Winter is Coming
1. Oversight and General
Strengths and advantages:
Starts with an additional ally leader and the according card. A big advantage for working out a permanent alliance. House Frey is second only to the Tyrell allies, so you should not play away this advantage but try to finish tying permanent bonds, its one of the keys to be successful with Stark. When Ned is back, you'll have 3 leaders which add for combat strength and provide triggers but dont eat supply. Also Ned is nice as he still yields a power token for moving and shifting some troops with CP orders, you'll rather want him to do that instead of BlackWalder who eats the crown for a sword. At other times this might be nice as well though to add for an additional casualty in battle.
Versatile leader triggers. With Robb as a raid trigger and Blackwalder (+Ned when he comes back) as a CP trigger you may move during any action phase of the game which stands as a huge advantage over your direct opponent Greyjoy who isnt able of doing this. Especially your CP trigger do help alot in reacting and adjusting to events just happened, also Baratheon as another potential enemy has no CP trigger to respond to that. Whatever happens, you dont necessarily HAVE to react, stack your leaders and Robb may carry out the initiative during raid phase already, adding another sword deal a blow to the shield lacking pirate scum.
Awesome house cards. Double swords on your best card just rock, even more as your direct opponent lacks the means to counter this. Having a card to negate all casualties rocks just as much in times you need it, just make sure Ned is coming home so you really have this card at your disposal. On top of that you get a card that lets you pick up any used card for another use and that comes without further conditions to match, you dont even have to win a battle in order to use it - unbelievable On top of that you got a card of 1 that may be turned into another 3 if supported and a card with an occasionally very useful ability. Maege Mormont can be used to make an army retreat into a position where it may finally be destroyed by attacking the routed units another time, or you may play it to jam important lines of traffic and transit, or you may use it so your opponent does NOT cover certain ressources upon his retreat so he will have to place a power token beforehand to make sure, or you make him retreat into a town or city so he cannot use all his mustering points within supply. Admittedly such situations where you can play that card of 1 that often to such an effect, but it poses a threat and you can do these neat things which may quite hurt your enemy so never forget about it !
Can grab the most mustering points right away, be maxed out with troops after just 2 musterings. As other houses have to be content with just 4 mustering points, and noone can ever grab more than 5 while greatly exposing and sacrificing his tactic card to manage troops, Stark is able to take as many as 6 right from scratch with little effort. If you think its worth it, you may try to get all your units on the board within 2 mustering, an early advantage that will vanish by mid-game. There are troops worth 18 mustering points available, 10 footmen + 4 knights. You start with 6 on the board, 4 footmen and a knight. From scratch Stark owns Winterfell and The Twins which yield 3. You may grab Seagard, Fairmarket and Upper Kingsroad for 3 more, total of 6. Mustered twice on that makes 12 plus the 6 starting is 18. Greyjoy starts with 6 as well, and usually musters only 4 in the early game, doing that twich puts him on 14 which is lacking 4 behind. Of course you'll have to put your units wisely and spend a few precious power tokens to make full use of it. Also you'll have to really make use of these troops or it will remain a theoretically advantage only. Its still a fact though and if used properly within the right events, imagine another 3 or 4 turns without additional units, it might be a strategy worth to consider.
There are enough ressources of each kind nearby, even though not all of them are within easy reach, you got the option to take what you need.
Once you expand and do well, your hinterlands will become save spots to harvest power and shuffle guards up front.
Stark may take either Riverrun or Harrenhal as their special objective, they are not restricted to a single target like Baratheon and Lannister.
Weaknesses and disadvantages:
Your other house leader Ned who is connected to a vital card and carries the better combat values (2 when triggered) starts in Lannisters holding cell. You will have to get him back as early as possible, not only is there a risk in not getting him back, being delivered to Lannisters decision and good will, you also have to pay hard money and put a crown to start negotiations which limits your early expansion. Everyone starts in 3 areas only not being able to use one third of your troops in Turn 1 is quite a handicap.
Even though you start with 6 power thats not much to match early demands. Lannister will want to have 3 or 4 of that already, buying an ally costs 2 more, plots may be an additional one. So you're almost depleted and dont have much reserve for spending power to keep control over areas. Luckily you will collect 2 power again before negotiations as a CP is necessary for that anyways. Still you are rather hoping for a Game of Thrones and neither clash nor claim bid in Turn 2. A clash you migth have to meet with no more than 2 or 3 power which is a though call. Early hardship is rather possible in one way or the other, you cannot hope to circumvent it all, but then the strong will prevail
The absolute essence of supply is provided and options to increase your share beyond that are certainly present but with a pressing neighbour it will be rather difficult at times to max out on this track or even exceed 3 or 4 barrels. Most of the time you will be happy to have as many as 4 barrels under your control which yields enough to supply an army of 4, which will greatly ease the situation and allow for better and more versatile movement. Being contained to 3 barrels or even less is bad - real bad if it drags on too long.
There is a similar situation with crowns even though containment is not such a severe problem here as there are other ways to gain power as well and your direct enemy doesnt have that much of an advantage over you than in supply. Winterfell, The Twins and Upper Kings makes for a natural 3 here, two more may come from Oldstones and WhisperingWoods, Acorn Hall and Harrenhal being rather far fetched most of the time. Oldstones and Whispering Woods often make a difference whether income is 3/3 for Stark/Greyjoy or it is 5/1 which is then a tremendous difference.
The good is the bad, even though plenty of ressources of each type are in reach they can be difficult to grab. There is a thin line to go more often for Stark than for other houses.
If you dont do well you'll have to fall back, using the supposedly save harvesting and natural supply spots as a fighting ground instead. Things will get cramped and you might get bottled and boxed to even make things worse if you arent able to give this situation a change quick enough. You can virtually be forced to fight with your back to the wall if you do some mistakes. Stark is not a house to easily forgive mistakes.
2. Opening Move and Early Goals
Of course you want Ned back as soon as possible, so put a crown to Winterfell and try to get him back for 3 power, pay 4 if necessary. There is little that will change this, not even seeing a clash in Turn 2. Its rather a greedy and unreasonable Lannister that will keep you from having Ned back at the end of the first turn. I won a game once where Ned wasnt coming home but executed instead. Its not recommended though and a rather unlikely event to do that good without him. Tell Lannister he needs a strong man in the North to deal with the pirates to see the game go on long enough to have his own chance of winning.
The two supposedly weaker houses Lannister and Stark should ally against the supposedly stronger ones, Baratheon and Greyjoy. A reasonable Lion will agree.
You also want to pick up another Frey Ally card as your goal clearly is a permanent alliance, having that you need two more ally draws in the first two turns. Definately worth the effort dont miss a chance in the first two turns or Greyjoy might try to steal them and take them over instead which is quite a blow to your ambitions. Only if Greyjoy misses opportunities as well or is clearly headed for another deck you might slowplay this, but still - dont get this out of focus too much.
While your troops in Winterfell prepare and await Neds homecoming you need almost all the rest of your troops to defend against a potential early pirate infiltration. You better place a march+1 on The Twins and a regular march on Greywater Watch. There are several possible mistakes doing here. Its no use to raid-trigger Robb in Turn 1, you just have to commit yourself early to any direction but there is absolutely nothing you can gain by that - nothing ! A crown on The Twins will gain you little more. You'll have to move these troops, you could negotiate Ned from here, but the strength coming from Winterfell is even less, only two footmen, The Twins also contain BlackWalder. So march+1 is the way to go as this maximizes strength upon Seagard, which contains supply and mustering point, so its a must have. Another mistake is moving that knight down to UpperKingsroad. You may do that but be absolutely sure of a peaceful Greyjoy. As you cannot guarantee that, I would not recommend moving that knight away from where you need him and thats at the gates of Winterfell. You may do it if you keep a line of movement, but that needs a footman in Greywater Watch.
If you go with 2 marches and Greyjoy goes with 3 raids which is most likely, you can see the end of Greyjoys movement before actually doing anything, which is a good advantage. So you may then move one of The Twins footmen to UpperKingsroad. If Greyjoy put a march order you'll have to fully charge your troops at the Twins, knight, two footmen and two leaders marched+1 makes for a strength of 7 before cards and possible ally cards additions. Thats the best you can do at least, even though it may not be enough for everything it should be enough to deal with most and make Greyjoy think twice before taking that risk. If you cannot defend or savely take Seagard, dont overly worry. Stay calm and cool, take the surroundings, get Ned back home, grab your ally and within a turn or two the tide may turn. A Greyjoy taking such risks may actually end in your coming out on top of it ! Just avoid doing real mistakes...
If you happen to pick up the allied Frey Knight Turn 1 right away, you may of course put that one to the Twins and march your own knight to UpperKings in that case. This is abit problematic early on, while supply is tight, the situation cramped and one part of your army is stalled, but you'll live through that and be glad about the knight later on even more
If possible, leave a footman at Greywater Watch instead of a power token. Not so much concerned about that token but about keeping your armies connected to move units where needed. Throughout the whole game I recommend keeping a single footman at Greywater, no more. A footman there may transit additional forces, as many as 4 knights and as many leaders as you may grab. They may threaten Baratheon at the same time as securing Winterfell and in the end do none of that as noone dares to probe you, but attack Riverrun instead of that ! Yes, thats really all possible, but only if you keep your lines of movement and command.
An area without a unit cannot contain an order at all. An area with too many units cannot transit the bulk of your army. If you manage to POTENTIALLY (thats the important word) have your knights and leaders strike on FlintsFinger, Middle Kingsroad or Riverrun at the very same turn, then you have mastered house Stark and may compete for the win by striking on the spot where the are REALLY needed to strike.
3. Mid- and Long-Term Goals
Dont ever drop your Robb card for killing footmen, not even knights in most cases, unless you can immediately pick that card up again in another battle with Bran that is otherwise unimportant. Also be sure when doing this you dont need Ned twice before recycling cards. Robb is here to threaten Balon. The Squid has to be in constant fear of losing a leader to Robbs swords. Its your most important and most fearsome weapon so you better dont drop that ! Also, always have a counter attack ready all the time. If Greyjoy infiltrated Flints, you dont necessarily have to bother with defending Winterfell to the tooth, moving in troops at once, play a Defend+2 and Hold Territory, no, in fact thats a a complete waste and if you start doing this Greyjoy will overcome you sooner or later as it distracts you too much from the actual things that need doing. Things change when Greyjoy can win instantly by taking Winterfell, but when not
even starting to do such silly things you have a pretty good chance of preventing this from happening at all.
Imagine Greyjoy is at Flints with 3 knights and both his leaders, you dont need to keep them from entering Winterfell, you may even put a CP there. Just make sure you can assemble your own knights and leaders at Seagard or Greywater (thats why units and lines of marches are so important) for a counter attack with a march or even better, CP trigger. So if Greyjoy dares to come in, you throw him out again (saving your Military Support card for that if any), threatening to take his leader hostage with your double swords. Going with this tactic you may even play Control Westeros instead of Hold Territory, to make additional use in a Clash. Losing Balon he cannot afford so he will not dare to enter. With a CP on Winterfell he will even have to retreat his leaders to Pyke. If you
mastered house Stark you may even use those troops to strike on Riverrun instead, but that needs alot of experience and maybe abit of luck as well
If your Greyjoy is silly enough to take and enter Winterfell in such a situation, all the better, go ahead and take the chance. You may lose your garrison but he will lose Balon for that.
You will have to watch and constantly increase your supply. 3 barrels or less are bad, 4 is fine, maxing out is great and finally allows the real shifting of 4 knights. Once 4 knights and 3 leaders can be just about everywhere within your realm it poses a real threat to Greyjoy. Just make sure you dont jam your lines by too many footmen in one spot. Generally each area should only contain one footman, especially the most important transit points such as Seagard and Greywater.
There are two very important ally cards for Stark, both to be found within the Frey deck. One of them is the Frey Miliary Support. Adding 2 power for a battle anywhere on the board combined with your flying knights and leaders that can be anywhere as well, in addition to Robb is a pain for Greyjoy as it will limit his range of movement very much. Anywhere he may fear to get caught he cannot go anymore. While your circles increase his are getting smaller, thats the idea.
The other important card is Frey Galleys. It does not even allow to cross fords that are closed it allows to cross rivers just everywhere. Now as crossing that river that divides Starks forces in the north is usually only crossable by the Twins, it makes things tremendously easier and shifting of troops east/west is so much more comfortable. This card is also often the only viable way to go south into the Riverlands. It not only allows to cross south at any time but of course you may also go back NORTH at any time. Its a big help to secure an additional barrel and threatining Riverrun from another flank or setting foot to Harrenhal at all, which is otherwise pretty difficult.
There is of course another obvious card that will help Stark, its Mercenary Transport, as this opens a direct way from Flints to Pyke. I havent seen this card in real use for doing this, even though Stark picked it up sometimes, its still no easy ticket to ride that boat. Unless you see a real good chance to actually make use of this card and you dont distract yourself from picking up further Frey allies, I would not really recommend to do it. Situation decides - most often other cards will be at hand and more urgent to pick up.
4. How to win
Admittedly its not that easy to win with Stark as it may be with other houses sometimes, you just have to make up for it by making little to no mistakes at all, lets look at it.
Winterfell and The Twins to start with 3 base claim.
As your goal is to take over the Freys for a permanent alliance, their political support card will fall to your hands sooner or later. Doing well and expanding, dont letting yourself get bashed you will win a claim bid at some time. Covering areas, GoT will yield some power and as you increase your circles you will push back Greyjoy so harvesting in the Twins, Winterfell and UpperKings becomes more secure. Even while shifting troops with CPs, Ned assures you still get a token, so you got quite a decent and constant power income that should allow winning a claim bid. More than that, in order to ease your military pressure of expanding to the point of overextending you will rather need to occupy 3 positions on the political track for most of the wins for Stark. One more may come by another political support card, luckily being picked up, or you'll need to win two bids instead. If you are able to do that, you'll have 6 claim, where taking Riverrun and playing your unique objective is most likely to finish it off.
There are other combinations as well that may lead to victory, all involving Riverrun and/or Harrenhal and gaining 3 or even 4 political claim in total. In a dash you might as well take Harrenhal and play your card there, which I judge less likely though. Its also possible to play your card some day but lose that city again just to take it back later on. It doesnt look much likely for Stark to gain more than 4 claim militarily, 5 does look possible only temporarily, thats what makes it hard, with the Frey Galleys at hand its definately more likely though as access south and going back is alot more comfortable.
I have seen Stark win as well by taking Pyke though a couple of times. Usually when you really beat Greyjoy on the field and take a leader hostage you rather head on to Pyke instead of settling for Harrenhal while your flank is finally relieved. In fact I have witnessed such a win more often than a win by a combination by Harrenhal/Riverrun. Its either alot of political claim (most likely) or its by Pyke (less likely) or its by going as far as Dragonstone or Kings Landing to pick up needed claim there, thats definately least likely but still possible at times when Greyjoy turns south but isnt quick enough against a stout Lannister.
Undeniably a Stark win is rather challenging but so much more rewarding once accomplished
I was taking statistics of about 40 PBEM games (I quit doing that because I was becoming too lazy) but by then House Stark won his share of games as Lannister did. The Northmen need a firm and experienced hand that does few and only little mistakes, can deal and handle their triggers really well, is aware how important positioning of units is and does focus on important matters and not get distracted too easily to other tasks that dont add too much for acquiring the needed claim to win. If you combine all these demands you certainly know how to wield their sharp swords and are able to make good use of the chances they offer. Winter is certainly not for the faint-hearted...