News for May 2009
Into the Shadows 7
A preview of the new Shadows mechanic for A Game of Thrones
A Game of Thrones LCG | Published 14 May 2009

by A Game of Thrones: The Card Game Lead Developer Nate French

“Hello my friend,” the cloaked figure whispered. “At long last, the time to shine some light upon the shadows has arrived... follow me...”

The King’s Landing edition and its central “Shadows” mechanic were initially conceived about 2 years ago. I wanted to do a set based on one of the powerful settings that George R.R. Martin has created for his world, and explore that setting from a number of different angles in the card game. The city of King’s Landing was my first choice for such an approach, and everyone I talked to seemed to agree that it would be a strong thematic hook for the game.

The second task, then, was to brainstorm new ways to represent this setting, mechanically, on the cards. A number of different ideas were examined: a new type of challenge (complete with its own icon), a mechanic known as “bribery,” and a couple of new crests. And finally, there was an idea for a new game state, known as “Shadows,” that had nothing but a single note in its earliest draft: “Shadows - cards move in and out of Shadows.”

As the King’s Landing expansion developed, some of these new ideas didn’t turn out to be right for this edition, and they were moved to the back-burner or the slush pile. The Shadows mechanic, however, moved more and more to the center of the set. One of my favorite things about A Song of Ice and Fire is that the story is not told in the traditional “good and evil, black and white” manner that is so common in the fantasy genre. The shades of grey in the middle are where so many of the characters and events gain their compelling nature, and looking at the Shadows as a place between darkness and light, and as a representation of the space between good and evil, I arrived at the definition of what “Shadows” would be in the game: an in between place, not quite in play, but not quite out of play either, a place between the light and the dark where the metaphorically “grey” characters, locations, and events of George R.R. Martin’s world would be at their best. Or, in some cases, their most wickedly “worst.”

The Ends...

As I thought more about the Shadows area, there were three general concepts I wanted to make possible with the new mechanic: I wanted it to have strategic (long term) potential, I wanted it to have tactical (short term) potential, and I wanted it to introduce the possibility of a bluffing element to the game.

Each of these desires informed the early development of the mechanic. The desire for the mechanic to bring a long term strategic element to the game solidified the “Shadows” area as a place that is not quite in play, and it brought with it the idea that players could have multiple cards “in Shadows.” The desire for the mechanic to have short term, tactical implications was responsible for many of the “After this card comes out of Shadows” type effects that make it possible even for event cards to have the Shadow crest and emerge from the Shadows at an opportune moment. As for bluffing, Shadows creates a zone of partially hidden information, which allows a player to tell “part” of a story, which is essential for any kind of bluff: “I’ve put a card in Shadows, now it’s on you to figure out if it’s Tyrion Lannister, Syrio Forel, or the Queen of Thorns... before it’s too late.”

The Means...

Once it all came together, “the Shadows” was a face down play area, from which cards could “jump out” and come into play or impact the game (or both). The idea being that when your opponent has cards in Shadows, you know that something’s there, hiding, but you’re never entirely sure what it is until it’s jumping out at you.

Click on the image to the right for a larger version.

One of the primary obstacles that stood in the way of a mechanic that allowed players to marshal cards face down “in Shadows” and then bring them into play later was the question of whether or not an opponent was actually paying the right amount for the cards that are being marshaled. In an early design draft, all Shadow cards had a fixed cost, and it was understood (as part of the mechanic) that this cost was constant whenever someone would marshal a card into Shadows. This tended to make the scope of the mechanic rather one-dimensional: by setting the cost, we were pigeon-holing the mechanic into decks at a very specific point on the gold curve, and essentially making Shadows a replacement for a specific class of cards. The break-through came with the idea of splitting the cost: all Shadow cards are marshalled into Shadows for 2 gold, and there is a separate cost that is paid when the card comes out of Shadows. It may sound a little complicated, but all it really means is that the cost is 2 any time someone marshalls a card into Shadows (this is represented by the “s” in a card’s cost icon), and the numerical cost printed on the card is then paid when the card comes out of Shadows.

The second question to be addressed was the question of when cards could come out of Shadows. Would it be at any time, as a player action? Would it be at the beginning of the challenge phase? During the marshalling phase? A number of different possibilities were explored, and it seemed that giving each player the option of bringing one of his or her cards out of Shadows at the start of each phase worked best.

Finally, there was the question of how to distinguish a “Shadows” card that is marshalled into Shadows from its regular, non-shadowy counterparts. There are two obvious signifiers on every Shadow card. The first of these is the Shadow crest (this crest serves a secondary function of interacting with other card effects in the way that War, Holy, Noble, and Learned crests function), the second is the “s” that appears in the cost icon (this “s” serves a secondary function of reminding the marshalling player that there is a cost -- of 2 gold -- to pay when the card is played into Shadows). A hard and fast precedent has been established that only cards with the Shadow crest can be played into Shadows, and I decided early on to never introduce an effect that allows a card without the Shadow crest to enter the Shadows area. My feeling is that this is an important distinction to maintain regarding the integrity of the mechanic. As a final, aesthetic touch, the commissioned art for the Shadows cards was commissioned with a special emphasis on the “lighting,” giving these cards their own distinct flavor in the game.

And the Potential for more...

Shadows turned out to be an incredibly thematic mechanic that opened up some rich veins of design potential. Some of my favorite veins were those that exist on cards that aren’t themselves played in Shadows: the new Sansa Stark, for example, is a much better character when an opponent has no cards in Shadows. Other cards reward a player for keeping his or her cards in Shadows. And then there are cards like the new Tywin Lannister, who grants his own Shadow cards the possibility of returning to the Shadow zone from play. And that is only the beginning... you never know what’s waiting for you in the dark shadows of King’s Landing.

Based on George R.R. Martin's bestselling fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones: The Card Game brings the beloved heroes, villains, locations, and events of the world of Westeros to life through innovative game mechanics and the highly strategic game play. The Living Card Game
format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Chapter Pack expansions to the core game.

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Comments (7)

Published: 5/20/2009 11:32:59 PM

Not Morph. Morphed cards actually have a use when face down (2/2s right?). The base use for a Shadow card in AGoT is purely psychological. It doesn't DO anything (AFAIK... from the way the 'rule' for Shadow was worded above).

Published: 5/15/2009 5:55:02 AM

I'm sorry I really like the AGOT game - but this is not a new machanic, it's just "let's steal morph from MTG. (a mechanic which I never liked too much either)

Published: 5/15/2009 1:22:23 AM

I really like the picture of King's Landing. Maybe it'l be a bit small when printed on a card...

Published: 5/14/2009 6:46:44 PM

I like the sound of the mechanic a lot.  It's great to hear that art is still a top priority when bringing in new themes.  I am still curious about one thing though, whether shadows cards can be played as part of the flop at game start.

@jmccarthy - I think, and hope, it will be an intrigue only thing.  Intrigue fits thematically with shadows much better than the other challenge types and I think additional military or power challenges would be too strong, especially after a character reset plot (military) or at end game in multiplayer (power).

Published: 5/14/2009 5:26:28 PM

This isn't so much like Phasing as it is more like Morph you pay to bring the card into Shadows, then pay more later to activate it/put it into play. I like that we are limited to 1 Shadow card played per phase, and at the start of the phase. Which makes me wonder can Shadow Politics come out of Shadows during any phase? And can we perform an INT challenge during that phase or does the wording "additional" mean it only works in Challenges and the appropriate Epic phase?

Denim Demon
Published: 5/14/2009 1:56:28 PM

Sounds ok,but im a little skeptical on the whole shadow mechanic. I hated when MTG added phasing and VS Systems added a shadow like mechanic.Too much to keep track of sometimes.This sounds a lot better than those 2 examples and i will be buying them,just a little concerned i guess.....

Published: 5/14/2009 1:09:49 PM

Shadow Politics: I hope there are three of this card in each CP, and one for each challenge type.

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