2024 has a lot of great events in store for the players of the A Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures Game with the biggest being the upcoming slate of Nationals and Grand Tournaments hosted in various countries. The next big event I will be attending is the Welsh GT and I wanted to document my journey of developing a Bolton force for the event. If you are unsure how to approach picking an army, building it, and then learning how to play it before attending an event then this will be a great example, and if you’re a Bolton player this should give you valuable insight on how to handle the most difficult army to play in the game.
Welsh GT – Here Be Dragons 3
The sold-out and biggest event held in Wales each year is celebrating its third birthday with Here Be Dragons 3. The event, which takes place on March 2nd and 3rd, will see 32 of some of the game’s best players clash on tabletops in a game of treachery, tenacity and thrones. I was lucky enough to attend Here Be Dragons 2 and was impressed by how much everyone enjoyed the event and look forward to my return.
From experienced players to beginners, every faction was represented at last year’s event, and the fight for top place was hotly contested. The event wasn’t just about becoming number one as the event staff saw to it that every player walked away with a prize alongside spot prizes from mini goals throughout the games, to even a bingo sheet celebrating moments at every event such as “Whine about dice rolls” but also celebrating the community of creators and clubs. As always there is also the Best Painited Award for the hobbyists out there, Best General for each Faction for bragging rights in your chosen force, and of course the coveted Wooden Spoon.
The event is organised by Duke’s Gaming with a helping hand from the renowned player Scaddman, and I have to say I could not think of two better people to run an entertaining and enjoyable event as these. Duke’s Gaming has just opened their new Store and are delving into more events for the specialist games including small one dayer events for ASOIAF with the next one being held on the 20th of January.
The Faction list of what people are bringing is not yet known, so we do not know what the playing field looks like at the event, however I will be bringing the brand new Mini-Faction to the event even though they are by far the worst Faction in the game.
Why Play House Bolton?
A lot of why I like the Boltons is due to their Commander’s strategy within the pages of the books this game is based on. Roose Bolton is noted as being unremarkable, ordinary, but also remorseless, and implacable. He was also someone who came out of nowhere to overthrow their liege lord in the Starks which is quite formidable seeing how they were almost unbeatable by the other players in the War of the Five Kings.
One of the best parts of doing a re-read through the books is noticing all the moves Roose makes overtime that slowly weakens the Starks forces. At first read through and glance you think nothing of it, but knowing what was coming you realise what he was doing. As an example, Roose issues orders to have Lord Tallhart join with Lord Glover to attack Duskendale with Harrion Karstark, all either end up slain or captured, weakening Robbs forces. Roose slowly bleeds the best and most loyal to the Stark’s cause so that when his treachery is revealed the traitors would have the best chance.
No matter what tabletop game I play, the best moments or the most enjoyable aspect of playing is bringing an underdog or “bad” force and then proceeding to do well with them. This could be in the army choice like Boltons, Unit choice like Casterly Rock Honour Guard, or even characters like Rickard Karstark.
The Boltons’ intricate and subtle rise to power in the books has inspired me to do the same with them in the space of the tabletop game. I have been and will continue to learn Boltons to perform well with the force at Here Be Dragons 3.
State of Play – House Bolton
As of writing this article, the divide between the other Factions in the game and the Mini-Faction of House Bolton has only become wider according to ASOIAF-stats. 1st is Night’s Watch with 39, 2nd is Greyjoy with 22, and third is Martells with 11. Boltons are dead last at -69, with the Free Folk ahead of them at -10, and then Baratheons ahead of them at -2.
These statistics show that Botlons need a buff and Night’s Watch needs a nerf to bring both Factions into a closer line with the rest of the game. However, statistics don’t give the true detail into what is happening and can sometimes tell a different story than what is going on. For Greyjoys, second place in the rankings is achieved with one specific list with some very specific Units in the Silenced Men, Golden Company Swordsmen, Drowned Men, and Balon Greyjoy. Their internal balance is shocking, and if one of these Units is nerfed then their ranking will take a huge hit.
Is this the same for Boltons? I believe it is far more complex of a situation to solve and they may as well be the new Neutral Faction where we disregard their existence. In my experience, the Boltons suffer from a lack of synergy to put it into a general problem. The Tactics Cards are hard to activate with how infrequent their triggers come up as well as how impactful their benefits are. Further to this, Units tend to negatively interact with one another forcing some design choices to be off the table completely, others to be forced upon you, and some that are so limited in where they can be played.
To solve this, the Base Deck needs a complete rework similar to the Baratheon Base Deck rework since most of their cards were about engagement and most of the Boltons cards are generally about the same thing. They also need an expanded roster, alongside a rework on the current one, to bring more creative synergistic choices to list building when used in practice.
A good example is with Roose Bolton, his Seeing Their Flaws Tactics Card, and Walton Steelshanks Attachment. Roose has abilities that provides the most value in a Unit of Blackguard but could be used in Cutthroats or Spearmen, however, putting him into the two defensive Units will see the Seeing Their Flaws card almost go to waste since it would only work on his own Unit that is not kitted out for combat. Using him in the Cutthroats would allow this card to be useful whilst gaining some benefit from his abilities.
Steelshanks Attachment has the Vassal ability allowing him to be counted as Roose for his cards. The benefit of this comes from placing him in an Archer Unit since Roose in the same Unit would see no value out of his abilities, but Steelshanks with Sentinel can in a similar fashion as Kevan Lannister from the Lannister Faction with Crossbowmen. Steelshanks could also go in Cutthroats or even Boltons Bastard’s Girls where Sentinel will be useful as well. All of this, to make a Tactics Card is not useless if you draw it in the situation that it would be useful.
Whilst there is potential here, the amount of work you need to go through to get a chance at using the Tactics Card is not worth the forced list design in comparison to many other Commander cards in the game that are far easier and more beneficial. Some more playtesting could see the Faction uplifted after some tweaks. But can they even stand up to other Factions at all? The stats say no, but some great players say otherwise.
Tournament Win – Psychoste
At “We Do Not Sow” Ribble Rumble ASOIAF 2023, Psychoste achieved 4 wins and one loss with the Bolton Factioin and walked away with the tournament win thanks to SP points for the gap between each player’s points. He used the same list for all five games against Lannisters, Night’s Watch, and Dothraki lists.
Commander: Roose Bolton – Lord of the Dreadfort
Points: 41 / 40
- Blackguards ( 6 )
Roose Bolton – Lord of the Dreadfort ( 0 )
- Flayed Men ( 8 )
- Flayed Men ( 8 )
- Dreadfort Spearmen ( 5 )
Grunt – Bastard’s Boy ( 1 )
Non Combat Units
- Ramsay Snow ( 4 )
- Tybald ( 4 )
- Jeyne Poole ( 5 )
Most Bolton Units are easier to destroy due to their low armour and low morale, but the three most resilient Units in their roster have been brought in this list making it difficult for the opponent to remove tools for the Bolton player, and you can see this in each game where Ste only lost one Unit per game including the one where they ended up losing.
The game that Ste lost in was against a Jeor Mormont Night’s Watch list built to kill whilst being survivable. It is really tough for Boltons on a NW match-up and playing against a good list with a good player is going to be difficult as it is. Ste lost by only a point which should be enough to signal how good of a player Ste is and that there is potential for the Boltons to win against the toughest of foes.
Ste is a fantastic player and utilises the best of the Bolton Faction to achieve an astonishing performance. It is truly an inspiration to all players for what you can achieve with skill alone, but also it proves how good of a game ASOIAF is when the worst Faction can win big not be its merits in rules, but by the Commander.
The Flayed Men
This list is designed around the Flayed Men and is about applying pressure in quick succession in a situation where you can capitalise on an opening. Jeyne Poole and Tybald allow you to take advantage of a situation where you can hammer both Flayed Men into a Unit and start wiping the board.
Ste’s games all have him killing a lot of Units which is what makes me believe this is crucial. Speaking with Ste at the event, Jeyne Poole is incredibly important for taking a first turn when you can turn the tides. Deciding when to use Jeyne can decide the game which is what happened in the Dothraki game.
Double Flayed Men are survivable whilst putting out a lot of damage, whilst the Dreadfort Archers, Cutthroats, and Bastard’s Girls can be as devastating; they just don’t survive well and that is before thinking about positioning. I think to succeed with Boltons in their current state you do need to bring double Flayed Men with a Commander, Attachments, and NCUs that can boost their playstyle.
As discussed with Jeyne Poole, NCUs are crucial for the Boltons, but are not crazily powerful. Tybald is a confusing NCU due to how his ability is written but it does seem like you can activate him again with one of his tokens on a zone he holds, giving you another benefit of the zone. Doubling down on the Combat or Wealth Zone can be incredibly devastating for the opposition to handle.
Walda can be useful for pulling out specific Commander Cards which I do believe is very good for Ramsay and Steelshanks lists but not useful for Roose. Bringing Ramsay is the better decision for Fueled By Slaughter to get some more healing generated.
But that is it, there are no other NCUs to choose from for the Boltons so Jeyne, Tybald, and Ramsay are the best combination for a Roose led force. This is where an expanded roster is needed since I am likely to swap out Ramsay for a better NCU if there was one.
Is Roose the best Commander for a double Flayed Men list? If we ignore the Roose ability portion of Seeing Their Flaws, all of his cards are about token generation, which will always be useful and perhaps very impactful in the game but makes him look really bad alongside other Commanders that provide better benefits and, in some instance, more buffs to the overall game.
Steelshanks could be useful but have some cards that are not too valuable. Rush of Aggression is detrimental if used on the Flayed Men since they already have Critical Blow and would become Vulnerable just for an auto six on the charge, but you shouldn’t need to worry about that due to your mobility anyways. This could be good for slingshotting the infantry Units in the list if you need some extra punch, but their job is to take objectives and not die.
Taunt could force some Units to become engaged with the defensive Units or put out tokens, but Roose can put out tokens better and you kind of want the infantry to be left alone for the most part. But Price of Fear can be important for further mobility for the cavalry or better mobility for the slow infantry defenders. I don’t believe Steelshanks is better in this instance for the list.
Ramsay must be the best but is much more technical than Roose since Roose is easy mode, just make tokens when you can. Skin Collection can further enhance the chance at morale damage from all the Units, not just the Flayed Men, this is a big deal when facing armies with high morale like Targaryens which have the morale damage bounce off them. Forcing your main damage dealer out of the game really hurts, so mitigating that is very useful.
Opportunist is unlikely to come up often, but the best place to use it is likely at the start of a round from Tybald or Jeyne grabbing an immediate attack with an engaged Flayed Man Unit. The re-rolls are the most important aspect here and Precision is a side buff that is swingy depending on the target. With the mini-nerf to Cruel Methods not being able to heal the Flayed Men, Spoils In Flesh brings back a healing mechanic to Ramsays toolset allowing an opportunity to keep the Flayed Men in the game. This does offset the fact that you will not have Ramsay NCU with healing from Fueled By Slaughter.
The NCU replacement is a tough one. Roose brings Panic token generation which would be difficult to get in this force however, Walda when taking the Letters Zone can pull Ramsay cards from discard pile or deck. Due to this you could have some more healing or better combat depending on what you pull. Walda can also put out an extra wound for healing or a weakened token, both help keep your Units alive. I am unsure which one would be better in this situation.
Next up is more play testing with a list similar to Ste’s but also some of my own creations until I find the right two lists for the events. I will be doing some more write ups of my journey with Boltons with a plan to speak about building a list for the game mode which is a crucial aspect of the game most beginner players overlook.
We do have an article coming out in the future where we sit down with Luke from Duke’s Gaming and Scaddman to get some insights on the event as we get closer and closer to its arrival.
We are also looking for some more talented painters to feature in the articles. If you want to have some of your hard work on display to the community then let us know.