2021.03 Update for A Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures Game brought with it the release of the Bolton Mini-Faction. In this article, we will be reviewing the Faction’s poor performance as one of the worst in the game. We will also be breaking down the design of the army and where it could improve for the future.
CMON announced they were creating Mini-Factions which would be separate from their parent Factions or brand new altogether. These Factions would allow you to home in on a specific playstyle but will restrict your roster of what you can build. They will also see fewer updates in new releases than other Factions.
For the Boltons, CMON wanted to give Neutral players an incentive to play a pure Affiliation instead of mix and matching across the roster. In doing so you get more creative ways to play the Boltons with some unique Units and Characters to boot.
The Faction focuses on an aggressive playstyle with plenty of Morale shenanigans to achieve dominance on the battlefield. Surprisingly though, their manipulation and treachery are not well represented with some terrible Tactics Cards and NCUs which has resulted in the Faction being lacklustre at launch.
Currently, no matter where you look, the Bolton Faction is the worst Faction by a longshot than any other Faction in the game. Their ELO rating on ASOIAF-Stats is -80 with the next faction being -14. All the Commanders have a negative ELO rating of -100 to -120, taking the worst Commander spot in the game by a longshot again, as the 4th worst Commander is Grey Worm from Targaryens with around -36 ELO. These numbers are crazy and perfectly shows there are glaring issues with Boltons being so distant from the entirety of the Factions in the game.
A document was formed by Paweł Szewczuk and Bob Ohmer where they compiled the data from the S02, and S03 Seasons has some interesting insights. In SO3 Boltons have a 33.33% win rate, with Starks coming next with 46.84% win rate, and then Targaryens with 48.31% win rate. Between the worst (not counting Boltons) and best being Night’s Watch with a 56.01% win rate, it doesn’t look drastically bad. Boltons take this to another level by being disadvantaged into any match up by at least 13.5% or more.
Another interesting piece of data is the pick rate for the Faction. The Bolton Faction was taken for a total of 2.50%, followed by Neutrals at 3.11%, and then Free Folk at 8.19%. To break this down further, in August there were 16 games for Boltons with a 25.00% win rate and a 0.69% pick rate. September there were 80 games for Boltons with a 35.00% win rate and a 2.16% pick rate. October there were 141 games for Boltons with a 33.33% win rate and a 4.07% pick rate. With more games in October than September and a higher pick rate, the faction has seen a small downturn in performance even though it gained about 75% more games played than the previous month and had almost twice as much pick rate.
What can we gather from this data? Boltons are a stranger to the ASOIAF Game, they don’t align with the quality of the other Factions and due to this they fall significantly behind the rest to a point of not being a part of the game. They are being tried out more and this affirms the statistics of a 33.33% win rate as the drastic change in play rate did very little to affect their standing, however I predict this will drop in November as people stray away from the Faction to play Neutrals or others. Without an update they will become a joke just like the Neutral faction before the SO3 update and will be relegated to obscurity unless the developers rework the Faction.
There can be a lot of reasons why a Faction is not doing well, however most if not all of the issues that plagues Boltons are internal. If one Faction was dominant, we would see other Factions fall off in addition to the Boltons, so we know it is something to do with them specifically. From my experience of playing them I do believe it comes down to three specific factors: Synergy, Roster, and Tactics Cards.
Synergies are either forced due to no better alternative, lacking in benefit, or non-existent. There are forced synergies everywhere in the Faction which are like illogical placements that result in a poorly synergistic force. An obvious example would be Ramsay Commander with Horrific Visage, as you wouldn’t put him in a Blackguard Unit due to the doubling up of abilities. But to push this further you wouldn’t put him in a Unit that wouldn’t or doesn’t want to be tied up in combat like Dreadfort Archers or Bastard’s Girls where the ability is not utilised as much. His design makes you realise his potential is weakened in these places and forces you to bring a specific Unit to get something out of his abilities.
Another example is with Roose Commander. You want the most out of his Intimidating Presence and Spread Fear abilities which would automatically result in you not putting him in Dreadfort Archers, even though his Seeing Their Flaws Tactics Cards is much better utilised by a ranged Unit as Kevan Lannister has shown us in the Lannister faction. You would then have to make a choice to either have a better place for your Tactics Card usage, or a better place to get the most out of your abilities.
There are several examples of this across the Faction from Tactics Cards, NCUs, Attachments, and Units. The force does not work as one, either the rules have too many hoops to jump through for little benefit like the Our Blades Are Sharp Tactics Card, or they just feel out of place providing no benefit or are the only benefit such as Fear Keeps a Man Alive.
If we look at other Factions in relation to the Our Blades Are Sharp Tactics Card, you can see the differences. This card gives you Precision for a Melee Attack, which is the worst keyword ability in the game, and re-rolls if the defender is Panicked. The card is best used in a prolonged engagement, one where you have a unit already engaged. Starks have Winter’s Might with three different combat bonuses with some different restrictions but with better bonuses. Baratheons have Ours Is The Fury. Some Commanders have Reckless Strikes and others Lash Out. These are all great combat cards that provide great benefits for the right restrictions and can be applied in a lot of situations.
The roster is too restricted. Other Factions have access to more impactful components in their lists such as the NCUs. For most players, being able to bring the power of Varys or Petyr takes the Tactics Board manipulation to a new level that the Boltons cannot compete with. But outside of this there are several better NCUs for every Faction that out class almost all the Boltons. Tybald is arguably the only good NCU, with Roose and Ramsay restricted based on whether they are being taken as a Commander or Attachment.
There is also the comparison between Bolton Units in the Bolton Faction and in other Factions. The only unique Units are Dreadfort Spearmen and Dreadfort Archers which aren’t impactful enough, instead people who want to play the other Bolton Units would rather see them alongside better bonuses in other Factions. Bastard’s Girls feel better with Stannis Heir, or Flayed Men for Harmen Uller. When other Factions bringing the Boltons are a better choice then why bother bringing pure Boltons? If it is to have multiple Bolton Units, then why not just play pure Neutrals?
When the choice to have, a better experience is given to you and it takes very little to switch up your lists then why wouldn’t you do that?
Too many of the Tactics Cards in the Base Deck are restricted to combat. If you are not attacking and removing ranks, wiping the Unit, or having them fail a Morale, then you will see little to no benefit from the deck. Our Blades Are Sharp is more effective in a consecutive turn and thus you would want to save it until you have a prime Unit that is already engaged and panicked to use it. Sadistic Games can only be played once you have a Unit engaged otherwise the opponent would pick the effect that would give you no benefit.
Fear Keeps a Man Alive is a worse Fealty to the Crown if used on one Unit as it is missing the additional benefits, however it does allow you to spread out the healing for those rare scenarios, however, the opponent needs to fail the Morale and take at least two wounds for this to be better than Fealty in spread heal.
Remorseless Examples gives you a Panic token from a destroyed rank in combat, or if you are fortunate enough to kill the Unit you get a new Terrain piece that is a slightly better corpse pile but also negatively impacts your own forces which have some of the worst army wide Morales in the game.
The Cruel Methods Tactics Card is counterproductive but does provide a good benefit in the right situation. If you have a Panic token you don’t intend to use for your Morale damage, you can use it to get other tokens or heals. The tokens are worthless next to the healing, but this is a worse version of the card from Neutral Ramsay as it removes the synergy with the Flayed Men.
A Flayed Man Has No Secrets is a good card, but it is also very situational. Again, you must spend a token from a nearby Unit to gain this effect. In all my games with the Boltons I have not used this card as I have not encountered a good enough ability or Tactics Card that follows the targeting requirements that I would like to prevent. There is a bunch out there though and the worth of this car changes drastically depending on what you are facing.
Harsh Punishments is a great card, there are a lot of places that this can be used, and it provides significant benefits to the Unit in return for some hefty negatives. I like to use this on the Cutthroats or Flayed Men as the Sundering and Attack Dice can be useful throughout the game. The only issue is you gain a token and take an additional wound on Panic tests.
A lot of Base Decks have a lot of cards that can be used in various situations and tend to have a decent benefit. In Neutrals you have Planning and Insight, Adaptive Methods, even Issue Commands is quite versatile. But they didn’t start out this way and were updated over time.
How to Fix the Base Tactics Deck
Remorseless Examples – This card working with Terrain rules is something we see very little of in the game. However, to get a benefit the Bolton player needs to kill a Unit and then have another Unit nearby fail a Morale to do one additional Wound. The Panic token could be useful however if you are struggling to generate the token. I would love to see this card reworked to something like the old version of Crannog Traps that gave additional rules to a terrain piece and became a zone control piece, whilst contributing to the Morale theme.
Harsh Punishments – CMON has balanced a negative effect perfectly on this card for the benefit of it. Sundering and Highest Attack Dice Value feels best used on the Cutthroats or Blackguard, but it can also be played with the Spearmen and Bastard’s Girls. It can be attached to Flayed Men which terrifies me. I do often think the negatives are too much, but I interpret this card to be like the attached cards that need order tokens, but instead of generating those tokens you get the full effects straight away but with the caveat of a negative at the same time. This card does not need to change.
Our Blades Are Sharp – It’s situational, but useful. As the words of House Bolton that are rarely spoken due to other coined phrases, this card represents the meaning behind the words, but also the rarity of its use. This phrasing isn’t used much in the books, but I feel like it links to their torture methods more than actual combat, therefore I would love if this changed to challenge a Unit’s Morale against the reputation of the Boltons. Think Subjugation of Power but, with buffs to the attacking Unit who take advantage of the enemy’s vulnerable state in combat. Think the buffs of Reckless Strikes but on a failure Morale of the enemy Unit with a -1 per zone you control between Letters, Coins, and/or Swords, whichever two the developers think are best.
Sadistic Games – This card helps with token generation, or a little extra damage thrown out. You must be smart about when you launch your sadistic games as it may not be the best time to get the most worth out of it. I do believe that the engagement requirement on the hits should be removed allowing for the card to be played in more situations. It doesn’t need anything more, but perhaps a third effect to choose from could be quite interesting.
Cruel Methods – This had a little nerf with no longer able to heal the Flayed Men, however it is still a very useful card for defensive capabilities with handing out tokens and healing back losses. It costs a Panic Token, which you should have a lot of anyway. Revert the change from restricting the heal on the Flayed Men since it is the same in the Neutral Deck. The tokens will rarely be picked however, so perhaps the two tokens should be combined into one pick, which might make it more of a choice when it reaches the player’s hand.
A Flayed Man Has No Secrets – Whilst I initially believed this Tactics Card was a home run for the Boltons, the more I play the more I find that there are very few situations where it is applicable but more importantly worthwhile. This issue here is the targeting mechanics which restricts the potential of the card a lot. Either rework the wording to open the door to stop more abilities and Tactics Cards. Otherwise, I would suggest a complete rework, but I would recommend making this card quite strong due to the namesake being the most popular quote from and about the Boltons.
Fear Keeps a Man Alive – There are Units super tough to take down in the Flayed Men and Blackguard that would love this card to reinforce that toughness especially since they are likely causing a failed panic test on the opponent. But others, which are glass cannons, like the Cutthroats and Bastard’s Girls need this healing to keep them in the game for longer. A slight update to this card to bring it in line with another very similar card in Fealty to the Crown would be nice.
Some slight tweaks and some complete reworks can give the Bolton players some more tools to work with throughout the games they play rather than it being more situational. Like all Factions, it is a constantly evolving process to balance the Base Decks and I hope CMON do update the Bolton Faction for the next update and not wait until the following like they often do with new releases.
Roose Bolton – Lord of the Dreadfort
Roose’s abilities remain the same as the Neutral variant with Intimidating Presence ability and Spread Fear Order. Just like the Neutral version, Roose is best placed in the Blackguard Unit to get the most out of all his abilities, mixing with Horrific Visage. Roose orchestrated the Red Wedding with Walder as the host, and Tywin as his backing. Roose should feel like someone pulling the strings with a control deck.
Whispered Threats – This Card allows you to generate some tokens when an enemy NCU activates. A useful card for putting out some tokens but is not massively impactful on the game. Roose now has two ways to put out Panic tokens in his deck which is a unique aspect across the Bolton Commanders. There isn’t too much token generation for Weakens and Vulnerables so I do think it is a good card, perhaps it doesn’t need a change here but it is a weak card overall.
Seeing Their Flaws – This card can be used to great effect to shut down a Unit’s abilities and Tactics Cards. This only affects Roose’s Unit however, which is quite likely to be Blackguard who aren’t great at combat, but pair this card with Steelshanks Attachment, who counts as Roose for the card effects, and you could see more use out of this. Either Roose’s abilities need to change to encourage putting him in another Unit, or this card needs to slightly change to affect more than just Roose’s Unit. Otherwise, it is a throwaway card often.
Dreadfort Secrets – A brand new card added into the game, and it plays in a similar fashion to the Dreadfort Spearman’s Impaling Spear ability. Generating Panic tokens is incredibly valuable for the Bolton faction, and Roose NCU helps a lot in this manner, so having the Commander equipped with something to help with this is important. This card can work with almost any Unit in the faction so it will have a lot of playabilities, however the impact might not be that substantial considering there are already so many ways to generate Panic tokens. This should change to meddling with the opponents Tactics Deck such as discarding one of their cards like Pyat Pree.
I think Roose is a bad Commander. His best cards went into the Base Deck which makes him less valuable than the Neutral version. Whilst all the cards will be useful in some way, they will impact very little on the field, this is the same for his abilities that only enhance specific Units. Seeing Their Flaws is a great card that can impact the game, but Roose’s Unit is not likely to utilise it making it redundant. You are kind of forced to bring Steelshanks to gain any value. Roose should be a spearhead Commander, especially when you are giving up his great NCU to play him. I hope he sees a stellar rework to make him better.
Ramsay Snow – Spiteful Heir
Ramsay’s abilities have remained the same from his Neutral variant bringing the Horrific Visage ability. This is a great ability for any of the infantry Units to have. Whether you are the Spearmen further incentivising the opponent from not attacking, the Archers to give them a defensive boost, or the Cutthroats trying to stay alive, Ramsay fits in with them all apart from the Blackguard who will double up on this rule. Ramsay should be a cunning but ruthless attachment like his normal Attachment version, a Melee ability added on would be ideal.
Skin Collection – Skin Collection is a brand-new fantastic card for Ramsay to bring. This can make an attack from Vicious a -4 to the Panic Test, or increase a full rank Blackguard/Commander Unit to a -5 Panic Test. It can help with Spread Fear on the Bolton Flayers or give the defensive Units a little punch to their attacks. The possibilities, and impact on the game, are endless here. You have to work to get the order tokens, but it is for a good payout. No change needed.
Opportunist – My first thoughts about this card was to give Archers the rerolls and keywords without needing to have a Unit engaged or boost their rule with Vicious. But then I thought about Flayed Men getting Precision and the reroll, or the Bastard’s Girls, really any Unit would see a lot of benefits from using this card to pack a hefty punch. A strong card that can be used in so many ways however it is limited in application as some of the benefits double up in a lot of encounters. Precision is not a brilliant rule, and all the aggressive Units have Vicious. This might be a good time to change the benefits of this card specifically for the Boltons to make it better in more situations.
Spoils in Flesh – Fuelled by Slaughter but in a Short-Range Tactics Card. Adding more ways to heal for the Boltons will be quite strong for keeping them in the game, and unlike Cruel Methods it can be used to heal the Flayed Men which are arguably one of the best Units at their disposal. It can also offset the glass hammer Units too. This is a great card and doesn’t need to change.
Ramsay seems to be the best Commander for the Boltons, each card is impactful on the game and provides some strong buffs for the whole army, not selective Units. You can bring what you want whilst being able to boost them further with Ramsay’s cruel tactics and strategies. A strong Commander for the Mini-Faction but doubles up on the cards of the Base Deck in application. They are combat based cards, if you aren’t in combat you won’t see these synergies in play.
Steelshanks Walton – Captain of the Guard
Walton’s abilities are weird. Shared Fear is a brand-new ability which is interesting, generating tokens from your own Unit failing Panic tests is certainly something we haven’t seen before, and there are some bad Morale Stats to utilise this. However, Iron Resolve is counter intuitive to this playstyle, it should be replaced with Unyielding. A small change to abilities here would have Walton sitting nicely in a niche design.
Price of Fear – A brand new card to the game that adds some mobility to the Bolton forces for some flank or even rear charges. It could also tie in with the other Tactics Cards Walton has for a long shot combination across the board. This card will be played at crucial times to have the most impact possible, it could even be game settling if used in the right way to remove a Unit from the field. This does not need a change.
Rush of Aggression – An auto-rolled 6 for the charge and Critical Blow. This will be a brutal card for the Boltons to use with Bastard’s Girls or even the Cutthroats. I can see it being played on the Flayed Men to increase their threat range, but the Critical Blow aspect will double up unfortunately. This has been a strong card with aggressive Commanders like Victarion Greyjoy, so it will be interesting to see how it works here. It also does not need a change.
Taunt – The new changes to Taunt are going to be substantial here. I wish CMON kept it as a Long-Range option for Tactics Cards like how they changed the War Cry Order. The tokens will be helpful, however the real power here is forcing the opponent into charging something they do not wish to such as the Blackguard or Spearmen. This forcing of actions will tie into Price of Fear plus it could be brutal if you have a hidden set up with Rush of Aggression. It also does not need a change.
Steelshanks is a dark horse Commander. His cards don’t look overly impressive at first glance, however when digging deeper you can see the combos, and with an experienced player behind the wheel of this Commander, Steelshanks could be quite powerful. Players have not figured out how to use Steelshanks yet, but this could be because he is not backed up by the rest of the Faction’s buffs. Perhaps with a change to the rest of the force he will start to excel?
The Inner Circle rule prevents Bolton armies from taking any Neutral Faction Units. This means NCUs like Petyr Baelish or Varys, Attachments like the Glory Seeker or Vargo Hoat, and Units such as the Golden Company Swordsmen or Hedge Knights, are all restricted from the Bolton roster.
I have scoured to see if I can find any official statement on why the Boltons are not allowed to take Neutral Units, however nothing is stated about this rule. The only information I have found that could give us insight to why this was designed this way is from CMON’s September 12th article from the ASOIAF website. Within this article, the developers say.
“…but in choosing to play exclusively House Bolton, you gain access to some unique units of the Dreadfort variety as well.”
From this line we could conclude that by choosing to play specifically Boltons you would get bonuses you wouldn’t normally get from playing Neutrals. So, the restrictions are too limited to non-Bolton stuff to keep it purely Bolton.
For this to work the Bolton Faction needs to be worth playing over the Neutral counterpart and currently the rules are much worse with the only benefit being some unique Units and Characters. By including the Neutrals, you defeat the point in ever having Neutrals anyways but it would save the Mini-Faction from certain death. I do however believe under this line of thinking that Neutrals should not be taken, but this serves what purpose?
The game’s entire premise is based on a “What If?” idea, where anything can happen after Robert Baratheons’ death that is only limited by your imagination. Furthermore, forces such as the easily manipulated Brave Companions, wandering sellswords of Hedge Knights, and even Walder Frey, already worked closely with the Boltons in their betrayal plans, so calling the rule “Inner Circle” seems stupid, and pure Bolton forces would still be utilising them.
Adding Neutrals to the Mini-Faction would give many options for list building that they currently don’t have and won’t have as CMON confirmed they will have a less dedicated release of new expansions. I would redesign the Mini-Faction to focus on the Bolton playstyle of Morale for the entirety of the Neutral Faction. The Neutral Deck and Commanders are a general jack-of-all-trades deck, but when you focus in on one area it homes in on a playstyle. So Boltons would be a Morale dominant force, Golden Company would be high quality Units for combat, and Bloody Mummers would be defensive debuffing abilities like the Weaken Token manipulation.
The only avenue to cover for this is to rework a lot of Tactics Cards, Units, and Characters whilst also releasing new Units and Hero Boxes as if they were a dedicated Faction for release. Adding in Neutrals would require slight tweaking and a Tactics Deck overhaul. One is considerably less work and time to implement than the other.
Tybald needs a FAQ or more importantly a rewording. I am not too sure on what is and is not allowed and find myself discussing with each opponent on how the rules are interpreted. It is the same for some Martell cards where the wording is not great and becomes confusing to understand. One situation is, can you select a Tactics Zone Tybald is currently controlling for his effect? Thus, claiming the Zone twice no matter what and removing the choice the opponent must make.
Is Jeyne Poole not good enough? Her Influence rule to give +2 to Morale Tests is useful with some of the Units having terrible Morale. Her second ability becomes good if you have three NCUs and so does your opponent as there is no benefit to the opponent, otherwise you are giving them a free activation, however this could be used at an incredibly crucial moment where you need the first player. She is the best NCU of the non-Commander NCUs by quite some distance, so perhaps she is fine, and it is more the rest of the Faction not capitalising on her power that is the problem.
Walda Frey worthless. Through playing Walda Frey I have found her abilities suck. I find I am rarely choosing to pull a Commander card as just drawing two cards and putting a token out is far better, but most cards are bad, so this isn’t a great choice anyways. The heal is nice if no tokens are out, but making sure the board is clear of those advantages is way more important than one wound. Putting out a Weakened whilst causing a Panic Test on the Crowns is a great ability though and quite helpful. The benefits need to change as they just don’t out way the Zone benefits, however some Ramsay and Steelshanks cards are worth pulling out the discard pile. She needs some tweaks to her ability.
Commander Restrictions. Ramsay and Roose are great NCUs and the best in the Faction the problem is, they restrict your Commander choice. I would love for the developers to bring back the NCU commander version of Roose for the Bolton Faction, they did this for Doran Martell, and it would link into getting a bonus for playing pure Boltons which is why this Mini-Faction was made in the first place.
Walder Frey should be a part of this Faction. He was the other mastermind behind the Red Wedding and even has one of his children married into the Bolton family. I am unsure if his NCU would be truly impactful, but it would go a long way to include some of the Neutral Units in the Bolton Faction that make sense to be there. I would love for them to go a step further and give us the Mummers as well since it is incredibly unlikely, they will be their own Mini-Faction.
A new Heroes box would solve a lot of the issues with mediocre NCUs and give the support the rest of the Faction needs on the battlefield.
The rest of the Mini-Faction are in a good place unless changes to the rest warrant some tweaking to help the whole force work better together. The Base Deck is the most important aspect that needs to be reworked, followed by the Commanders, and perhaps the NCUs, however some more options would solve the NCU roster problem.
The developers do tend to not do too many changes to recently released Factions, however as the statistics show the Boltons are in a dire state that a year wait for an update would be the worst thing to happen. Look at it from a business standpoint with sales, nobody will buy the brand-new Bolton items when its better play with the stuff you already have, and that isn’t just better in a competitive sense, the game is just more fun with the Neutral version as it doesn’t feel like you’re hitting your head off a brick wall. I have faith that CMON will rework the Boltons in the next update.
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