Dave of the Five Rings is an ongoing series chronicling David Gordon’s return to the Legend of the Five Rings CCG after several years. He will be tracking his progress from the launch of the game’s new core set, Ivory Edition, through to the season’s culmination at Gen Con 2014.
Chapter 10: The L5R Experience
We are the samurai of Rokugan! We are the servants of the Divine Empress! Together, we raise our voice to give honor to the thousands that have gone before us, to be heard by the thousands who will follow in our steps this day! We raise our voice to give honor to the three whom we have lost this year, to remember our fallen friends and comrades! Raise your voice with me! UTZ!
Every year at Gen Con, the qualifying tournament for the Main Event opens with a call to the competitors to give honor to the game that has brought us together. It is a tradition that has spread to nearly all L5R tournaments, one that has become mimetic to the game itself. As one, participants get to their feet and shout at top of their lungs, calling out “BANZAI!” Throughout the CCG hall, nearly every other tournament has to pause a moment in their morning announcements, simply to be heard over us.
Heads turn as over a hundred voices call out in unison – which is exactly the purpose. The Banzai call and response at the start of a Legend of the Five Rings tournament shows the world that, above all else, we stand together as a community. We are the players of L5R. Hear us roar. And at Gen Con 2014, there was no greater banzai or celebration of that community than the L5R Experience.
During my last article, we discussed my second day in the L5R qualifier tournament and my less than spectacular day leading up to it. While my second attempt at the Qualifiers may have ended in being removed from the Main Event, I was able to track down and get entry into a Heroes of Rokugan L5R RPG. There, I played through their introductory module as a friendly Yasuki merchant, and enjoyed their take on the iconic Test of the Topaz Champion module.
Finally, as Saturday night rolled around, I headed down to the CCG Hall to take in the full L5R Experience: a convention within a convention.
Heralded as the big social event of the Legend of the Five Rings community, the L5R Experience is run by the Alderac Entertainment Group event staff to welcome players both old and new to the game. As the game nears its 20th anniversary, AEG wanted to keep the spirit of the game fresh amongst long time fans as well as the ones who were returning to the game after years away.
As one of the latter players myself, it was rewarding to be immersed as deeply into the culture and history of Legend of the Five Rings as I was at Gen Con 2014, and the height of this was certainly at the L5R Experience.
The festivities began as more and more people arrived, tickets in hand and eager to celebrate the game we all love. Looking around, I saw people wearing t-shirts from many of the past great moments in L5R history, from commemorating the Day of Thunder at Gen Con 1998, to the Race to Volturnum and the Battle at Oblivion’s Gate at Gen Con 2000, the Legacy of the Naga, the Khan’s Defiance, and many more.
Many players in the L5R community at this point have been with the game for over a decade, and while they certainly formed the strong core of the hobby, the other thing I saw made me even happier. For I saw people new to the game playing with the old hands, and people who were simply interested in what had drawn out such a response on Thursday morning.
Most of these people shared a common story: each of them had their learned about Legend of the Five Rings from its community and reputation, but they struggled with getting into the card game. Much of what they had to say reminded me of my own early days in L5R and the struggles I faced in playing the game competitively. It felt good to sit and play casually with these people, to reconnect with how I used to play L5R before I entered into the competitive scene. That alone would have served to make the L5R Experience worth the price of admission.
Swag Time Experiences
Luckily, that was far from the only high point of the L5R Experience. As we waited for the big boxes of swag we could see stacked behind the AEG desks to be distributed, each attendee was handed out a raffle ticket. Among the prizes were a box of the new expansion set, A Line In The Sand, several boxes of Ivory Edition, and several items of L5R memorabilia that were donated by fans and AEG itself.
I did not win one of the raffles, but unredeemed raffle tickets could be traded in for a series of secondary prizes at one of the side tables, allowing me to go home with a full set of dice for the RPG bearing the Chrysanthemum of the Imperial Families. Admittedly, while the Spider Clan dice were tempting, most of my time in the L5R RPG is spend behind the GM screen. The Imperial Families dice just felt more appropriate.
In addition, AEG staff were out moving between the tables, offering out Ivory Edition draft packs to interested groups. Set up for pods of eight people, the draft packs provided players with enough cards to construct and play a quick draft tournament. Traditionally, unlike other CCGs, drafting in Legend of the Five Rings had always been a very tricky thing, as the game itself heavily favored constructed play.
In Ivory Edition, however, a great deal of effort had been made to re-balance the game and its expansions to facilitate drafting. For example, an official Draft Stronghold is packaged in every expansion set, with a variety of other, non-constructed cards on its far side. What’s more, these spare Strongholds often get traded around afterwards for the tokens found on their reverse side. Aside from the Ivory Edition draft packs, I was able to get in one draft for The Coming Storm and another which featured packs from each Ivory legal set, including the newest one.
Finally, the last bit of free swag was the L5R Experience box. Itself a card box with a full set of inserts for all your card sorting needs, the L5R Experience box came packaged with six Ivory Edition booster packs, two The Coming Storm packs, and two A Line In The Sand packs.
Beyond that, there were also L5R themed versions of AEG’s Guildhall, Seventh Hero, and Lost Legacy games. Of the three, I only got to play Lost Legacy there. Similar in many ways to AEG’s other microgame Love Letter, Lost Legacy is a game designed to be played by two to four players in under five minutes. In it, players take turns drawing and discarding cards from their hand until the draw deck is expended. During play, players may be eliminated by their opponent’s cards as well as their own. Once the draw deck is depleted, the remaining players can take a guess at where the Lost Legacy is (The Lost Legacy being a card in the deck). The first player to correctly locate the Lost Legacy wins the round.
Another Lost Legacy
The theme of the Lost Legacy included in the L5R Experience box centered around the forces of the Dark Naga searching the Second City for the Fang of the Red Hunger, tying the game directly to the ongoing Gen Con tournament events. While the game itself was identical to other copies of Lost Legacy, this version’s artwork and card titles served as a good bridge from L5R into the microgame. It’s so quick that I was able to play three rounds of it between draft matches.
I quite enjoyed it, although I still prefer Love Letter. To me, the L5R version of Lost Legacy focused too much on elimination, and most rounds ended with a single player still standing. To truly make Lost Legacy stand out from Love Letter, the game has to last until the draw deck is depleted. The guessing game of finding the Lost Legacy among the unrevealed cards is the tensest and most enjoyable aspect of the game, and this version took away from that somewhat. It’s still decent, but I’d love to see AEG release an L5R reskin featuring more of that aspect.
Massive amounts of free products to the L5R Experience attendees aside, the most valuable aspect of the event from a journalistic standpoint was being able to speak with the people behind Legend of the Five Rings itself. This including chats with Bryan Reese (the head designer of the CCG), whom I had met through the Challenge Booth (and who had lead the banzai call without a microphone), and I spoke at length with Robert Hobart (head designer of the RPG side of L5R). While he was very dodgy on the subject of future release schedules, he shared with me many excellent stories from his days of running Heroes of Rokugan. Fred Wan (from the Story Team) was present as well, and his insightful comments about the story of L5R truly showed both the love he had for the game and the respect with which he was handling the story.
All of these conversations proved quite illuminating. So much so, in fact, that we may be able to share some of their insights with you here at a later date. If all goes well, keep an eye out for that in my future articles.
Finally, the pièce de résistance that made the 2014 L5R Experience so memorable was the costumes. With a costume contest as a main feature, each person participating went before a team composed of Fred Wan and two of the game’s artistic leads to explain their costume and character.
The event itself was emceed by the Angry Crab himself, Reggie, dressed as Hida Kozan, the Voice of the Empress. Reggie is a well known player of Legend of the Five Rings, and widely regarded as a cornerstone of the community. Having him dressed as a character he was directly responsible for the creation of? Perfect.
The prize for the best costume went to David Winner, who was dressed as a Crane Clan samurai in a complete suit of lamellar armor in Crane colors and a no-dachi.
As much fun as I had at the L5R Experience, however, nothing truly could last forever. By the time the event finished up, I walked out of the CCG Hall exhausted but exhilarated – and also carrying several pounds of product. Indicative of how much of a whirlwind it was, somewhere along the way, I had been given a custom-made Spider Clan bandanna and had lost whatever was left of my voice. A good night’s sleep only recovered some of it. Or at least enough to return first thing in the morning for my second round at the Challenge Booth.
With the Main Event going on behind me, I nodded to Reese as he took his spot running the Siege deck. Since our last match at the Challenge Booth, the Peasant District had been lost, along with the Merchant District and the Artisan District. With only one Challenge Booth after ours, the Imperial District was thankfully safe from the touch of the Dark Naga whether we won or lost. Instead, we were fighting to either restore the Merchant District or lose the Temple District.
Reese and myself, both nearly voiceless, played in levels just above whispers. Playing my Mantis Clan deck from Saturday, I elicited approval from Reese for the visible support of my old faction, the Naga.
The game otherwise was pretty rough.
Despite several early victories at the Peasant District, Reese was quickly able to recover his forces for a stronger push. Unable to take a Province from him until after he had taken the Peasant District, we attempted a rally at the Merchant District, hoping to use its ability to increase Province strength through spending gold to save it. Alas, it was not meant to be, as its text was blanked the turn Reese assaulted it by the Hour of the Rat on the Clock Deck. Recovering from that defeat, we buckled down our defenses to hold the Military District, only to have the Hour of the Dragon be revealed as Reese began his turn. With every one of Reese’s Naga being able to perform a Melee attack equal to their Force from the Clock card, attrition at the Military District was impossible.
Down to just the Imperial District, with three turns left on the Clock, we knew our time was up. Having gone past the time allotted for the game, we bowed to the Siege deck and the Temple District was lost. With only one Challenge Booth left, there would be no saving the Merchant District nor the Artisan District, and the Military District stood threatened.
Going Home Again
As I left the CCG Hall to make my rounds on the final day of Gen Con 2014, I felt at a crossroads. Much of my year had been spent getting to that point, of reaching Gen Con and being present for the Main Event. It had been frustrating at times, but by and large it was rewarding. I felt connected again to the game I have loved for nearly two decades, had done the journey from the lowly local tournament all the way to the summit that is Gen Con. While I had not Qualified, I had played at the Challenge Booth and undoubtedly had an impact on the game, just as it had on me over the years.
In a very weird way, I felt ready to put down my cards, take a deep breath, and finally walk away from the CCG on a good note. I was ready to let go.
And then, on my rounds as the floor was nearing its closing, I ran into the man behind the Kolat Informant website who was present for the announcement of the L5R season. There, he shared with us that due to the events of the story and the players, that the Naga would be returning as a playable race.
Just when I thought I was out…
While originally this series was only to cover the spread of my time up to and including Gen Con 2014, it appears that my L5R story is not yet finished. Like my interest in the Legend of the Five Rings CCG, this tale has another part to play yet, and will actually continue beyond the original ten article series envisioned.
Therefore, until next month dear reader, where I discuss A Line In The Sand and The New Order, as well as the changes in the environment and storyline leading into 2015.
Oh, in the intervening time since Gen Con, I have also been invited (and accepted) into the official AEG-run forum game for Winter Court IV as a Spider Clan delegate.
Yes, it would appear that these articles are just getting started.
David Gordon is a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he also has a long and complicated past with L5R. These are his stories. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Alderac Entertainment Group; 300 by Warner Bros; Wedding invitation by 20th Century Fox; Peanuts by Iconix Brand Group; Pirates of the Caribbean Compass by Disney; Spider Clan Cosplay from Home of the Crane Clan; Godfather III by Paramount Pictures