Starks but she has yet to try the game because it looks too nerdy. Don’t worry, it’s just a matter of time because I see her eyeing the dinner table that I’ve fully converted into playing daily games. It’s a good thing that I bought enough stuff to get some variety into the mix so the newer players I’m trying to get into the game can experiment and mix and match units. Even though I have my favorites, I have probably played at least 40% of my games with Starks because I feel that the best way to learn the game is by playing a lot.
Whenever someone starts with the game, no matter what minis game, I always tell them the same thing: Go with the aesthetics and look of the faction first above anything else. With this game, however, I don’t think the same principle applies as much in this game because everyone is human (for the most part). When it comes down to picking a faction, I think one of the things everyone needs to do is examine a bit of their psyche and pick a faction that best aligns with their personality. It’s like picking a color in MTG and understanding that each color represents a bit of your personality. If you want to go a little bit deeper, picking a faction in this game would be like picking a guild from Ravnica, or even building a character in a D&D campaign. That is, unless you really really like dogs. Then I would say just pick Starks and never look back.
Alright, so back to the two starting factions from the Core set. Since you need this set to play the game and they’re the factions with the largest amount of units choices right now, you need to decide if you want to go with House Lannister or House Stark. Remember what I said about picking the right faction for you, as this will do you big favors because a lot of the game’s mechanics are designed around how the houses behave in the books/show whatever. There’s a big chance that if you don’t like the houses’ personality in the books that you will not like how they play in-game. It’s actually one of my favorite things about the game so far and that’s how on-point a lot of book to table translation has been.
Hear Me Roar!
Alright, let’s begin with the Lannisters. In this game, the Lannisters are the faction that has a lot of panic shenanigans, morale tests, weakens, and counterplots. Their Tactics cards play heavily with the Crown and Wealth zones on the Tactics Board and controlling those will open up many secondary effects of your cards. Lannister Commanders come in many shapes and sizes from the destructive and brutal force of The Mountain to the cunning strategist that is Tyrion Lannister (yes, you can take him in combat!). My favorite Commander for the Lannisters is Tywin Lannister (also my favorite character in the show) because a lot of his Tactics cards and abilities intimidate and Weaken enemy units. Another Commander that I’ve tried is Jaimie Lannister because his abilities center around defense, parry, and riposte; turning the opponent’s attacks and crappy rolls against them.
When it comes to NCUs or their Tactics cards, the Lannisters focus heavily on debuffing and control elements that limit the opponent’s options. Pycelle’s Weaken effect and Cersei’s No Confidence are prime examples of debuffing the opponent or making them worse for morale tests, while tactics cards like Counterplot can outright stop an opponent tactics card from going off. I tried to get some examples of the kind of tactics the Lannisters can employ and I think this lot sums it up pretty nicely. For the Lannisters, they are all scheming masterminds with several abilities that kicks players while they’re down.
Kick ’em while they’re down.
As for Lannister units, they are well-supplied and fairly diverse to take on a large breadth of enemies. The Mountain is its own unit just because he is, Lannister Guardsman are slow with lower attacks but has an excellent defense and a great ability (Lannister Supremacy) that only gets better with attachments, and Lannister Crossbowmen are no joke. I’ve recently started playing them and having a unit that just hits units with ranged attacks on a 3+ with Sundering from Long Range is incredible. Lannisters also have some interesting unique units like Pyromancers that can toss their Wildfire from ranged or in combat and it ignores defense saves while suffering -2 to the defender’s Panic tests through Vicious.
While the Lannisters have a solid lineup of units, I would say their strengths come from their debuffs and stopping your opponents from what they want to do more so than just strength of arms. For that, you want to get into House Stark. If you’re looking for a faction that doesn’t care about the subtleties and just wants to beat face, you’ve come to the right place.
Winter is coming.
When it comes to striking hard and striking fast, Stark is the faction to do it. One of the many things I enjoy about the core set is that you have two factions that have radically different playstyles. Just like it is in the books, the Starks and the Lannisters are probably the two houses most different from one another. While the Lannisters rely on debuffs and abilities that stop your opponents from doing what they intend, Starks are all about battlefield combat and maneuver. They see an opening and go for the jugular just like the Dire Wolf, their house sigil and in doing so, deliver massive damage to the enemies and leave them reeling. With Commanders like Robb Stark who can take maneuver warfare to the next level, or Roddrick Cassel and his ability to exploit the Vulnerable enemies, the Starks are the faction you want if you want to destroy the opponent’s army rather than play the more drawn-out game of politics and scheming.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Stark units or playstyle are just centered around this niche. With both the Lannisters and the Starks, there will be Commanders and units that will change the regular composition from what you expect from the two factions and that’s always a good thing. For example, on one side, you have the fast-moving and lightly-armored Umber Berserker that has built-in Sundering (-1 to defense saves) and their attacks increase when you lose ranks rather than decrease. You compare this to the rock-solid Tully Sworn Shields with the Shield Wall ability and good luck trying to break their 3+ defense saves from the front. This unit variety not only keeps different playstyles fresh and exciting but also gives units legroom to perform depending on the game mode that you play. Either way, when you think about Starks, their humble foot soldier in the form of Stark Sworn Swords move 5, have excellent morale and rolls 8 dice just because they can. When you pop Stark Fury on them, they gain +1 to hit and Critical Blows on their attacks (6s deal 2 hits) at the cost of D3 models to your own unit. If that’s not a healthy representation of angry Northmen I don’t know what is.
Winter is seriously coming!
When it comes to Tactics cards and NCUs, Stark is pretty straight-forward: It’s all about Combat and Maneuver and taking those zones will be extremely rewarding. Catelyn Stark can remove a condition from an afflicted unit while buffing them so they’re attacking with max dice, and Sansa Stark can instant tutor for any tactics card you need, even if it’s a previously discarded card. That is great tactical flexibility and I have her in almost every single one of my Stark lists.
Well, that’s about it for the high-level overview of which armies you will get in the core box. With so many different commanders, tactics, NCUs, and units to cover, list building deserves its own article. I’ll take you guys through the basics of list building and show you a couple of Lannister and Stark lists tomorrow so you can better grasp some of the things discussed today.
Hero is a veteran tabletop wargamer and video game designer. He is the man behind HERO's Gaming Blog. He specializes in Warhammer 40k, X-Wing: the Miniatures Game and Star Wars: Armada. He began writing for BoLS in 2010.