Card games are awesome. The depth and complexity two decks of cards can provide players is amazing. Legend of the Five Rings by Fantasy Flight is the best living proof of just that- the undeniably awesome potential of a card game.
Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) is Fantasy Flight Games’ newest title in their Living Card Game line. If you’ve played a Collectible Card Game (CCGs) such as Magic the Gathering, Pokemon Trading Card Game, Yu-Gi-Oh, etc., you will feel right at home with L5R in terms of the genre and the deckbuilding nature. However, as a Living Card Game, every expansion pack beyond the core set for L5R will come with a full play set (three copies) of every card. This model means a much lower cost investment compared to its CCG/TCG relatives if you want to be able to play any deck in the game.
Players lead one of the great clans of Rokugan, a sort of mystical world based on feudal Japan. Each of the seven clans plays very different from the others- some are more military-based, while others are more political. Some are honorable, while others engage in underhanded behaviors to become victorious at any cost. Players win the game by breaking their opponents stronghold, gaining 25 honor, or if their opponent loses all honor.
The gameplay of L5R feels very different from other card games as well. A game takes about an hour once players are comfortable with the rules and have learned the cards fairly well. A round of L5R is longer than the average card game in the genre, with play passing back and forth between participants during action windows. If both players consecutively pass, play continues to the next phase. This results in a really smooth feeling of gameplay; rounds can be somewhat lengthy sometimes, but each turn should be very quick.
Characters don’t die from conflict like they do in many other games. Sure, there are some cards and abilities that can cause you to discard a character, such as the popular Assassinate. Instead, characters are played with a number of Fate (the game’s primary resource) on them and one fate is removed each round. When they have zero fate during the Fate phase, they are instead discarded. It’s a very different feel, and it often means if you form your strategy correctly you can keep a powerful character out for a reasonable amount of time. Characters can also bank Fate from turn to turn, giving the game a very economic feel and I’m sure the developers will release nifty ways of generating lots of Fate in the future; more than the handful of cards from the Core Set that function in this manner.
The two different numbers you see on the top left of a character card is not Power/Toughness or Attack/Defense, like it is in most games. Instead, most characters can participate in the two types of conflict: Military and Political. Each player can only declare one of each type of conflict per turn, so a balanced approach is usually best. Some clans (looking at you, Lion) are much more Military-based than other clans, such as Phoenix, who are skilled in both Military as well as Political conflicts.
Even aside from conflicts and fate, L5R has many unique features, such as card draw changing from round to round. Each draw phase, players secretly bid a number from one to five. Your bid determines how many cards you draw, with the higher bidder paying the difference in honor to their opponent. Of course, there are cards like Good Omen and Contingency Plan that are affected, or affect your bid. Characters can become honored or dishonored, which usually affect their skill for conflicts, but also gain or lose honor for the controlling player when said character loses play. Also, I don’t know that I’ve even mentioned that each player builds two decks: a Dynasty deck and a Conflict deck.
One of the most fascinating aspects of L5R is the player-directed story. Almost two months ago at the first L5R World Championships, the overall winner of the event chose justice for a prisoner that was given to the Lion clan by a group of Ronin, this affection the future path of the overall storyline of L5R. Fantasy Flight Games also releases all the story related to the card game on its website under “fiction” and I highly recommend checking them out. They are quick reads and contain some interesting short stories. Fantasy Flight will continue to offer up interesting choices to players at premier events, all of which we direct the story of Rokugan in interesting ways.
From it’s highly immersive, player-directed story to its depth of game mechanics Legend of the Five Rings is an incredibly unique game. If you’re looking to get into a deep card game and prefer something other than a Collectible Card Game this is absolutely a no-brainer. I ‘m rating Legend of the Five Rings a 9 out of 10 and I’m going to give it a +1 to my rating if you are a couple looking for a customizable/expandable game to play against each other but also compete in tournaments, etc. This game is absolutely perfect for that, because you could share a collection with someone and rarely need to buy multiples of anything beyond the Core Set. FFG is releasing lots of content for L5R and I’m incredibly excited to see what comes next.