A New Legend Begins

As a young lad growing up in the 90s and “noughts” as I’ve now heard them called, I was fascinated with Pokemon, Digimon and Dragon Ball Z. By extension, I naturally became quite interested in Japan, as it seemed like all of the cool TV shows came from there, as well as some of the top technological innovations.

Fast forward a few years, and I became intrigued with feudal Japan and the idea of samurai generally. My extension two English short story (some 6000 words or so) was the tale of a samurai on the quest for vengeance. When I entered uni, I even picked up Japanese on a whim, and though I later dropped the course, my interest in the culture is still strong.

Given this, it makes sense that I ended up trying out the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game some years ago. With tense battles, duelling Samurai, crazy spells, mystical rings, and both honour and dishonour being tied to win conditions, I was enthralled. The fact that the game had such a HUGE following, and the fat that development of the story was often tied to what the winners of major tournaments decided, were both hugely appealing. Despite the fact that I never played at a high enough level to actually try and influence it, the fictional world of Rokugan, and the game of Legend of the Five Rings, received a lot of my love. Unfortunately, the investment of a collectible card game was a bit much, especially with a dwindling player base late into the game’s lifespan. Thus, my cards were put into a cupboard, now no more than dusty memories.

A new era, however, is dawning…

You can imagine, then, my excitement now that Legend of the Five Rings (or L5R) is coming back in the LCG format! This article is going to be covering the top 3 reasons I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into the game, and once again battling for honour and glory. And thus we begin with…

3. The theme integration. The fiction quality being put out by FFG right now is pretty grand. The focus on smaller, personal conflicts is really appealing to me, and they’ve done a great job rebooting the world to make it accessible for new players while giving subtle (and less subtle) nods to veterans. On top of that, FFG are continuing the tradition of allowing players to make choices which will influence the story.

However, FFG have gone a step further and really doubled down on integrating organised play and theme. First off, you have the Hatamoto status. If you do very well at a major event known as a Kotei (Kiku Matsuri at Gencon 50 was the first), you are awarded Hatamoto status. This status can lead you to earn more prizes if you continue to represent that clan at future Kotei(s?).

Finally, after the Kiku Matsuri, and then every Winter Court (a.k.a World Championship), the top placing player of each clan chooses a new role for the clan. For those who have played A Game of Thrones: The Living Card Game, these roles are similar to agendas. The catch is that you MUST play the role which was chosen by your clan representative at the Winter Court at all official Organised Play events until the next year! While these impacts are relatively subtle at the moment, FFG have shown that this choice will have large repercussions in the future. Whether this ends up being a successful move or not is yet to be determined, but it has me (and MANY other players) much more invested in what happens at other tournaments.

Look at those beautiful prizes you can get for being a Hatamoto!

2. The mechanics. Which mechanic? ALL OF THEM! For those who don’t know much about the game, allow me to summarise some the awesome ideas in the game:

~When you attack, you decide what outcome you’re trying to aim for by selecting one of the rings. Each of these have very different impacts on the game, and choosing one denies your opponent access to it. One grants you card advantage, one helps your long term board position, two of them have immediate effects on the state of characters in play, and the final one directly moves you closer to one of the three win conditions. Oh, by the way…
~Three win conditions that are relevant! Honour is just as important as military might, and act too dishonourably, and you’ll find yourself exiled and defeated! The way all three win conditions are intertwined is very clever, and they’ll all factor into every decision you make in the game.
~Before you head off into combat, both players decide how many cards they wish to draw (between 1-5), and then they draw that many. Why not just draw 5 all the time? Because the player who reveals a higher number must pay their opponent honour equal to the difference! Can you risk giving up the honour of the Samurai for greater power? Just like Conquest, which used a dial to great effect, I suspect this will be a key factor in setting L5R apart.
~Characters are fleeting. In many games (particularly LCGs), one player gets an overwhelming board position and simply runs over the other player. However, L5R characters don’t hang around forever. This results in a constantly shifting board state, where a player who was largely ahead on one turn may find themselves overwhelmed the next, only to turn it back around right after that! It also means that it’s rare that board states become convoluted.

1. Rewards for good decisions. And those decisions look like they’re tough to make. Which ring do I aim for? How much money do I spend on this guy? How many cards do I draw? How am I trying to win? These answers will be different in every game. Flexibility and clever play is crucial in this game, much like it was in Conquest and Doomtown. Pardon the pun, but even more-so than other games, you really need to play your cards right in this one. As someone who really enjoys deep and skill-rewarding games, there appears to be spades of strtegy here, even in just the core set.

I could go on and on about more aspects that I love, but that will have to do for now. L5R is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re on the lookout for a deep card game based on a unique world, I’d highly recommend you try this one out.

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