There’s a school of thought that says a collectible card game (CCG) needs to keep adding new mechanics in order to stay fresh. Personally, I’m not convinced by that – but I’m not on the Gwent game design team. The new Once Upon A Pyre expansion cards (part of the Price of Power set) introduces two new game mechanisms: Patience and Sabbath. So what are they and how do they work?
Patience is a new keyword for the Northern Realms (NR) faction in Gwent. It applies to all three new NR unit cards in the Once Upon A Pyre expansion: Gerhart of Aelle, Istredd and Ban Ard Student. The existing NR card Aretuza Adept has also been given the ability: “Whenever you trigger Patience, boost self by 1”
The way Patience works is that the longer you wait to use the unit’s ability, the stronger it becomes. The ability has an initial value given as a number in square brackets. Once the card is played, at the end of every turn then if the order has not been used the value is permanently increased by one. For example, Gerhart of Aelle has Zeal, Patience and the ability: “Create and play a  provision Spell”. So if you use the ability the turn you play the card, you get to create a 4 provision spell. Next turn it would be 5 provision, and so on. Of course, if you leave it too long and the value goes over 12, then there won’t be any possible spells to play!
I really like the idea of Patience. It provides an extra level of decision making both for the player who uses the card and their opponent. How long to wait before using/killing a Patience card? It’s a bit of a chicken race, who will blink first? Patience also provides a nice asymmetry in that it favours long rounds for the user, short ones for the opponent.
Sabbath is a new keyword for the Monsters (MO) faction in Gwent. It applies to three of the four new MO unit cards in the Once Upon A Pyre expansion: She Who Knows, Rat Catcheress and Witch Apprentice.
The idea behind Sabbath is that the ability only triggers once you have a powerful row of units on the board. Specifically, when one of your rows reaches a total power of 25 or more. For example, She Who Knows has the Sabbath ability: “At the end of round, give Resilience to the highest base power unit on your side of the battlefield.”
I’m less enthusiastic about this mechanic. As with Patience, it provides an asymmetry, but it’s “all or nothing”. Until there’s a serious possibility of the 25 level being reached, the opponent doesn’t have to worry about it. In addition, to trigger Sabbath you’ll need either at least one high power card or lots of lower power ones. The former option is just asking for Korathi Heatwave or Geralt of Rivia, the latter invites weather effects or cards such as Regis or Lacerate. I’m not convinced the benefits are enough to justify the risks.
Of course, my comments above are just first impressions. It’ll take time for the changes to the game meta to settle down as people find the best decks and combos. And it’s a fair bet that the remaining two future expansions this year will introduce yet more gameplay mechanisms for the other factions.