One collectable card game that I was always interested in, but never managed to find players to play with, was Legends of the Five Rings, a card game that concentrated heavily on storytelling through its organised play events.
Now, the game has been redesigned and released in a Living Card Game format by Fantasy Flight Games. As I had a couple of people also interested in the game, I dived in and bought it, and have now played a handful of games.
The game is set in a fantasy setting based on Asian mythology. The play primarily revolves around you recruiting characters and sending them to destroy the provinces of your opponent in military or political conflicts, while defending your provinces against the same. It is also possible to win by amassing 25 Honor, or by driving your opponent to 0 Honor. Seven factions are presented in the game at present, and almost all your cards will come from that clan’s pool. Each clan has different strategies for winning the game, with some preferring fast military conflicts and others preferring a defensive stance while using Honor.
The games I’ve played have been fun. However, there is one significant drawback to getting into the game.
This is the price. The game is released in a boxed set that contains about 230 cards plus various other tokens and game aids. This costs US$39.95. This is enough to learn how to play the game. It is not, however, enough to do any significant deckbuilding. You need three copies of the core set – a total cost of about US$120 – to have all the copies of the cards that you’ll need. And then it is very highly recommended you get the Imperial Cycle of Dynasty Packs for an additional cost of almost US$90. At that point, you have enough cards so you can build decks, and you’re wondering what happened to your wallet. If you wish to construct two decks from that collection, you may need to acquire a few more key cards from Dynasty Packs.
I also haven’t enjoyed deckbuilding that much. I’m not exactly sure why. Partly it is the limited card selection. You need two decks, a Dynasty deck and a Conflict deck, each of at least 40 cards. You can play up to three copies of each card in a deck. For the Dynasty deck, your choice is between faction-specific cards and neutral cards. In the Conflict deck, you can use very few cards from a second faction, but it otherwise conforms to the rules for making a Dynasty deck. In the Core Set, there are 14 faction-specific Dynasty cards and 8 Neutral cards. By the time you get all the Imperial Cycle, you’re up to around 22 faction-specific Dynasty cards and 12 Neutral cards. By that stage, you’ve got enough choice to make decisions, but I do not see the synergies very well. I took to Netrunner deckbuilding very quickly. L5R? Not so much.
However, the gameplay shines. The games I’ve played have been engaging, with a lot of interesting decision-making and bluffing. They’ve also typically lasted about one hour.
Dynasty cards, mostly representing your characters, come into play from your four Provinces. You pay a currency known as Fate to bring them into play, and when you do so, you may place additional Fate on their card. Each Fate means they’ll stick around for one more turn. Yes, if you pay no additional Fate, they go away after only one turn in the game. Even if you do pay for additional turns, your opponent may wreck those plans. As you get a base of seven Fate every turn, and characters cost between 1 and 5 Fate, the board state tends to remain relatively uncluttered. It also changes a lot over the course of the game.
The Conflict Cards are what I like. Each Conflict Card is an Event, Attachment or Character, but you can play almost all of them in the middle of conflicts. Your hand is a source of surprises for your opponent. As a result, each conflict can be full of twists and turns – assuming you’ve kept enough Fate to play cards. Many Conflict cards cost no Fate, but some cost more.
Drawing Conflict Cards is a mini-game as well. Each player makes a secret bid, from one to five, as to how many cards they’ll draw. The difference between the bids is converted into Honor stolen by the low bidder from the higher. So, if I bid 5 and you bid 1, you take 4 of my Honor. This can end games quickly, and if you’re playing against a deck trying to dishonour you, your card drawing is significantly affected.
The game is by no means simple, with a host of interactions and special rules. The rules are indifferently presented; the starter rulebook leaves out many rules and requires you to get a complete rulebook from the website. FFG now have better rulebooks than they have in the past, but they’re still not great, and some of their LCG rulings are bizarre.
The basic game you find in one box is fine, but not that inspiring. The game that you get from three boxes and six boosters is very enjoyable – but these are still early days. I doubt I will engage in this game competitively. Rather, I’m dabbling in it – a strange thing to say about a game I’ve spent a couple of hundred dollars on!